SMRT to outsource more maintenance work

Maintenance staff replacing the wooden sleepers on the train tracks near Clementi MRT station. SMRT's director of building and facilities Sui Yow Wee said outsourcing maintenance staff allows them to fix defects across its networks faster. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Transport operator SMRT is outsourcing more non-rail maintenance work to improve the speed and quality of such work.

Since October's tunnel flooding at Bishan - which was traced to lapses in pump maintenance - the Temasek-owned company has outsourced the servicing of tunnel pumps.

It also intends to outsource the maintenance of MRT station air-conditioning and tunnel ventilation systems - adding to an already long list of work which is handled by external contractors.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, SMRT director of building and facilities Siu Yow Wee said the move does not mean the company is washing its hands of risks associated with poor maintenance.

"We will not outsource our responsibility away," Mr Siu said. "In tandem with the outsourcing move, SMRT maintenance staff will step up to supervisory or inspection roles."

He explained that outsourcing allows SMRT to fix defects across its network more speedily.

"Engaging an external contractor - some of whom are original equipment manufacturers - allows us to work on multiple sites concurrently as we can mobilise the contractor's manpower," he added.

"We also leverage the technology and specialised skill sets provided by the equipment manufacturers."

Illustrating the scale of non-rail maintenance work, Mr Siu said for air-conditioning and ventilation alone, there are 146 chillers, 224 air-handling units and 355 pumps in the central air-con systems across its network. In addition, there are 3,900 split air-con units, 452 tunnel fans, and 4,300 other ventilation fans.

All these are maintained by 160 employees who are part of a team of 600.

Functions which are outsourced now include cleaning services, and maintenance of fire protection, ceiling fans at station platform, lifts, plumbing and roofing.

External contractors also assist in the servicing of escalators, lights and platform screen doors.

Singapore University of Social Sciences transport researcher Park Byung Joon said: "There are three main reasons why companies outsource: Lower cost, better quality, and freeing up staff to focus on core competencies.

"The third one seems to be SMRT's strongest motivation. By outsourcing these activities, SMRT can focus more on core maintenance activities."

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng said: "The expertise required in those mentioned areas is not difficult to find from the market. It may be more efficient and effective if contractors with good credentials can be engaged."

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