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Meet the man who's making your train ride better

The next time your train comes on time, will you think of him?

Mr Desmond Kuek, head honcho at rail operator SMRT Corp, is the man in question.

Following a series of train breakdowns in 2011 and 2013 that left commuters fuming – and Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew declaring his disappointment publicly – the chief executive officer (CEO) had to turn things around when he came onboard in October 2012.

Commuters looking at the signage, which notifies them of a train disruption and alternative route that they can travel on. A faulty train on July 23 2014 held up the morning commute for thousands of North-South Line passengers. PHOTO: SPH FILE

Three years on, The Straits Times reported on what has changed under his watch – and what else is coming up to improve your ride.

*More technical staff at work

SMRT's team of technicians grew to 2,169 (21 per cent increase).

The number of engineers in its fold stands at 278 (59 per cent increase).

While the report didn't state the benefits of hiring more people with technical know-how into the ranks, it did show improvements in the next area.

*Fewer trains withdrawn due to faults


SMRT's train withdrawal rate – where a train is withdrawn from service because of faults – has come down from 3.3 for every 100,000 km operated in 2012 to 1.05 last year.

Mr Kuek said: “This is the lowest in seven years. And we are targeting to go even lower this year."

*Replace worn-out gear

Maintenance staff replacing the wooden sleepers on the train tracks near Clementi MRT station. PHOTO: ST FILE

This includes replacing wooden sleepers with concrete ones.

Sleepers are vital to safety as they keep the train tracks firmly aligned.

And some of the wooden sleepers were in such a bad shape that it looked like they would fall apart when removed, according to The Straits Times.


So far, 96,000 sleepers on the North-South Line have been replaced, with 100,000 more on the East-West Line due for a revamp.

*Replace power-supplying third rail

Sagging sections of the third rail were singled out as the main cause of two massive breakdowns in 2011.

*Change train signalling system to shorter intervals

Right now, the system in place is 30 years old.

With the change, trains can arrive every 100 seconds compared with every 120 seconds currently.

*Overhaul older trains

​They will be fitted with new motors from Toshiba, which used 30 per cent less electricity during a test.

Commuters queuing up SMRT CEO at City Hall MRT station. PHOTO: ST FILE

What the changes mean for commuters: A more comfortable ride as the morning and evening crush is expected to diminish by July next year (2016).

That's not all. Other developments in the works include:

*New rail financing framework

Under this model, the Government owns all operating assets.

This will allow SMRT to focus on service quality without being weighed down by huge and lumpy capital expenditure.

*Changing commuter behaviour

The train platform door at Serangoon MRT Station affixed with a poster of the cartoon character Move-in Martin, part of a campaign launched by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to promote thoughtfulness. PHOTO: ST FILE

Measures include looking at cases abroad for inspiration.

For example, Mr Kuek cites how service ambassadors in Taipei are deployed to "block people from boarding when it's time for train doors to close".

This would help prevent commuters from packing the train, which causes it to remain at the station longer - hence holding up subsequent trains.

Source: The Straits Times

24 En 2017
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24 En 2017
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