By Samuel Ee
A team formed by the Land Transport Authority and rail operator SMRT to systematically look at the train network's problems and anticipate issues posed by an ageing fleet will give Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew its first report soon.
"They have to give me their first briefing before the end of the month so that we can have a better idea of what needs to be done and, if we proceed on that effort, how much we can improve the reliability of the system," said Mr Lui, who is also Second Minister for Foreign Affairs.
He was speaking after a tour of SMRT's rolling stock depot and workshop in Bishan, where he also chatted with staff.
"The main thing is for me to have a chance to talk to the engineers and maintenance people. I appreciate the work they do, they are a fantastic bunch," said Mr Lui.
He added that "morale is reasonable", with SMRT's people on the ground - the engineers and maintenance and technical crew - having worked much harder in the last few months.
"I appreciate the hard work that they have done and effort they have put in to minimise the faults on the trains as well as on the tracks," he said.
Based on what he has seen and after speaking to staff, Mr Lui said that SMRT has taken a "more proactive stance".
"They are putting more emphasis on replacement," he said. "So the emphasis has shifted likewise, for corrective versus reactive. There's a lot more analysis of the trends and data and therefore pre-emptively changing parts rather than waiting for the failures to take place before they are repaired."
As the North-South and East-West MRT lines and trains age, Mr Lui said, even more effort is required to "upkeep the maintenance and maintain the reliability and safety of the system".
"Part of the work is ongoing but part of the work is also to look ahead and see what we need to prepare for as we bring in more trains, as the trains age and we run them more frequently. That's part of the responsibility of this team."
But he cautioned that what the joint team is doing "will take time to bear fruit".
"You are not going to turn the entire system around overnight," he said, although he added that an engineer who is deeply involved in the team is confident that if the recommendations are implemented, there will be a significant improvement in the reliability of the MRT system.
"Hopefully, at the end of the month when I get a briefing from them, I will be able to share their confidence," said Mr Lui. "The most important thing is to make sure that we do the work and then over time, as we see an improvement in the reliability, that's when we will regain confidence."
As for the ongoing Committee of Inquiry (COI), which is expected to end this Friday after six weeks of probing the causes of the massive service disruptions last December, Mr Lui said that he has found "the interactions with the expert groups very useful".
"There are already some recommendations and suggestions they have made as part of the COI and those we are looking at very closely."
SMRT interim CEO Tan Ek Kia reaffirmed that the rail operator's maintenance regime was "evolving" to take into account the ageing trains and tracks, and their increased usage. "In addition to repair and maintain, there will be much more of replace as well as review."
Improved operating procedures are also being implemented, along with more capabilities enhancement training.
Mr Tan said: "We have increased our resourcing in order for our improvements to happen. It is our utmost determination to improve."
This article was first published in The Business Times.