Sharing of common sense and wisdom…

By: Roadside Observer

28 April 2016 Thur

Over the past three over years, Singapore’s mass transit rail system has performed like a Roller Coaster more than anything else.

Apparently the public has lost some confidence over the most important public transport system which carries millions of commuters daily. The following media extracts of major local news agencies have highlighted the public concerns. 



The above media commentary (by Mr. Christopher Tan) mainly highlighted two issues need to be addressed: system design and state of infrastructure. (ie. software and hardware problems).
However, these two elements are broad base categorisation; and we can expect that those senior executives (including board members) at SMRT would be smart enough to have debated over what solutions could be applied (on the two elements).

As for the million-dollar question of “where does the buck stop?”, we can agree that it is not for the rail’s CEO Mr. Kuek (who happens to be the ex Chief of Defence Force) to shoulder all the blames. The fact is that he inherited a poorly managed outfit and systems by then and yet he hugely underestimated the challenges he would face. We should therefore praise his courage to take on the mountain task. Franky, Kuek would have other good career options available then.

Think deeper, SMRT is a commercial entity that serves Singapore’s public transportation needs, albeit a very crucial part.
SMRT is merely a Down-stream (下游) business operator.
The ultimate or higher up responsibility of nation-wide rail
lines & systems planning, policies and supervision rests with a national (or state) body, which is the Land Transportation Authority (LTA) and partly also, assisted by the appointed SMRT Board.
Therefore, it is rather interesting about who should answer the question of Where Does The Buck Stop?

It is even more interesting by looking back on why SMRT be allowed to switch its business focus (and resources) away from its core business to the Retail & Shop Rent business for a long period of almost 10 years; until its system eaneering aspect turned almost junk before Mr. Kuek the current CEO was called upon to try “save the day”. Who approved that major policy? Who was to ensure synergies in the long term planning and rail lines blueprint during that period?

SMRT should now focus on the following,
1. Establish a clear “battle plan” to accomplish Quality Time rail maintenance. This means, when push comes to shove, clearly identify what can be trade off during certain period of time in order to achieve the “must have” state of maintenance. The continuing pressure that costs its systems engineering to continue deteriorate is the management mindset of trying too hard to strike a good balance all round.
SMRT should be aware that it has put itself into fighting a hard battle scenario, not just engineering issue.

2. Isolate critical “Leakages” and reinforce “Interfaces” within the system design. As Mr. Christopher Tan’s commentary about the SMRT’s system design and infrastructure issues. However, at this stage it is not possible to carry out large scale system redesign and infrastructure overhaul without huge disruption to the island’s most crucial transportational means.

Such isolation/reinforcement strategy helps to, first to gradually slow down system/infrastructure deterioration and, secondly helps to limit a critical failure (or leakage) within the system to spread across multi lines. The question remains how thorough such processes are being carried out?
Isolation is relatively less complex; reinforcing interfaces within the existing system design and heavy-loaded infrastructure can be a tricky task.

3. Key Resource management (engineering, human, safety). Besides systems and process management, SMRT definitely needs to improve on its resource management especially human resources; in particular it has great impact on safety. It is a proven theory that great majority of safety violations were caused by human errors! Kept reviewing SOPs after accidents is not effective enough to achieve excellent safety management which is required by any mass transit platform. The recent rail track fatal accident has much to say. Besides impact on safety, management of hundreds and thousands of engineering experts and operational staff to sustain high efficiency and productivity is challenging.

From now on, whoever the CEO of SMRT ultimately has to deliver…


The above press editorial apparently lacks in-depth discussion about SMRT’s extend of damage repair. The real issue here is definitely not about how much more transparent SMRT should be to the public. But rather, is SMRT heading down the right path to make things right?!

There’s no merit just to be more “publicly transparent” if among SMRT, its Board and LTA have yet to agree on a clear roadmap and well defined courses of action. The path ahead would involve some trade off.


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