Rail reliability improves across entire MRT network: Khaw Boon Wan

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan speaking at Sengkang Depot on 31 August 2019. PHOTO: Nicholas Yong/Yahoo News Singapore

SINGAPORE — Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has lauded the efforts of transport agencies and train operators as the rail network reached a series of reliability milestones.

“Last month, our entire MRT network recorded a Mean Kilometres Between Failure, or MKBF, of over one million train-km,” said Khaw on Friday (30 August). MKBF measures the distance travelled between breakdown of more than five minutes.

Speaking to reporters at SBS Transit (SBST) Sengkang Depot, Khaw added, “For SBST, North East Line has exceeded 1 million consistently since last October. DTL2 has hovered around the 1 million mark since July 2018.”

The transport players have also tracked the number of days without a major delay of more than 30 minutes. “Four years ago, crossing the 100-day mark was such a big challenge,” admitted Khaw.

“For SBST, North-East Line and Downtown Line crossed the 300-day milestone recently. Your Sengkang Punggol LRT crossed the 200-day milestone, and all your three lines are heading to the next milestone with confidence.”

Longer term sustainability

In July this year, Khaw told Parliament that the rail system’s MKBF has increased sevenfold since 2015 as a result of a “concerted multi-year effort”. But he also warned that Singaporeans must be prepared for higher fares in order to maintain a reliable rail network.

On Friday, the minister elaborated that the focus has been extended from immediate fixes to longer term sustainability. He revealed that transport authorities have dived into aspects such as maintenance details, predictive maintenance, raising cost efficiency and better managing train headways.

Referring to an international advisory panel of metro operators headed by former top civil servant Tan Gee Paw, Khaw noted, “They were generous with their advice and frank with their observations. We implemented all their suggestions.”

One lesson learnt: optimising non-fare revenue. “We have concluded that there is scope for greater exploitation of the advertisement spaces. We will try it out for the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL), through the recent non-fare tenders,” said Khaw.

The rights for retail and advertising on the TEL have been outsourced, marking the first time that non-fare businesses, which are currently run by MRT operators, would be managed by external companies. This is expected to bring in more than $164 million over 16 years.

And by adopting the Kaizen (continuous improvement) and other initiatives, SMRT and SBST have together saved more than $25 million through cost efficiency efforts.

For example, in April 2017, SMRT began using recycled water to wash trains, in order to conserve its supply of fresh water. With 40-50 trains washed daily at each depot, up to 50,000 litres of fresh water is saved each day.

A Rain Alert System (RAS), providing real-time rain alerts, has also been implemented. On rainy days, train doors and platform screen doors occasionally do not align, causing service delays.

Since the RAS was introduced on the North-South Line in November 2018, there has been a 70 per cent reduction in door misalignment cases.

“Overall, it has been a productive and eventful four years,” Khaw said.

Breakdowns and incidents

Staff from SMRT and Singapore's Land Transport Authority gather around two trains that collided at a train station in Singapore on 15 November 2017. PHOTO: TOH TING WEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Khaw’s tenure since becoming Transport Minister in October 2015 has been marked by a series of high profile rail breakdowns and incidents and a change in leadership at the main rail operator.

In October 2017, a massive North-South Line disruption caused by the flooding of a tunnel between Bishan and Braddell stations affected some 250,000 commuters, amid the longest breakdown in SMRT’s history.

A month later, 36 commuters were injured when an SMRT train collided with a stationary train near Joo Koon station. The cause of the incident was later determined to be a software glitch in the signalling system.

The incidents dented public confidence in the public transport system, according to a November 2017 survey by market research firm Blackbox Research, commissioned by Yahoo News Singapore.

Related stories

SMRT Trains posts $86 million FY2018 loss amid lower ridership, higher operating expenses

SMRT CEO Neo Kian Hong rallies staff on the ground in mission to regain public trust