SMRT apologises for North-South line disruption in October, resolves to do better

SMRT’s top management apologises for the 7-8 Oct 2017 disruption on the North-South Line at a media briefing on 16 October 2017 at Bishan Depot. (From left to right): SMRT Corporation CEO Desmond Kuek, SMRT Trains CEO Lee Ling Wee, SMRT Corporation and SMRT Trains Chairman Seah Moon Ming. Photo: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore

Train operator SMRT apologised to members of the public on Monday (16 October) for the breakdown on the North-South Line earlier this month, saying that it is determined to learn the lessons from the incident.

The apology by top SMRT management at a media briefing at Bishan Depot comes slightly over a week after services on the Line were disrupted for about 20 hours from 7 to 8 October following flooding in an MRT tunnel.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, senior management from the Land Transport Authority, representatives from the Public Transport Council and Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport were also present at the briefing.

“For all the times that we have not been able to catch the falling balls in time, we are sorry for the inconvenience it has caused you, and resolve to learn the lessons and do better.

“Over the past five years, we have made great progress but also some mistakes. Regardless whether our issues are viewed by others as inherited, structural or cultural, we make no excuses. I take full responsibility for all that has happened under my watch as the overall Group’s chief executive,” said SMRT Corporation CEO Desmond Kuek

Chairman Seah Moon Ming also apologised to commuters at the briefing for the inconvenience caused by the disruption, saying that SMRT aims to “make things right” for commuters.

“We are very determined to put in all necessary resources to improve maintenance and to cut down disruptions and train breakdowns. We are fully committed to resolve the engineering and maintenance issues and deliver better service,” Seah said.

Kuek also acknowledged that many of the major disruptions previously were due in part or all to human error or failure. “We regret that this is so,” he said.

Much progress has been made to instill a positive work culture in SMRT, said Kuek.

But he acknowledged, “There remain some deep-seated cultural issues within the company that has needed more time than anticipated to root out. It would be wrong to paint everyone in SMRT with the same brush – 9 in 10 of our people are incredibly committed, professional and commuter-focused.”

Progress since 2011

Kuek also outlined the steps that SMRT has taken since the December 2011 disruptions. He said SMRT has “gone into overdrive” to tackle maintenance issues arising from age-related serviceability issues.

The staff strength of the Trains team has increased to 5,300 today from 3,500 previously, with the number of engineers tripling to almost 500.

SMRT has linked performance incentives to a basket of measures, of which safety and reliability are the most important.

SMRT has also transformed its SMRT Institute to better meet the training requirements of its workforce. It set up the Technology Management Office to develop tools for its critical systems and the Futures Systems Office to harness technology for predictive maintenance.

Last year, SMRT turned its focus to the other building infrastructure which were also aging. One division has been set up to ensure better integration and supervision in areas ranging from platform screen doors, lifts to fire protection. Last month, SMRT decided that the replacement of aging infrastructure was to proceed as soon as possible.