SINGAPORE: Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Monday (Dec 17) that 2018 has been a better year for public transport - particularly in train reliability - due in part to new SMRT CEO Neo Kian Hong, whom Khaw described as a "good leader".
Mr Khaw made the comments on the sidelines of an event relating to the upgrade of the North East Line (NEL), where he said that train delays have become less frequent.
He expects all the train lines - with the exception of the East-West Line, which was affected by re-signalling tests earlier this year - to exceed 2018's rail reliability target “by a very comfortable margin”.
Mr Khaw has set a mean kilometres between failure (MKBF) target of 400,000 train-kilometres for the overall MRT network this year. This means that trains will need to travel an average of 400,000km before experiencing a service delay of more than five minutes.
“In particular, the oldest line, North-South Line, which gave us big trouble in the last few years, the improvement is quite significant, more than 10 times improvement in reliability,” said Mr Khaw.
“It doesn't mean that there will be no more train delays and disruptions, but frequency is getting much less frequent," Mr Khaw said.
"So we are not quite out of the woods. We have to continue to focus on this area, we cannot rest on our laurels. But even the best of operators sometimes meet problems, so I hope to get Singaporeans' understanding.”
The NEL upgrades are part of pre-emptive measures to ensure that mistakes made with the older North-South and East-West Lines are not repeated again, Mr Khaw said.
He also added that commuters will have to get used to early closures of MRT stations, in order for engineers to be able to do more maintenance as the MRT network ages.
“Where we do not need early closures and late openings, where early closures will do, then the impact on commuters is a lot better.
“If we take the approach as we do for NEL where we change out earlier, than wait until last minute, then we can plan it, so we don’t have to have such disruptive ECLO (early closure and late openings) too frequently,” said Mr Khaw.
UPDATE ON SMRT ACCIDENT
Mr Khaw also revealed that he had paid a visit to the SMRT employee injured during an accident at Joo Koon MRT last Wednesday.
The employee’s foot was amputated as a result of the accident.
"It is being investigated, and I think preliminary (findings) suggest to us that it's an isolated industrial accident case, and not so much a systemic problem, as happened in the previous incident,” Mr Khaw shared, alluding to a previous accident that killed two SMRT employees in 2016.
SMRT CEO Mr Neo Kian Hong was with Mr Khaw, and assured the employee – referred to as Mr Syed – that his future job prospects would be taken care of.
READ: 'We'll take care of our staff': SMRT CEO, after employee injured during track maintenance work
When Channel NewsAsia asked what the Mr Neo's priorities would be in 2019, Mr Khaw said it would be to replace the older portions of the East-West Line, to help it catch up in performance with the other lines.
"He has taken up his mission very diligently, he's on the ground very often, in the depot, on the tracks, in the trenches, day and night,” said Mr Khaw.
“I have full confidence. Part of the reason for the turning around of the North-South Line is also because of him, as well as the new chairman Mr Seah. So, you will see from this example that leadership matters. If you have a good leader, you can turn things around."
BUDGET DEBATE TO BE HANDLED BY JUNIOR MINISTERS
On a more political note, Mr Khaw said a sign that the MRT system was turning around was that his Sembawang GRC constituents had fewer complaints about the North-South Line in the past year.
Instead, he shared, most of the complaints were about e-scooters.
Mr Khaw also referred to e-scooters when speaking about the technological changes that are still to come in the transport landscape, and how the young generation of ministers have their work cut out for them in managing their introduction to Singapore.
“Just look at how e-scooters, how we think it’s a good thing if it’s properly used. And in fact most users are responsible, but you only need a few irresponsible users to cause a lot of havoc to commuters and pedestrians,” said Mr Khaw.
So, “we must be able to find a way in explaining all these changes, get them excited, but at the same time listen to them, understand their concerns.”
And to help younger ministers get used to understanding concerns on the ground, Mr Khaw shared that his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate will be spearheaded by Senior Ministers of State Dr Janil Puthucheary and Dr Lam Pin Min.
He said this was part of the leadership transition, and would be an opportunity for their political development.
“I will play a supportive role. I think this stretching of the two SMSes will be good for them, for their political career development. The young ministers need to be able to able to reach out to their own young generation of Singaporeans, work together and share each other’s aspirations for Singapore, for the future,” said Mr Khaw.
When asked if this meant he was stepping down as transport minister, Mr Khaw laughed and said this was a question for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.