SINGAPORE: Declaring that trains were being returned to China for repairs due to hairline cracks could have caused undue panic, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said at the Bishan Depot on Tuesday (Jul 12).
Mr Khaw said that going public for something that was "not a major event" might have caused unnecessary panic to the layman, noting that to engineers, not all cracks are the same.
"If all cracks are have to be reported when they do not cause any of those safety issues then they have to think about what is the impact on the ground," said Mr Khaw. "Looking back I think it’s understandable. We learn as we go along, sometimes even routine matters can be spun out of control as it happened in this case".
Left: A hairline crack of 14.2cm. Right: A hairline crack of 5.5cm. 85 per cent of hairline cracks are shorter than 20cm, LTA said. (Photos: LTA)
He added that if there was a safety issue, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) would have gone public.
"I think if it was a safety issue, LTA - I’m quite sure will - in consultation with MOT (Ministry of Transport) - will decide to go public immediately," said Mr Khaw. He added that if returning the trains would have affected capacity, MOT and LTA would have gone public to explain why.
LTA Deputy Chief Executive (Infrastructure and Development) Chua Chong Kheng added that any time LTA considers a train a safety threat, it would "never allow the train to go into service".
A hairline crack seen on an SMRT train about to be returned to the manufacturers. (Photo: Kenneth Lim)
The Transport Minister added that even if there were no safety concerns, should rectification works require many trains to be taken away, his ministry and LTA will still explain why they will have to reduce capacity of the rail system.
"So if the rectification requires us to take away too many trains ... I'm quite sure MOT together with LTA would have also decided even though it’s not a safety issue, because it will affect availability of trains, I'm sure they will go public and explain why, we will now have to slow down on our program of increasing the capacity," he said.
The briefing comes after Hong Kong-based news agency FactWire reported that the defective trains were being sent back to Qingdao, China, claiming that the recalls were being done "in secret". SMRT has said the trains on its rail lines are "extensively tested" to ensure safety and reliability.
HAIRLINE CRACKS NOT LINKED TO ANY TRAIN DELAYS: LTA
There was no correlation to train delays of more than five minutes to the hairline cracks, LTA said at the briefing. It indicated that most of the delays since 2014 were linked to signalling faults, door or brake issues, with none linked to hairline cracks.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan inspecting a fixed bolster on an SMRT train. (Photo: Kenneth Lim)
The authority added that even when trains were being repaired, there were always enough trains to meet demand.
For example, for 2016, there are 140 trains available for the North-South and East-West lines, and 124 trains are needed to meet demand. This will continue till 2019 - when replacement work is completed - where there will always be more trains available than needed, according to estimates.
"Should the cracks be developed into such an extent that the safety margin falls below a certain level, then we will remove the trains because we have enough buffer to take care of that," said Mr Khaw. "So that is in that very unlikely event, that the deterioration comes at great compromise to this safety margin, we will remove the train."
Mr Chua noted that the cracks were "randomly spread out", but even so, if only one car in a train had the cracks, the entire train would be sent back.
CONSORTIUM WON NEW CONTRACT AS CRACK PROBLEM WAS RESOLVED
The Kawasaki / Sifang consortium also won Contract T251 - for the supply of 91 four-car electric multiple units trains for the Thomson East Coast Line - because the problem of hairline cracks for trains purchased under contract C151A was resolved conclusively.
An SMRT train about to be returned to the manufacturer. (Photo: Kenneth Lim)
"From the experience of C151A, bolsters of trains will be supplied by Japanese supplier Kobe Steel," said LTA.
"Kawasaki / Sifang has shown a high level of responsiveness and strong sense of responsibility in addressing the issue," it added.
LTA said that the consortium won out of six bidders at it provided the best overall offer based on price, quality and life-cycle costs. Other bidders included Hyundai Rotem, which wanted to build the trains in Korea, and Construcciones Y Auxiliar De Ferrocarriles, which would have built the trains in Spain. Four other tenderers proposed to assemble the trains in China.
Mr Chua noted that "more and more trains are being produced in China", and that it was "becoming the norm".