SINGAPORE: As Singapore looks to improve its rail reliability, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Monday (May 30) urged local operators to emulate their Taipei counterpart.
Speaking at a forum, Mr Khaw challenged SMRT and SBS Transit to inculcate a strong engineering culture and exercise clear ownership for reliability excellence.
While the Hong Kong MTR has served as a good reference as Singapore benchmarks its rail reliability against the best in the world, Mr Khaw noted that there are other operators that have moved ahead.
One example is the Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation, which is well-recognised among leading MRT operators.
It clocked a record 800,000 train-kilometres between delays of more than five minutes last year, exceeding Hong Kong's performance of 520,000 train-kilometres in the first quarter of 2016.
To learn from this, a team led by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) visited Taipei two weeks ago. It also included SMRT and SBS Transit.
It cited the operator's strong ownership of service reliability at all levels, systematic capturing of data and timely maintenance as well as its fast response to incidents as key learning points.
As a follow up, LTA will develop a standardised database across both rail operators to keep track of asset management and maintenance processes.
Mr Khaw noted that such data could also support decisions to deviate from what manufacturers have recommended, if necessary.
"Maybe the German usage and our usage is different. Who knows? Maybe temperature is a factor too, we are in the topics, with lightning even. So what is prescribed may be right that every three years (we should) do this, but maybe in our case, it should be two and a half years - or certain parts maybe they say three years, actually we can hold it for one more year to four years and save millions of dollars," said Mr Khaw.
"So we cannot be guessing all these decision making. You have to go back to the data, look at it and say, 'Yes, I think now I have the confidence to extend the life of these parts by six months', or 'No, I think sorry Board, I need more budget because we need to replace this, we are in the tropics; we are different',” he added.
APPLY TAIPEI'S PRACTICES IN THE MEANTIME
But the Transport Minister also noted that building up data will take years, and suggested applying Taipei's practices in the meantime.
The Taipei metro had also experienced reliability issues about seven years ago.
Mr Khaw said: "There's no point re-inventing the wheel ... We have no time to waste. As (Advisor on Rail Transformation) Tan Gee Paw suggested to me, because the type of equipment, the trains that we buy and so on, the system that we use is similar, it's not as if our systems are very different from the Taipei trains. So therefore, whatever they have painstakingly learnt over the years ought to be relevant to us."
Moving forward, staff from rail operators and LTA could also be attached to the Taipei metro operator, which Mr Khaw said will jump-start the review of maintenance programmes and reliability efforts.
The operators' incident response and recovery procedures are also being reviewed.
"Let's work hard to regain our mojo and we can. I know the colleagues on the ground are motivated to do so. I challenge our operators SMRT and SBST to set stretched, audacious targets and work our guts out to attain them,” said Mr Khaw.
In the first quarter of this year, preliminary figures showed that trains in Singapore ran about 160,000 kilometres between delays of more than five minutes.
Mr Khaw urged operators to aim for 200,000 train-kilometres this year, to double that by 2018 and to double that again by 2020 to reach Taipei's current standard of 800,000 kilometres.
Weighing in on this, the National Transport Workers' Union said it fully agrees with Mr Khaw's vision, but stressed it is important that operators continue to motivate workers towards a common goal.