SMRT takes 'full responsibility' for tunnel flooding, says CEO Desmond Kuek

SMRT takes 'full responsibility' for tunnel flooding, says CEO Desmond Kuek

Mr Desmond Kuek at SMRT briefing
SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek apologised to commuters at a media conference on Monday (Oct 16) on the MRT tunnel flooding incident on Oct 7.

SINGAPORE: SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek apologised to commuters affected by the Oct 7 weekend disruption caused by a flooded tunnel on the North-South Line (NSL) in a press conference on Monday (Oct 16) that detailed the causes of the incident.

Addressing criticism that SMRT has received about its work culture, Mr Kuek said that "deep-seated cultural issues" remain within the company that need more time to root out, despite some progress being made.

"Indeed, many of our major disruptions in the past have been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure," Mr Kuek said. " We regret that this is so."

He said that "nine in 10 of our people are incredibly committed, professional and commuter-focused".

In response to reporters' queries, he said one area that needs to be strengthened is the "level of accountability by supervisors".

This includes "the level of ownership and responsibility over what’s not working well ... The openness in which some issues are reported", he added.

Referring to the replacement of SMRT's vice-president for maintenance after the incident, Mr Kuek said it is not "just one person's fault, but because he’s the head of this particular function we removed him from his responsibilities there ... and put somebody else in charge for the time being.”

Mr Kuek added that he takes full responsibility for the incident: "On behalf of all of us in SMRT, I apologise to members of the public who were affected by last weekend's disruption. We are all deeply pained by what happened."


Speaking before Mr Kuek, chairman of SMRT Corporation and SMRT Trains Seah Moon Ming bowed as he apologised to commuters.

"SMRT has failed to prevent this incident from happening. SMRT takes full responsibility for this incident," Mr Seah said. "SMRT wants to, and aims to make things right for our commuters."

He added: "We know we have disappointed you and affected your life with each MRT service disruption. I ask for your patience and kind understanding, to allow us to work towards providing you with a better and smoother commuter experience."

After a torrential downpour on Saturday (Oct 7), a section of the NSL between Braddell and Bishan MRT stations was flooded.

Service on about half the NSL – from Ang Mo Kio to Marina South Pier – was halted for more than three hours. Train services in both directions were suspended between Ang Mo Kio and Newton MRT stations for almost 20 hours before they resumed at 1.50pm on Oct 8. 


Mr Kuek said that since 2012, SMRT has "gone into overdrive to address maintenance issues arising from age-related serviceability issues". The SMRT has increased the number of staff on its trains team to 5,300 from 3,500, and tripled the number of engineers to about 500. 

Since 2013, SMRT has deepened the domain expertise in each functional component including rolling stock, track permanent way, signalling and power systems. The company has also looked into system integration across maintenance, engineering, projects and planning. These were were deemed high priority for rail reliability, and multiple projects were launched to replace each component.  

"Within the three to four hours of engineering time each night, we prioritised our work so that we could meet the most pressing maintenance needs, yet allowing renewal projects to progress at best speed, and for commuter service to proceed uninterrupted the next day at dawn," Mr Kuek said. 

Last year, the SMRT focused on other building infrastructure renewal projects including platform screen doors, lifts, escalators, electrical and mechanical, fire protection and environmental control systems.