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Singapore's rail operation and maintenance capabilities need to be expanded: Khaw Boon Wan

Singapore's rail operation and maintenance capabilities need to be expanded: Khaw Boon Wan

An MRT train passes through Canberra Station. (Photo: Aaron Chong)

SINGAPORE: As Singapore’s rail network grows, the country needs to expand its local operations and maintenance capabilities, Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said on Monday (Oct 14).

He said that while Singapore’s rail capabilities are better than they were four years ago - when he first took over the helm of the Transport Ministry - more needs to be done as technology continues to progress.

Speaking at the 8th Joint Forum on Infrastructure Maintenance, he said that a reliable rail service requires “substantial investments” for operations and maintenance and to ensure the timely renewal of ageing assets.

Mr Khaw noted that rail operators getting distracted had resulted in under-investment in the past.

He warned against getting distracted again, as well as the possibility of swinging in the other direction and conducting unnecessary works at the expense of commuters.

“Finding the right balance requires sound judgment. Regular benchmarking against foreign operators will provide a useful reality check,” he said.

And while the Transport Ministry and the Land Transport Authority, together with rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit as well as vendors came together to fix rail reliability issues that plagued the network, Mr Khaw warned against “regulatory capture” - a term referring to government agencies becoming influenced by the industries they are supposed to regulate.

"A regulator working closely with the industry to advance consumer welfare is good. But a regulator getting too comfortable with the industry, neglecting consumer welfare, will be crossing a red line,” he said.

He cited the example of the Boeing 737 Max, where lapses in how the US Federal Aviation Administration certified new planes may have led to two crashes that killed more than 300 people.

CONTRIBUTING TO GLOBAL RAIL INDUSTRY

He also noted that the country’s “strong manufacturing and engineering base” would allow it to contribute to the global rail industry.

“While we do not aim to design and build trains, we must have the ambition to contribute to the growing rail industry in the region. For example, we could design and build important components used by trains,” said Mr Khaw.

He noted that ST Engineering supplied some of the electronics for the Taipei metro, while platform screen doors for Bangkok’s train system came from Singapore.

He added that he had encouraged ST Engineering - which in June had signed an agreement with SMRT and SBS Transit to development rail engineering capabilities here - to service not only Singapore's rail network but also others in the region.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s turnaround experience in rail reliability could allow it to establish a set of operations and maintenance standards for the rail sector, said Mr Khaw, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

He noted Enterprise Singapore had recently announced plans for a Technical Committee on Railway Systems, which is working with the rail industry here to formulate such standards to raise the reliability, safety and productivity of railway systems.

The establishment of such standards can also help build the capabilities and expertise of local enterprises to service the railway sector in Singapore, as well as possibly the region, he added.

This will raise the profile of Singapore’s rail engineering and allow the country to enter the global rail industry in a meaningful way, he said.

NEW SIGNALLING SIMULATION CENTRES

Mr Khaw noted that German firm Siemens and French firm Alstom will be setting up signalling simulation centres for the Downtown Line and Thomson-East Coast Line respectively here.

This comes after French firm Thales - responsible for the upgrading of the signaling systems on the North-South and East-West MRT lines - set up a similar facility here previously.

Thales’ centre was set up at the Bishan Depot, following a collision at the Joo Koon station resulting from compatibility issues between the new and older signaling systems in 2017.  

In a statement, German firm Siemens said its centre – to be located at SBS Transit’s Gali Batu Depot - will be ready by the end of next year.

The new centre will allow testing and integration of the DTL’s signaling system to be done before the opening of a 2.2km extension to the line by 2024.

It will also feature a “digital twin” of the line’s signaling system, to allow for system enhancements and vulnerability checks to be done without disrupting service.

“Data analytics and preventive failure prediction that was previously done on the lines will now be done remotely and digitally, without impacting operations or passenger service", said Michael Peter, CEO of Siemens Mobility.

Source: CNA/az(hm)

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