Breakdowns “tarnish our reputation”: Khaw


The Minister of Transport, Khaw Boon Wan, said that transport breakdowns such as the one on Monday morning “tarnish our reputation.”

He said the authorities “are re-doubling our efforts to improve train reliability.”

Monday’s disruption saw the North-east line being out of service for some two hours from about 5.30am.

Mr Khaw, writing on the ministry’s blogsite, said “Singaporeans deserve better.”

He also posted an email which he said had been sent to him recently by Mr Tan Gee Paw, the chairman of the Public Utilities Board (PUB).

Mr Khaw had roped in Mr Tan earlier in October to be his adviser on dealing with the issues of the transport system as the latter is “one of my most respected Singapore engineers.”

On the MOT blog, Mr Khaw said, in the post titled “Catching rats“:

Mr Tan Gee Paw sent me this email recently. His years of experience and insights showed through, as he advised generally on rail reliability:

“When we engage consultants to design a system for us, they follow Codes of Practice and established design practices. When breakdowns become frequent, engaging a third party consultant or external team of engineers to do a thorough check on the system should not be the only solution. They will use the same codes of practice and design practices and often conclude the system is by and large intact and what happened was unfortunate and can easily be rectified.

But that is not the issue. We have to go beyond codes of practice and do preventive risk analysis on the entire system.

To do this, we need to engage street-smart, sharp-eyed practising engineers in systems engineering for rails alongside the third party consultant. They are the ones who will walk through the system and spot the risky parts of the system, beyond the codes of practice and alert us on what modifications must be made urgently.

I call such engineers the rat catchers.  I learnt this lesson way back in the 80s. We worked alongside top German consultants to design our first refuse incineration plant that generates electricity. All parts were meticulously designed to the established codes of practice. A year later, the whole plant suffered a massive total shut down. A rat had tried to jump across two bus bars and short circuited the entire plant. The bus bars were spaced according to standards, but no one was sharp-eyed enough to think a rat would jump across.”

He posed this sharp question to LTA and our operators: “Have you ever tried using third party consultants supplemented by independent street smart, sharp-eyed operating engineers who have years of experience on the job? If we have not done so, then we can never get on top of the current problem. As the system ages, more rats will appear and we will never get over this. Only way is to bring in the rat catchers. We do this in the sewerage system, and we have in PUB engineers who know what must be done beyond the standard codes of practice. Unfortunately our experience is not in rail systems, but nonetheless I will ask my departments if they think they can be of some help in rat catching for rail systems. But you must do a risk analysis on the entire system using street smart, sharp-eyed rat catchers.”

He stressed: “Unless we can get this done quickly, pouring massive engineering manpower to beef up maintenance will never get us out of this mess. No amount of good maintenance can make up for rats running around. It will be most frustrating.”

That is why I asked Mr Tan to be our Advisor. With his assistance, we will tackle this problem of rail reliability.