Minister Khaw: News of the defective trains could have caused undue panic

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has declared that the news of the trains could have caused undue panic during a briefing at the Bishan Depot on Tuesday (July 12).

The Transport Minister broke his week-long silence at the briefing, in an attempt to assure the public through the media that the issue of defective trains from China has been dealt with professionally, and with full public interest in mind after declining to comment on the news for a week.

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.

Mr Khaw was also reported to have said, “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”.

He added that if there was a safety issue, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) would have gone public with the information.

Mr Khaw was reported to have said, “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,” and 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 supported Mr Khaw’s comment by saying that any time LTA considers a train a safety threat, it would “never allow the train to go into service”.

Mr Khaw said 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,” said Mr Khaw.

The briefing is in response to the reports by FactWire News Agency, a watchdog news organization based in Hong Kong, on 35 train carriages that belongs to local train operator, SMRT Trains Ltd (SMRT) being “secretly” shipped back to its manufacturer on 12 June due to alleged existing defects.

There had been no information prior to the report by FactWire that there had been defects with the trains being purchased by LTA for S$368 million and many had criticised and questioned the decision to keep the public in dark over this matter.

The Workers’ Party has since filed parliament questions on the matter and will be brought up in the next Parliament sitting.