Can inviting a foreign company to enter Singapore’s rail market, really solve the problems faced by commuters?

A Today forum letter dated 9 October (Monday) by Toh Han Shih comments that following the state of rail serviceability in Singapore, it may be time to seriously consider engaging a competent foreign rail operator as a partner or player.

He wrote that his letter was published in May last year, where he suggested that Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation could be allowed to enter Singapore’s rail market, to help improve rail reliability here or take over some of the operations. Since then, he noted that Singapore’s MRT system continues to face disruptions and breakdowns, and the latest major one was what happened on the North-South Line on October 7 due to flash floods.

He stated that perhaps, this is the right time a foreign operator such as MTR may take over one or two important and heavily used lines that pass through Singapore’s financial districts including Raffles Place and City Hall. Mr Toh wrote that MTR operates and owns railways in various cities including Melbourne, London and Stockholm, and it has an excellent operation record, with trains arriving on schedule 99.9 per cent of the time.

Many readers of the letter, wrote that something must be done to fix the issue regarding the consistent breakdowns.

Yitch Blob wrote, “A proper audit should be conducted across all areas with strategic importance such as transportation, healthcare, telcos etc. My opinion is that the local companies have grown complacent and require a good wake up call. The limited competition from sibling companies do little to push for better quality in these industries locally.”

Alfred Wu wrote, “It has been more than 5 years since Saw Phaik Hwa stepped down and we have yet to resolve this issue? The amount of direct and indirect costs taxpayers have to pay is ludicrous. If the problems are still unidentified then there is a bigger problem.”

Kin Leong wrote, “e need / must develop, retain and regenerate competency in servicing our own rail system. Maintaining and Servicing rail system is going to be a big business for the region. Now is the opportunity. We may play catch up now but in the long run, we should aim to be the main service center for rails systems in the region and build a new revenue stream for Singapore.”

James Ong wrote, “Complacency is the disease that eats into a World Class society, and turn it back to be third world class in the very important infrastructure, which is the life blood of society, public transport.
Its time to purge the easy going SMRT staffs, and Fire those that are incompetent or inept. In every organisations, you will find the 20-80 phenomenon, called the pareto effect.
20 percent of employees produce 80 percent of a company’s results.
20 percent of a given employee’s time yields 80 percent of their output.
20 percent of software bugs cause 80 percent of the software’s failures.
20 percent of a company’s investments produce 80 percent of its investment profits.”

Shirley Seah wrote, “Should get a third party to assess the overall status of our MRT. Solving the symptoms n doing piecemeal repairs don’t seem appropriate because the seriousness of the situation have slowly surfaced and level of risk seem to go higher. Don’t look like a day to day maintenance repair will ease the situation. Find the root to get a good look at the real problem. All the reports saying this and that being the reasons. Is it true or half true? Just not pacified. Worrying.”

Suan Loke Tan wrote, “Complacent operator. Running a public transport like a profit making organization. Shareholders’ interest vs commuters’ interest. Embarrassing. Forever firefighting with aging assets. Don’t see the same problem with our much older airline. I guess maintenance and upgrades is costly, shareholders’ pocket is more important.”

Lim Foong Fe wrote, “SMRT no longer has credibility. Includes the government running this too. This is not a small issue. This is daily life, not something that an occasional appearance of MP seen taking the train could solve. Please, fix this. Do not give useless excuses. Give results.”

Many also agreed with Mr Toh that foreign talents should be allowed to come in.

Sim Tony wrote, “Yes, I agree that HK MTR Corp should be allowed to come in. But knowing our Government may lose face if HK MTR can eliminate these problems. Then the Government will worry where to put these paper generals because no MNC or big private Organisations will welcome them.”

Des Soo wrote, “You will need to lobby for that. Doubt SMRT stakeholders will give up their profits (and excuses to raise fares) just to make trips comfortable for commuters.”

Lim King Loong wrote, “In my opinion, the system was designed to perform at certain capacity and today it was push beyond its boundary thus starting to break down because is above what it suppose to do.”

James Lim wrote, “Good suggestion and nothing to lose for them to explore. Truly SMRT have been undertaking these problematic issues for many years and still cannot resolve it. It is time to let other experienced operators to manage it instead.”

Mcgyver Loh wrote, “Fully agreed. If local operator cannot do a good job, we have to allow foreign operator to get it done. No competition, no improvement. I think this is what our govt has said about and open up our market for competition.”

Mohd Afzal Mohd Sidik wrote, “Get professionals to come here. Learn from them and get all the required experience from them. When the right time comes get the local to oversees all operations. Benefits must go to our local companies not a foreign company. So that more Singaporeans will get a better job n a new and challenging profession.”

Som, however, stressed that the top management should take responsibility.

Steven Tan wrote, “Paid themselves millions claiming to be rare talent but years passed and the problems became worse!! Sack Khaw Boon Wan or ask him commit Harakiri!!”

However, many of them also stated that inviting foreign talents would not solve the problems.

Irene Foo wrote, “Send MRT staffs overseas to learn from the best and pick up the skills to train the rest back home to ensure we still have jobs?”

Lim Karen wrote, “It’s not just about getting another operator to take charge and problems will be resolved! It is a matter of the technical know-hows and expertise to solve problems asap, the competency and high level of vigilance! Unless the current operator has not met all the SOPs for many times, then might have to relook into training the technical team. Otherwise, changing operator might be the last resort.”

Jason Shim wrote, “Why do you think foreign companies can do better than local? Absurd leh. Anyway talk is cheap let them try to see who is right. The problem started with cost and power to listen to right people solving it. MRT is an inherent problem due to lack of proper maintenance due to shortage of time & other reasons & worst when it change to automated systems. Anyway there is no right or wrong but results will tell. Every business has a risk.”

Matthew Tang wrote, “Why Hong Kong? They have a separate cabin to induce quiteness. Would we have it ?
Their railway cabins are even much more longer than ours. How are we supposed to extend. Do you mean excavating more lands to accommodate the extension of rail cabins?”

Mary Alice Lim wrote, “What difference would a foreign operator make? At the end of the day the workers actually doing the job are the same, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Teo Woon Hoon wrote, “A foreign rail operator would not help. We lacked a comprehensive structure to maintain and sustain the health of the system, ranging from suitable maintenance regime, knowledge of maintenance needs, sufficient skilled engineers and technicians. Another operator cannot perform magic.”

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