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Taipei Metro improves with experienced civil engineer but Singapore’s MRT becomes “laughing stock” under paper general

by Kwok Fangjie

Channel News Asia Insider ran a story on Saturday (17 Mar) highlighting how the Taipei Metro has turned itself around under President B C Yen and became twice as reliable as Singapore’s MRT system.

However, the metro system did not start out well. It said that the Taipei Metro “opened in 1996 was not always a success story. In 2003, six delays of over an hour had a major impact on commuters and affected its image.”

The problem was solved by a setting up “weekly technical meetings that would look at how and why each problem occurred, and how it would be fixed”. All these were written into “more than 7,000 SOP documents [which] are reviewed annually”.

When it changed the signalling system in 2009, there were problems too but the Taipei Metro “gave fare discounts and put extra staff on standby to take over the automated trains”. As a result, consumer’s trust is “concomitantly high” according to the article.

The Taipei metro has now been considered the gold global standard for train reliability, which encounters delays of more than five minutes once every 1 million kilometres. This makes it 2.5 times more reliable than Singapore’s 400,000km.

Khaw urges us to learn from Taipei’s metro, but Singapore’s MRT becomes “laughing stock”

Back in May 2016, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan lauded the Taipei Metro, saying that “There is strong and tangible ownership of service reliability at all levels, from the chairman of the board, down to the president, management groups, engineers (and) the mechanics,”

Despite the rhetoric, SMRT faced the worst train breakdowns ever the following year on 7 Oct 2017. Train services on the North-South line down for more than 14 hours due to flooding. The next month, it was revealed that SMRT staff were caught falsifying maintenance records.

 The situation was so bad that the South China Morning Post ran an article entitled ‘Rolling stock to laughing stock: why is Singapore’s metro struggling, when Hong Kong’s is a hit?’ 

In a less-than-flattering headline, it read “Breakdowns, floods and a lack of executive accountability. The Lion City’s reputation for efficiency is going down the tube.”

Taipei Metro run by professional engineers while Singapore’s SMRT is not

According to his biography, the president B.C. Yen has a MA in civil engineering from the University of Texas and a BA in civil engineering from National Cheng Kung University. In addition, he has over 40 years’ experience in the transportation industry.

According to Wikipedia, SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek has both a BA and MA from Oxford University. However, his career does not appear to have any engineering-related aspects to it. Instead, he has held numerous Commanding and Staff officer posts before assuming the role of Chief of Army.

In 2012, Desmond Kuek had brought in several military personnel to head key posts in SMRT. These include Colonel Gerald Koh as director of Human Resources, Colonel Alvin Kek as Vice-President of Train Operations and Military Expert 7 Lee Ling Wee as Senior Vice-President of Maintenance and Engineering.

According to Nomura Senior Analyst Mr, Lim Jit Soon Nomura,”There’s apparently been a breakdown of protocol and (Mr Kuek) is trying to restore command and control.”

“If he cannot change the mindset, who else can?”

NUS Academic Lee Der-Horng was quoted as saying that Desmond Kuek “has been CEO now for more than five years. If he can’t change the mindset of the company, then who else can?”

What do you think? Do you have confidence in Desmond Kuek’s leadership?