The Workers’ Party (WP) called for greater transparency from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in its monitoring of the progress of maintenance by SMRT and SBS Transit for aging rail assets.
WP Non-Constituency Member of Parliament-elect Dennis Tan told reporters at a Christmas event yesterday (Dec 13): "The frequency of MRT breakdown cannot be a normal way of life in Singapore. This is totally unacceptable".
Standing alongside former WP NCMP Gerald Giam, Tan also asked the government to:
1. Introduce KPIs on the progress of maintenance and renewal of rail assets.
2. Update the public on the status of negotiations between LTA and SMRT on the new rail financing framework, and set a clear deadline for its conclusion.
Performance indicators to forecast likely problems with the rail system
The reason? WP called for additional performance indicators on these parts: Such as the percentage of parts that have not been replaced -- so as to forecast likely problems with the rail system.
“If (the KPIs) had been introduced earlier, it would have been possible for us to detect some of the problems such as the lack of rail engineers and aging rail assets,” said Tan, who was the WP candidate in Fengshan SMC during the last General Election.
“Right now these KPIs, if there are any, have not been published, and so we don’t know (their) status,” Giam added. “The objectives of (having a KPI) is really to provide some forecasting for breakdowns that might happen, rather than look back and say that it’s because of parts that expired.”
Tan needs to learn a thing or two about communicating clearly to the media
It was clear that WP wanted to profile Tan in the media interview.
But it was Giam who stood out for his clear and well-articulated responses.
On Minister Khaw’s recent comments about his talks with LTA on having their own engineering team, Giam replied that WP welcomes that as "a step in the right direction".
In a jibe at both the authorities and the operators, Giam quipped that it was a "very belated acknowledgement" that "for years they have been neglecting the engineering side of the MRT operations". and added that they need to "focus on engineering and not just profits.”
Tan's discomfort with the media was clearly evident, especially if he had to stray beyond the main talking points that he has prepared and tackle questions from the journalists.
Check out the following exchange between Tan and a journalist about WP calling on the SMRT parts and components to be replaced before the end of their shelf-life.
Journalist: Mr Tan, earlier on you said that the parts are replaced much earlier before they expired, is there a recommendation of how much earlier (it should be)?
Tan: I think the parts depends on the manufacturer's recommendations. You can't really generalise. My suggestion is that parts must be replaced in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturer. It should not (be) late. It must be replaced in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturer.
Journalist: From your understanding, the parts are already expired before they are being replaced...
Tan: Erm... Well, I think, erm, the sleeper should have been replaced by 2012, but now we understand that they are being replaced and the replacement should only be completed at the end of 2016, for example. That's one...that's one.
Enter Giam, who went all trainspotter nerd-speak:
"Okay. What he (Tan) was saying, was that the assets and the parts should be replaced by the time it reached the end of life... It is not to say that (you should) purposely renewed parts before they are worn out. Of course if the operator finds that certain parts have worn out before the end of life, then they should also replace.
In terms of concrete examples, the sleepers of the MRT line... If you look on the MRT website, they said that the sleepers were designed to be replaced between 15 and 25 years after the start of operation. So if you count from 1987, which is when MRT started operations, 15 years will be 2002. And 25 years will be 2012.
Right now, the situation we are faced with is that sleepers are being replaced. I think the North-South Line sleepers has been replaced. The East-West Line sleepers are still being replaced. They have decided they are going to shut down the MRT a bit earlier, so that they can accelerate the process. But the sleepers are now expected to be completed replaced at the end of 2016. That is clearly four years after the last date of their renewal.
Same for the signalling system... I think they've said, it's designed for a lifespan of 10 years and it's way above 10 years that they are being replaced.
Another component would be the third rail assembly, which carries the power lines, the power to the trains, which have been the cause of a lot of the breakdowns. That also has a lifespan of about 30 years and we are reaching that period.
These are just some of the critical parts that have been highlighted. There might be many parts that need to be replaced but have not been replaced, have reached their end of life.
And this is why we are calling for more transparency as to the KPIs that are put forward - as to what are these parts, when should they be replaced and when have they been replaced."
Stunned silence from the media for more than five seconds, before WP concluded the doorstop interview.
We will miss Giam in the next session of Parliament.
All photos by Ng Yi Shu.