Dec 18, 2011

The MRT Train Breakdown - Passing the Buck in a Blame Game

One year ago, I had already written several posts about the falling standards of public transport in Singapore. Of course, those posts attracted a few of the usual criticisms that I was irrationally anti-PAP.

Well, as you know by now, the MRT trains broke down very badly a few days ago. Service was disrupted for many hours. Passengers were trapped in darkness without ventilation. Someone had to use a fire extinguisher to smash the glass panel of the train door, so that everyone else could breathe. Passengers had to force the doors open themselves, in order to get out.



Problems like that don't happen overnight. They never do. They are just symptoms of deeper systemic failures. What those failures are, we'll eventually know - if the goverment actually reveals its findings in an honest manner.  But the point is that when something like this happens, it's typically the result of an extended period of time over which the trains are badly managed. If the train system had been regularly inspected and properly maintained, it wouldn't just massively break down like that.

I read the news, and I see that Mr Lui Tuck Yew, the Transport Minister, is making a big hue and cry. Oh, how clever. Immediately, he shoves all the potential blame at SMRT and talks about how he's going to get a panel of experts to inspect SMRT and find out the problems yadda yadda yadda.

Well, I'm sure that SMRT is to blame. But what about the PAP government itself? After all, this is public transport. Mr Lui, do you mean to say that the government has no regular role in making sure that the public transport actually works? That the trains run properly, that buses are safe, and so on? Come on, Mr Transport Minister. What has your ministry been doing all this time?

I'm scared, you know. I am a regular train user. I don't want to be trapped underground, for who knows how long, in the dark, without ventilation, on a crowded train, with oxygen running out.

If Lui and the SMRT can't solve the problem quickly, I suggest that as an interim measure that every train must be equipped with emergency torchlights and sledgehammers. The torchlights are for lighting, and the sledgehammers are to prevent suffocation.



"Singaporeans must be self-reliant and not expect the
Government to do everything for them."

42 comments:

hugewhaleshark said...

Correct. Most likely we'll get a Mas Selamat style finding. Someone left the window open. Let's move on! A mirror will be a very apt gift for Mr Lui.

Anonymous said...

surprise Minister liu and his gangs is sleeping for long time SMRT IS ALSO SLEEPING and making money for themself

Ghost said...

I think the reason given by the SMRT of damaged third rails to be very strange. How did so many rails suddenly get damaged all at the same time? It is something the SMRT need to explain ASAP.

Amused said...

When the government is also the largest shareholder, who will be looking after commuters' interest (e.g. safety, cost, performance)?

Anonymous said...

They will definitely scarifice that useless SMRT CEO, a political move to save their skins. That is something that should be done long ago. This recent fiasco has a silver lining, that the MIWs cannot throw smoke and statistics anymore to hide their inefficiencies and mistakes, that they have to come clean on citizens feedback instaed of ignoring them.

Parka said...

FYI, ventilation even when there's no power outage can be quite bad as the trains are often crowded.

Anonymous said...

I love your sledgehammer reference. ;)

SgCapricorn said...

In the case of Mas Selamat, there was no "company" to blame. So, it was merely lip service of "I am responsible" and "Let's move on".

In public transport, there are "companies" to lay the blame on. Conveniently. We have evolved systemically to such an extent that a "committee" is always needed to solve problems. So, what do the office bearers and people who are paid (rather astronomically) to do the actual work actually do?

Paid to merely convene committee after committee?

Anonymous said...

a car been driven for over 20 years. first 5 years maintenance fees at $10, next 5, $20. then after that $25 with no garantee that nothing bad will happen (doctors also will not give u a 100% safe assurance of an operation) than recent 5 years, $30. user not happy. why every year increase and yet standard did not. solution given: scrap whole car and replace it. easiest and fastest. but scrapping whole car cost $1000. and yearly maintenance still as high. ended up cost have to be co shared. in the perspective of a business model, these cost end of day have to pass on to user. so.... whats ur suggestion? is there any way to not scrap car but yet have same maintenance fees years after years and still have standard there? take a step front, ppl in front KPKB. take back, KPKB. dun take also KPKB... what in the world are we coming to man....

Anonymous said...

KPKB?

The most basic requirement anyone can ask of a public train is that it does not break down and trap people inside.

Singaporeans are unhappy with the incident, and you say that they are KPKB?

It only shows how stupid you are. Next, SMRT trains will break down from Monday to Friday, and you will sing their praises for making the trains work successfully on weekends.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang, you probably mean this kind of Emergency Hammer.. http://www.amazon.com/LifeHammer-Original-Emergency-Hammer-Orange/dp/B000BN3A4Y

With our (damn) luck, "some friend of SMRT" is going to win the tender and supply these for all the train carriages and get a huge payday.

Anonymous said...

Well said SIR! WELL SAID!

Singaporean said...

SOP - Gerard Ee will be appointed to chair the Committee of Inquiry.

Anonymous said...

Actually the buck doesn't start with Lui, it starts with Raymond Lim. These things don't pop up over night. If anything , sympathy should go to Lui who has to handle all this crap. Of course, being paid buttloads for handling crap is just called "part of the job".

Anonymous said...

good posting and observation BUT i thought that Tan Kin Lian do not agree in his posting that the blame should be on the govt or even the SMRT!! BUT he onmited the posting comments immediately after reading this post! do you really want to associate with such a low class wannabe president like him! yet he said in his earlier post that this kind of things do happen!

Anonymous said...

Looking back at the Tony Tan scolds Ong Teng Cheong on the need for an MRT system tells me that there is a very very strong possibility that we have an MRT system that was build on cost cutting priority basis. Hence the fact that our system which was created after HK's is 2 cars less than HK (smaller stations, less trains) and that the trains are about 30% smaller (smaller is cheaper) and a signaling system that to be charitable is very limited. So limited that after completing the whole MRT system (plus the new lines) we are now going to have to replace the signaling system for something that works better - guess all the lines will have to upgrade wait does that mean the lines used a 20yr old signaling system ? Fact that a system is probably designed to run at 75 to 80% capacity and system that needs to run at 95% and above constantly needs a maintain cycle that is much more than one that run at a lower capacity - wear and tear is wear and tear.
Yes its SMRT's fault in probably not spending enough on maintence - 8% appears to be the wrong magic figure. Even the batteries that power the emergency lights and fans where not replace on a periodic basis - other wise why would lights and fans stop after 20min plus or was this another sign of cost cutting use a smaller capacity battery ( save a couple of buck per train equals a sizeable cost savings afterall the system will never fail right)
Emergency equipment in terms of torch lights, window breakers, or even emergency lights in the tunnel to come on in case the system fails to allow for passengers to move on tracks with some safety rather than a bring your own alternative of using our smart phones as torch lights - hey if this happend 10 years back, we will have to use lighters. That alone tells us how safe they have designed this system.

In short it is not just the SMRT but also the people who had a say in the design and the what was allowed to be included in the MRT project.

Anonymous said...

Recently my relative from singapore got stuck in the underground section of our MRT in KL when the MRT suffer a power outage. I jokingly said for him to look on the bright side. Where in the world can you experience walking in pitch darkness along the MRT tunnel of a major city except Kuala Lumpur? This is a serious tourist destination. Well obviously he took it seriously to recommend to relevant people that Singapore should not fall behind their Malaysians in terms of tourist attractions.

Anonymous said...

I think that aside from the issues of frequent train breakdowns, we also need to acknowledge that the mgmt post-breakdown is also very bad. Staff & mgmt seem clueless despite the many 'terrorist attacks' exercises..
Another thing to note - whilst the East-West/ North-South lines are more than 20years, the Circle line is newly opened and is also seeing frequent breakdowns!

The Stamford Press said...

Really, who is to blame? SMRT, PAP, Mr Lui Tuck Yew or All of them?

The people higher up can always be pressing those below to do their job, but the former usually won't have the time to go down personally to check. Thus, we should find out if those tasked to do the railway and train maintainence physically had actually fulfilled their duties. Or did they just 'smoked' their way through?

If a worker told the boss that the work is done, when it is actually not, but the whole system still seems to work as usual, then it is unlikely that the boss would suspect much. (Until he spots something unusual)

Anonymous said...

Based on the total number of MRT stations under SMRT are 84 (from wikipedia). Total track coverage is 126.5km. The window for the MRT staff to scrutinize the tracks + trains for faulty parts is from 1am - 4:30am. Now, based on the number of technical staffs that SMRT have, are they able to ensure that given only with 3.5hrs, they are able to check 126.5km of tracks & trains for faults & able to rectify it immediately? Sound unconvincing right.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not speaking up for anyone. I just want to alert all organizations that cutting cost is not everything. Quality comes with a price & cutting corners should be the last thing to consider. Please, spare a thought for the citizen of Singapore. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Want to have millions dollars salaries and bonuses and iron rice bowl jobs but do not want to take ownership of the responsibilities of the problems. Very good in pushing responsibilities to SMRT. This is very typical of the new normal.

Anonymous said...

Singapore
==========
only has about 146 kilometers of MRT train tracks in Singapore.

Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_Rapid_Transit_%28Singapore%29

versus Seoul, (S. Korea) which has 902 kilometers of MRT train tracks

Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seoul_Metropolitan_Subway

146 kilometers (S'pore) versus 902 kilometers (Seoul, S. Korea)


So how difficult is it to maintain our short 146 kilometers of MRT train tracks?

Does it really require the expertise of such a highly qualified, highly paid CEO?
PLUS
Additional oversight from the Transport Minister.

So difficult to manage meh?

Anonymous said...

You mean to use a real hammer in case of emergency OR

Vote Workers' Party (The Hammer logo party) to prevent future emergencies from happening?

Why not do both?

Alan Wong said...

When they appointed a CEO with particular emphasis from a retail background, obviously their priority was towards profit making especially when they pull their efforts into turning all the MRT stations into a giant revenue generating machine.

For a money minded retail CEO, costly repair & maintenance routines will certainly be relegated into the bare minimum, hence the ultimate breakdowns.

The uppermost question now must be why is it amassing huge profits year after year so vital for a public transport company ?

Is 'public service' not a priority for SMRT anymore ?

Anonymous said...

Frankly, if you have been to Tokyo or Seoul, you will know that their train system is not only much bigger, but also more complex. With many more lines, intersections, stations, different train models and different train operators. Yet while working in Tokyo for 4 years, I never saw them have a train breakdown as bad as Singapore's.

Anonymous said...

How is it Lui Tuck Yew's fault when he's only just taken over the portfolio? So many morons in Singapore running loose.

I'm surprised nobody blamed LTA and immediately pointed fingers at the minister just because the minister is a public face.

Regulations and maintenance are operations issues, which are managed by stat boards. Ministries are not in charge of operations at all. Only policies.

Hum Yee Fan Sang said...

http://humyeefansang.blogspot.com/2011/12/you-donch-know-how-to-siam.html

Anonymous said...

Eh? Minister only in charge of policies?

Then how come when a new Circle Line opens, the Minister quickly shows his face in the media and claims the credit for our wonderful improvements in public transport!?

Then when something goes wrong, he says, "Errrr, not my problem haaaar, I am only in charge of policy".

Aiyah, up to now, you still get fooled by our ministers, poor thing lah you. Must be low IQ.

ttking said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Obviously when they appointed the CEO, her main duty is to increase profits with minimum operating cost. Her fat bonus depends on the profits too. That's why they didn't get someone with engineering and transportation background/knowledge to fill the post. We also do not know if the replacement parts are of inferior quality due to lower cost. 一分钱一分货 ie. the quality of the commodity is worth the price.

DE LEVIATHAN @ SG said...

SMRT - A Public Transporter that Went Terribly Wrong with its Business Model

http://de-leviathan.blogspot.com/2011/12/smrt-public-transporter-that-went.html

Anonymous said...

Pity the SMRT employees. It's year end festive mood for most while they have to work over time and face the public anger, literally. Unlike their CEO and other Executive VP's they are not highly paid. It's really demoralizing to work under an incompetent leadership that has lost its way. The people at the top can always walk away with a fat package when the going gets tough but the vast majority below has no choice.

Raymond said...

Dear Anonymous above who posted on the Tokyo and Seoul train systems...

I happened to be in the Metropolitan Tokyo area on 12 Mar 2011 in the afternoon, and their train service did suffer an even more massive shutdown, and for more than 12 hours at that. Hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people were affected. Many could not go home and were stuck in the city.

Power to the railway had been cut off entirely and there were also fears of possible damage to the rail tracks and other railway infrastructure. Furthermore, it took the authorities several hours to mobilise bus service to provide connections but only to nodal points.

The next day, only partial train services resumed, but there were clear notifications about available services at all stations and on the media.

Btw, all this was after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake...

Anonymous said...

Yes, Tokyo's subway breaks down after a magnitude 9 earthquake.

Singapore's subway? Breaks down due to lack of maintenance.

Anonymous said...

Did we have an earthquake? A nuclear meltdown? A tsunami? What's our excuse then? Laziness, stupidity or incompetence? In a country with no natural disasters the train breaks down for no reason thrice in two weeks? We must be the laughing stock of southeast Asia!

Anonymous said...

Oh sorry I forgot the even bigger idiot above.it's a good thing you are anonymous, the biggest moron here is you. The great mr lui was number 2 in transport. He wasn't a newcomer or a greenhorn, and he had six months already. If you are not questioning his competency then there is seriously something wrong with you. How much does it cost for one man to take a walk and check the tracks daily, weekly, even monthly? The answer is nothing, because you already employed him, you simply have not assigned him to check. How is one check every ten years acceptable? Even by third world standards this is garbage. The 21 faults were not an illusion, but a dangerous reality

Anonymous said...

LOLLLLLLLLLLL @ the torch and the sledgehammer. I dont think that's gonna happen. And if we carry one ourself, we'll be considered carrying weapons and be charged!

mrdes said...

Come to think of it, I should bring a hammer to work...thanks for reminder...haha

Mike Larry said...
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Mike Larry said...
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zedon said...
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Anonymous said...

Obviously you don't understand how the Govt of Singapore works - they have to lower the costs so that can maximize the profits. Otherwise how can they pay themselves million dollar salaries. To that end I heard that SMRT plans to build more retail shops so that passengers can spend their time and money there while waiting for the train and buses to recover. Its a win win - for them of course. YMC