Speech by SMRT President and Group CEO, Mr Desmond Kuek, at the Official Opening of SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory on 20 May 2016

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan

NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson

NRF Chief Executive Officer, Professor Low Teck Seng

SMRT Board Chairman, Mr Koh Yong Guan

Distinguished Guests, Industry Partners, and Colleagues.


1 A very good morning. I join Bertil in welcoming you to the opening ceremony of the SMRT–NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory (or in short, the Corp Lab). 


2 Last month, Minister Khaw blogged about the North-South Line clearing 100 days without any major incident. The clock unfortunately had to be reset on the 25th of April, when both lines were affected by a power fault. So we start again. Achieving a high level of service and reliability is an ongoing effort, requiring consistent management and staff attention, close scrutiny of processes, sensing and sense-making of problem areas preventively and predictively across the entire system, and an indomitable will by all parties to drive toward excellence.  

3 Even as we do so, the North-South and East-West lines are undergoing a complete renewal in its sleepers, signaling, third rail and power systems, station infrastructure, as well as refurbishing old trains and bringing in new ones to meet higher ridership demands.  It is a massive undertaking because it is all being done while the system is live – with only 3-4 hours each night to squeeze in as much engineering and maintenance work as possible before the line is cleared on time for commuter service at dawn the next day.  A doctor friend of mine remarked to me that we are doing an open heart surgery on a patient while he is still awake – and complaining of the pain. 

4 Meanwhile, SMRT Train’s ridership continues to grow with a daily average of over 2 million passenger journeys on our North-South, East-West and Circle lines. Our trains cumulatively travel the distance of nearly twice round the equator every single day, and we strive to do so while ensuring that there is no single delay that affects commuters for more than 5 minutes.  


5 It is a phenomenal effort. The network expansion and growing operational demands place even greater impetus on SMRT to examine new ways to make the rail system more robust, more resilient to failure, and quicker and more nimble to recovery if it should. 

6 To this end, we must leverage on technological advancements through close collaboration with industry partners and academia, to introduce solutions that can enhance our preventive and predictive rail maintenance capabilities. One key effort is in condition monitoring to diagnose and arrest root causes of problems before they occur. This enables us to capture accurate health status of operating train and track equipment without affecting regular train services. Timely remedial actions and time-critical decisions can then be made, preventing any single but critical fault from cascading into a major service disruption. We have had success with the recent introduction of some such condition monitoring systems. One example is the Third Rail Sag Alert system, which has managed to capture 14 warning triggers in 2015.

7 So the first track in our research collaboration under the Corp Lab is to further explore and implement technological solutions for a more advanced condition monitoring system that will enhance the resilience and safety of our rail network. One specific project is the defect detection of the rail electrification system through non-contact radio frequency induction coupling technology. This allows us to identify and localise a train’s electrification defects on the third rail safely and remotely, so that early rectification can be done. Another project, which will create an “Automated Inspection System for train wheel and axle defects”, integrates automated testing and monitoring methodologies for undercarriage components with data analysis software. Being able to screen the structural integrity of the components allows accurate identification of problem areas for more detailed inspections. 

8 The second track in research collaboration in Corp Lab is targeted at enhancing the integrity and reliability of our rail assets through re-manufacturing processes and failure mode analysis. An example is the project on wear life characterization and enhancement of rail and train wheel performance. This project enables us to optimize wear performance and enhance the resistance between the rail and train wheels. This means that we can better assess the remaining life of our rail and train assets, which translates to better prevention of potential faults through a refined maintenance schedule. What all these efforts lead to is smoother and uninterrupted journeys for all our commuters.


9 The Corp Lab is an excellent collaborative platform where industry meets academia for meaningful exchange of knowledge and expertise, with the view to implementable solutions for today’s more intractable problems and in anticipation of tomorrow’s challenges.  NTU’s scientific and research capabilities will augment the operational and engineering experience of SMRT, and working together, we look forward to innovative solutions that will help ensure the sustainability and high performance of our rail network, one that is safe and reliable for all, and to serve the needs and problems faced by our rail transport network. 


10 I would like to express my appreciation to all our partners and stakeholders who have contributed to the realization of the Corp Lab today. It’s been nearly two years of working through to reach this point in the Corp Lab. A lot of hard work has gone into making the Corp Lab possible, and I would like to thank the dedicated staff from NTU and SMRT for showing the way in forging this partnership.  We are also grateful to the National Research Foundation for their assistance in funding this collaboration.  Thank you, Minister Khaw, for your strong support given to this collaboration, by your gracing this occasion.  We look forward to many successful, implementable solutions from the Corp Lab that will help SMRT in its vision of moving people and enhancing lives, as we work together with the Ministry of Transport and Land Transport Authority toward an MRT system that is best in class in the world.

Thank you.

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