Welcome Address by Mr Desmond Kuek, President and Group CEO for SMRT Corporation Ltd at the Singapore Rail Technology Conference on 18 November 2016

Continuing our Journey towards Rail Excellence


Opening Speech by SMRT President and Group CEO, Mr Desmond Kuek

Singapore Rail Technology Conference

18 Nov 2016 at InterContinental Singapore


Minister for Education (Schools) and Second Minister for Transport Mr Ng Chee Meng,

Professor Lui Pao Chuen, Advisor to the National Research Foundation

Distinguished guests, our friends from the metro community around the world, colleagues

1.   It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the inaugural Singapore Rail Technology Conference. This conference stems from a simple desire among our engineers for greater sharing and collaboration to advance the development of railway operations in Singapore through technology. Our friends who are rail operators overseas will agree that we share a common drive to attain and sustain higher rail reliability standards to serve commuters better.  It is our hope that this conference, centering on rail technology, will allow an exchange of best practices, new innovations and lasting collaboration among all participants. Present today are members from industry and government, academia and research institutes, and delegates from the Community of Metro operators from Asia, Europe and the Americas.  Thank you for joining us. I am certain you will add and find value in the sessions.

Achieving Higher Rail Reliability

2.    In Parliament last week, the Minister for Transport reiterated the aim of reaching 400,000 mean-kilometers between failure (MKBF) by 2018. It is an ambitious aspirational target.  What this means in more graphic terms is that our trains cumulatively travel no less than 10 times around the equator, or more than 4,000 times across the length of our North-South and East-West Lines, before incurring a single delay of more than 5 minutes.  That is a phenomenal target, and only a small handful of operators in the world have been able to achieve this consistently.  As of last month, our 29-year-old North-South and East-West Lines achieved 144,000 MKBF, a performance that is better than any in our own recorded history despite ageing, while the newer Circle Line clocked 233,000 MKBF.  But it clearly is quite some way to go to reach 400,000 MKBF.  We are working hard to achieve this, and are encouraged by the steady progress already made.  Getting to such a level of rail excellence requires multiple and concerted effort by many parties. I would like, this morning, as part of an opening, to outline six areas that will lead us there.   

Renewing and upgrading our ageing rail network on time

3.   One major area of emphasis is the ongoing multi-year renewal and upgrading of the signaling, sleeper, third rail and power systems on our oldest lines, as well as with our rolling stock.  Many of these will be completed over the next one to two years and commuters can look forward to smoother, faster journeys.  The North-South and East-West Lines are our longest and most heavily used metro lines, being arterial and spanning the length and width of our island.  We are moving as fast as we can under the constraint that maintenance and engineering works can only be carried out on the tracks for three hours every night, as the lines need to be cleared and ready to serve passengers the next day. At important junctures, slightly earlier closing of the lines at night and a later opening on Sundays have been vital in easing the work chokepoints, and we look forward to completing our multi-projects as planned.


Recovering swiftly from occasional service faults and failures

4.    Secondly, even though steady progress is being made on all these work fronts, the benefits may not always be evident to commuters as, inevitably, some faults arising from other parts of the complex rail network continue to inconvenience commuters from time to time.  Metro operators who have led similar renewal efforts on their ageing rail networks would understand the challenge of conflicting demands between providing adequate track access for maintenance and running trains on time with high reliability and availability. As train disruptions can be expected as the system renewal has not been completed, we are doubling our efforts in service recovery, and making better use of mobile devices and digital and communication technologies. We are aiming to furnish commuters with more timely and accurate information updates to keep commuters better informed of recovery efforts during a service disruption and to provide updates on alternative travel options.

5.     To support the front line in trouble shooting and in an effort to bring technical expertise to the edge, a multi-million dollar Maintenance Operations Centre that interfaces tightly with the existing Operations Control Centre was initiated last year.  It harnesses the collective expertise of engineering disciplines to address trouble spots on the ground when they surface, in order to trigger quicker responses to address faults on trains, tracks and in stations. 

Setting the right structure and framework in place for rail sustainability

6.   A third significant effort is to have in place a supporting and sustainable framework that works well for all stakeholders.  The rail eco-system includes many parties: regulatory authority, asset owner, network designer, building contractors and manufacturers, and of course, the rail company that operates and maintains the system.  All of these parties must work together in an integrated way.  There are many different models that spell out how to  design, build, operate, finance and maintain railway networks - many represented here today, among the community of world metro operators - and each unique in your own context and circumstances.

7.    In Singapore, we also continue to evolve our own. Most recently for SMRT, on 1 October 2016, a new rail financing framework was implemented, with operating assets such as trains and signaling systems transferred to Government and a risk-reward sharing mechanism put in place to better manage the business risks over fares and ridership for the operator.  On 1 November 2016, in another milestone development, SMRT was delisted from the Singapore Exchange after 16 years as a public-listed company, following the overwhelming support by shareholders to take the company private.  

8.   With these key positive developments, SMRT as the operator is in better positioned to focus on providing safe, reliable and commuter-centric public transport services, without the burden of heavy and lumpy capital expenditures, and the distractions of meeting short term earnings expectations.   Going forward, we must continue to work closely with the Land Transport Authority that regulates, owns, designs and builds the network so that the shared desired goals are aligned and achieved.

Enhancing the maintenance regime over asset life

9.    A fourth key area is in enhancing the maintenance regime over the whole asset life. In tandem with the life cycle of assets as they age, we are moving from mere corrective action and adherence to OEM-guided maintenance regimes to more preventive and predictive maintenance grounded on a risk-based reliability centric framework.  We can do this with better data capture and analytics.  SMRT has instituted a life-cycle asset management system that received ISO 55001 certification in May last year, and we are only the second company in Asia to be so awarded.  It is a commitment by all departments to ensuring processes are in place for the maintenance and management of rail assets, with risks properly identified, addressed and mitigated. 

Developing our engineering professional workforce

10.  In addition, we have been focusing efforts on raising the capacity and professionalism of our engineering and technical workforce. This year, 19 of our engineers were accredited among Singapore’s pioneer batches of Chartered Engineers in Railway and Transportation Engineering, and many more amongst the 400 or more engineers in SMRT are working towards this professional certification.  SMRT Institute, set up in 2009 as one of the first established learning and resource centres dedicated to developing rail engineering talent in Singapore, will continue to chart its vocational and milestone programmes in alignment with the national rail academy that is being formed by LTA.  

11.  Last month, we launched our Postgraduate Graduate Certification with the University of Birmingham that has a world-renowned Centre for Railway Research and Education.  It is headed by Professor Clive Roberts who is present today and speaking later this morning. This partnership is an enlightened approach toward continuing education and skills upgrading for railway professionals, allowing our engineers to gain postgraduate certification up to Masters level in the course of their career development and to complement their on-the-job skills and experience.

Harnessing technology as an enabler and game changer

12.  Finally and just as critically, technology must be harnessed as an enabler and game changer in bringing about rail excellence, revamping our conventional approaches with people, systems and processes.  This important area forms the core of today’s forum.

13.   In recent years, we ramped up prediction-based maintenance procedures and capabilities. Many condition monitoring initiatives are being put in place to detect early signs of failure for timely intervention. Many more ideas are being developed and tested, and it is most encouraging to see the breadth and depth of these technology subjects on the table for discussion today.  They range from issues concerning timely and appropriate asset renewal and upgrade, to condition monitoring breakthroughs for train and track systems, to design and systems thinking for greater rail reliability.

14.   We appreciate the strong partnership with a number of technology partners (there are many that we are collaborating with) such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research or A*STAR, Nanyang Technological University and NEC in the continuing effort to find meaningful solutions to some of the most intractable rail problems faced by all of us today.   It is our hope that this first Singapore Rail Technology Conference will become a platform where more such knowledge can be shared and collaborations strengthened, so that step by step we can fulfil our core mission of delivering the highest possible level of safe, reliable and customer-centric public transport services for all our commuters.


15.   Let me end my remarks this morning by expressing my appreciation to Minister Ng Chee Meng for the strong support you have shown by gracing this inaugural Rail Technology Conference.  Our heartiest congratulations too on your recent promotion.

16.  My thanks also to our Technical Advisory Panel who comprise local and international engineering and transport professionals who have, since its inception three years ago and under the chairmanship of Professor Alfred Huan, been invaluable in their advice and guidance on improving rail system reliability in SMRT.  This idea of a Singapore Rail Technology Conference was first mooted during a TAP meeting 2 years ago.  I would like to thank the organizing team led by Dr Tan Chee Keong, and all staff in SMRT, for working tirelessly to make the idea a reality.

17.    I wish everyone a fruitful and meaningful conference.

Thank you.


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