Mr Fix-It Swears He Will Fix It

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Sounding weary but determined, Minister of Transport Khaw Boon Wan delivered a statement in Parliament yesterday to address a slew of questions filed by Members of Parliament on the recent Bishan flooding incident.

This is, essentially, what he said:

  • Some parts of the SMRT team are better than others

He commended unsung heroes in the flood incident, saying that these first responders had done the right thing and handled a difficult situation well.

“Chief Controller, Mr Tan Kwong Chye, took the decision to detrain the commuters and cut off the traction power to the affected tracks between Bishan and Braddell soon after receiving the first reports of flooding. Train Service Controller, Mr Tan Ming Hui, single-handedly managed both incidents at Bishan and Marina South Pier, ensuring that train services north of Ang Mo Kio continued to run, and train services south of Newton were resumed as quickly as possible by the same evening.”

  • However, the flooding incident was 500x unnecessary and avoidable

“It should not have happened. It was not due to any inadequacy in the design of flood protection measures. Neither was it due to an extraordinary storm. It was due to poor maintenance and neglect of duties by the specific SMRT maintenance team responsible for the Bishan storm water sump pump system…maintenance records may have been falsified.

“The SMRT team responsible for maintaining the Bishan storm water sump pit had neglected their duties, falsified records and failed us. SMRT management has accepted full responsibility over this sad episode.”

  • Seah Moon Ming, the new SMRT Chairman, will make SMRT great

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Twice at least, Minister Khaw threw his weight behind Mr Seah Moon Ming, the SMRT chairman and said that he had faith that he would transform SMRT. Mr Seah took over the reins in June this year. SMRT management showed up in Parliament yesterday, looking subdued.

“I am certain of the new SMRT Chairman’s determination and sincere efforts to transform the culture of SMRT as a whole. With the support of management and workers across the organisation, I have faith that he will succeed.

“I am confident that the new SMRT Chairman will be able to turnaround the company, and that we can catch up with the best metros in the world in terms of service reliability.”

Not so sure about SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek though.

  • SMRT Chairman KPI is high

(KPI not hit = no Christmas bonus)

“SMRT’s new Chairman has publicly stated that his company has zero tolerance for failures in supervision and diligence over maintenance tasks, and will be undertaking a comprehensive audit of maintenance records and practices to uncover any lapses or impropriety. He has also shared that the Board will review the remuneration of its senior management, from the CEO through the relevant chain of command. We commend the Chairman for taking these steps and for emphasising that it is the responsibility of management to set the right culture of professionalism and excellence. It begins from the top.”

  • I know it doesn’t look like it, but we are really trying very hard and we have come a long way

Minister Khaw defended the ground workers of SMRT (those who actually do what they have to do, anyway) who were working behind the scenes with ‘limited engineering hours’ and a ‘punishing schedule’ that was taking its toll on the workers.

“Rail operators, and especially SMRT, have to perform both scheduled and corrective maintenance work, but also the implementation of numerous asset renewal works such as the re-signalling project for the North-South and EastWest Lines, within the few hours every night when trains are not running. The punishing schedule takes its toll on the workers, and forces the operators to prioritise between many urgent and important tasks.”

“I have interacted with many SMRT staff working on the signalling system, power, trains and track maintenance. They are committed to the goal and are determined to regain the trust and confidence of our commuters. I know they are just as upset as me that some of their colleagues in charge of maintaining the tunnel portal sump pits have failed us and pushed us back in this multi-year journey. I share their disappointment and also embarrassment, deeply. But we are determined to get back on our feet, back to our work, and soldier on.” 

  • Our goal post has not shifted

“I have not changed my target of achieving an MKBF of 1 million train-km by 2020. We just have to lean in, redouble our efforts and work smarter. As we keep going in this direction, there will be a major improvement in experience in the near future. “

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Khaw, by and large, still has goodwill amongst the public and a record for solving problems he has, unfortunately or fortunately, inherited.

I don’t doubt the team’s sincerity or commitment, including the SMRT workers on ground in trying to tackle this monster.

But no one hates a train breakdown or train fault as much as us commuters do.

Our needs are simple – we just want to travel from Point A to B as scheduled, in relative comfort.

So Mr Fix It and company…LAST WARNING. And good luck.

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Bonus Pic – Desmond Kuek, who according to Khaw, volunteered by the job

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