Back to top

Speech by Minister for Transport, Mr Ong Ye Kung, at the Launch of Singapore Railway Standards

23 Mar 2021 Speeches

1.     I have not come to this ballroom for more than a year, so it is quite refreshing to have a meeting together, and I am very happy to be here. Before COVID-19, I had many events, but with COVID-19, much fewer events. My practice is to accept as many events as I can but don’t promise to deliver a speech. So I will attend without making a speech. But on the spot, if I feel very encouraged by the people around me, I will say something off the cuff. Today is a day like that.  
 
2.     Some of you, especially those have worked with me for many years, may know that I am a very big fan of standards. I have actually worked on standards for many years, since 2005. What I worked on then were training standards, since I was CEO of the Workforce Development Agency (WDA). We worked on setting up the first set of training standards for various industries, and through that process I learnt what different countries do, and the great value that standards bring to every industry. It is an art to set standards. And I came to the conclusion that good standards must have a few characteristics. 
 
3.     First, they must be ground up. No point for the government to come in and set the standards, it doesn’t work. So, as I was sitting next to Mr Seah Moon Ming (Chairman of SMRT), he reminded me many times that these standards are set by the industry partners and academics, and it was not top down by the LTA. So this (Singapore Rail Standards) is very good -  it must be ground up, it must represent the industry - so I am very glad to see all our major operators all here today.
 
4.     Second, standards need to have some authority. Sometimes it becomes legislation, becomes references, but sometimes also as guidelines, which can be useful. I very much appreciate the Singapore Standards Council for leading us and lending us your authority, so thank you very much Mr Robert Chew, Chairman of Singapore Standards Council. 
 
5.     Third, this is the tricky part. Standards must be quite specific yet not so specific that it become restrictive. Ultimately you have different players. Everyone works with the same standards but everyone cannot end up working under the same SOP. That will be wrong. Everyone will need to work to the same quality standards. When we did a lot of work on training standards, we were always very careful not to over-specify -  set what are the competencies for training, what is the outcome you want to see, how you go about it. Different trainers have different curriculum, different pedagogy. Likewise, the standards must be pitched just at the right level to raise quality, and not to be so restrictive. 
 
6.     Finally, this is also very tricky – the standards must be inclusive and not exclusive. Some of my European friends mentioned to me that in some countries in Europe, you can’t even sew a button without meeting the guild on button sewing, telling you that you must meet his standards, otherwise you cannot sew buttons. That becomes exclusive, which is met with some criticism. Standards cannot be set until it becomes a way to protect the guild, protect the vocation. In contrast, you can set standards such that it is inclusive, such as that it is accessible, such that anyone who is interested in this guild or vocation can join it so long as I go through the right avenue, meet the right standards, I can be part of this community. So we must set standards that way to make it inclusive. 
 
7.     All in all, I hope this set of standards meets this understanding that I have of what makes a good standard. And what is very encouraging is that this sparked off in 2015, through a speech by then-SMS for Transport, Josephine Teo, and that triggered off the work. And therefore, today, after two years of work, we are able to launch the first three sets of standards. Whenever you have standards, it reflects pride, professionalism, and it is a milestone for any industry. So I congratulate you on that. 
 
8.     I want to acknowledge the support of ESG. May you guide us to export this around the world when it is fully developed. Special thanks and special tribute goes to Dr Richard Kwok (IES President) for putting in all this effort. Every industry needs a leader who can bring everyone together to work on something meaningful and I think you stepped up to it and thank you very much.  
 
9.     The industry has your work cut out for you on four fronts, working on asset management, maintenance, safety and security, and service readiness. You plan to develop 60 standards in five years. These are the first three. Modest start, but meaningful start. Two on nomenclature and abbreviation, and the last one on maintenance of P-way. It is a good start and you have a long road ahead. I wish you all the best. Let’s continue to work together with the pride and professionalism that fuel and undergird this initiative. We have come a long way in our rail capabilities, and with these standards, it gives us a further boost to climb to greater heights.