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Speech by Minister Khaw Boon Wan at Decommissioning of 66 First-Generation NSEWL Trains

22 Jun 2020 Speeches

“Keeping Singapore Moving”

Friends and colleagues,

1.     COVID-19 has kept everyone at the frontline very busy. I know our transport operators have all stepped up to the challenge, to keep public transport safe for both commuters as well as our staff. Many have been working non-stop to keep Singapore moving. I thank all of you for your dedication.  

2.     Even as we battle COVID-19, in parallel, we press on with many other important tasks, including our bilateral discussions with Malaysia on both the High Speed Rail and the RTS Link projects. In fact, the RTS Link discussions, over tele-conferencing, have been intensive, often running into the night, as the negotiators are mindful of the end of July deadline, which is just next month. This is the final extension of the suspension, and the window is closing. I hope that there will be a successful outcome, so that we can re-start the RTS Link project implementation.  

3.     For this morning, I would like to focus on two other important tasks: (a) expanding our MRT network; (b) keeping our MRT service reliable.

Expanding our MRT Network

4.     First, our MRT network. Although COVID-19 has disrupted the demand for public transport, the impact is only temporary. COVID will pass and demand for public transport will recover. We had a taste of the recovery last week, when we eased the local movement restrictions. Demand for public transport services has recovered to about 40 per cent of pre-COVID level.

5.     Our plan is to expand the MRT network to 360km by early 2030s. We are sticking to this plan. There will be some delays because of COVID-induced impact on the availability of construction workers. But the intent to significantly expand our MRT network remains unchanged.

Keeping our MRT Service Reliable

6.     Second, keeping our MRT service reliable. This ethos is now deeply embedded in the corporate culture of our operators. After a few years of intense efforts, SMRT and SBST are now among the most reliable rail operators in the world.

7.     Our entire MRT network consistently exceeds an MKBF of 1 million train-km. The latest MKBF figure from April 2019 for 12 months up to March 2020 is a very respectable 1.4 million train-km. I thank all our rail workers and LTA officers for this proud achievement.  

8.     In 2018, I set up the MOT Challenge Shield to inspire our rail operators.  I am pleased to announce the winners of the MOT Challenge Shield.  The selection is based on MKBF performance data for last year.  

9.     The Most Reliable Line in 2019 goes to the East-West Line, with an MKBF of 1.48 million train-km. Congratulations!

10.    The Most Improved Line in 2019 also goes to the East-West Line, which has more than tripled its 2018 MKBF of 0.41 million train-km. From less than half a million to almost 1.5 million. The East-West Line has come a very long way, especially from the 2017 train collision incident, for which all of us will never forget. The turnaround of EWL is a good story, that no matter how low we have fallen, with determination, we can rise again, and emerge better and stronger. 
 
11.    Thank you all for your hard work and dedication. But remember: rail reliability is a continuous commitment. We must continue to invest in maintenance and importantly, in assets renewal.  

12.    Just now, we took a ride on one of our first batch of MRT trains. It was made by Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki and has been deployed on the North-South Line for 33 years since 1987. The ride took us through four of the first five stations of the North-South Line, bringing us here to Bishan Depot. Today’s event is kept to a small group because of COVID, but it is a very significant event. 
 
13.    When the train pulled into Bishan Depot, we marked the start of the decommissioning of our very first MRT trains in Singapore, the batch of 66 first-generation Kawasaki trains. These trains have served millions of Singaporeans on the North-South and East-West Lines since Day 1, more than 30 years ago.

14.    When our MRT opened on 7 November 1987, we only had five stations, from Toa Payoh to Yio Chu Kang. Some of you may recall how excited Singaporeans were. Over 120,000 commuters bought the $3 commemorative tickets on Opening Day to ride on our fleet of first-generation trains. Over the next couple of years, these trains will progressively be replaced by a new generation of new trains.  

15.    As we renew the MRT network, remember the people who operated the hardware.  This morning, we invited some of our pioneer rail workers to join us. They belong to my generation. Mdm Ho Kim Huey is one of them. She joined the service in 1986 – you have to join earlier to prepare for the opening of the trains. She helped draft the Electrical and Mechanical drawings of our first-generation trains. By the way, Mdm Ho is still active. She is now working with the North East Line and Circle Line rolling stock teams! 

Conclusion

16.    We have come a long way since 1987 when we opened our first MRT stations.  

17.    We have our ups and downs. When we are down, we never despair. We work even harder, to turn the corner, to re-emerge stronger. We especially remember our friends who help us to turn the corner.  Mr Tan Gee Paw, the chief self-declared rat catcher, whom I appointed as my advisor on rail transformation. Government colleagues from the various infrastructure agencies – MINDEF, SAF, PUB, BCA, so many others from the various agencies who organised the Joint Forum on Infrastructure Maintenance to share best practices. Also, our overseas friends on the Rail Excellence Advisory Panel, who shared their valuable experience generously. They were completely open with their books, the dos and don’ts, their heartaches. Like us, they went through their downs and re-emerged, and they shared very generously, including attaching some of our staff to their workshops to learn from them. 

18.    Most of all, our colleagues from LTA, led by Chairman and CE, and of course, our two operators and the OEM manufacturers. Together, our One Transport family worked tirelessly to turn our trains around. We can all be very proud of your achievements!