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Speech by Minister Khaw Boon Wan at the 6th Joint Forum on Infrastructure Maintenance

11 May 2018 Speeches

Taking Stock

1.     The most important initiative we launched last year was ECLO: Early Closure, Late Opening. ECLO is our most favourite 4-letter word!

2.     First, it helps to crystallise our focus on engineering and maintenance. MRT is a complex engineering operation. Our core competence must be in engineering. You can outsource non-core activities, but our in-house engineering capabilities must always be world-class engineering. We may leverage our customer base to exploit legitimate commercial benefits, like retail or advertising, but remember those are secondary to our primary mission. Our primary mission is to move commuters from A to B in a safe, reliable, affordable and comfortable manner. That is our primary mission. If we fail our primary mission, no matter how brilliant you are in the secondary mission, that is irrelevant. That is not the purpose of the organisation. So always be clear what your primary mission is, and do it well.

3.     Secondly, ECLO helps to demonstrate public support for our focus on engineering and maintenance. So that primary mission of engineering and maintenance is very clear in-house, but externally as well because our customers must also buy in as without their support, they would be upset – from their point of view, why are we wasting their time. Public acceptance of ECLO shows commuters’ understanding and appreciation of the need for sufficient engineering hours to do proper preventive and corrective maintenance. Without public support, we cannot achieve our primary mission. So that is how important it is.

4.     Third, ECLO provides our engineers and maintenance crew with extended engineering hours to do our job properly. This is essential for ageing MRT lines. There is no short-cut to comprehensive maintenance. This is especially critical as we step up renewal of ageing assets, like the signalling system.

5.     ECLO does inconvenience commuters. Through extensive shuttle services, we can minimise the inconvenience to commuters. Through early announcements, we prepare commuters to make alternative travelling plans. But we know that commuters are inconvenienced. Our response is to make full use of the extended engineering hours, to improve train reliability. We owe it to our commuters. In other words, every extra hour of the extended engineering hours you get, please do not waste it. Remember, it has an opportunity cost as it inconveniences commuters, and it causes us money to run the shuttle bus services in lieu of ECLO.

6.     ECLO has produced results fortunately. North-South Line (NSL) and East-West Line (EWL) have improved on their reliability. We are on track to achieving an MKBF of 1 million train-km before 2020.

7.     Importantly, we have speeded up the re-signalling of the EWL. Unlike NSL’s re-signalling project, EWL’s project has benefited tremendously from ECLO. Extended engineering hours have enabled us to test the entire NSEW Lines on the new signalling system. We started the tests, first, during engineering hours, without passengers. Many such tests were carried out; they were, thankfully, uneventful. Last two Sundays, we tested the full system with passengers for the first time. And the tests were also uneventful. We will repeat the live tests over the next 3 Sundays. We are optimistic that we can go into full live tests, all days, during the June school holidays.

8.     If things go well, we would have completed one major asset renewal for the 30-year-old NSEW Lines. But remember we have 6 major assets to renew. We have nearly completed three: sleepers, third rail and signalling system. But three more to go: power, track circuits and trains.

9.     I particularly want to highlight the renewal of the NSEW Lines’ power supply system. This is a major task. It is an extensive and complex renewal project. It would cost us nearly $900 million. It involves the replacement of nearly 1,300km of power cables, 250km of fibre optics cables, 206 power transformers, nearly 180 switchboards and 171 substations. Many things can go wrong, if we are not careful.

10.    If the renewal is not well executed, it can have a widespread impact on passenger service. It is as simple as that - no power, no train service!More importantly, given the high voltage working environment, safety of our workers and commuters is a risk factor. We are taking every precaution to ensure smooth and safe project implementation. Before the existing power supply equipment is removed, temporary mobile substations must first be set up. The new power supply system can then be installed and reconfigured to perform the same functions as the old system, with all the power cable terminations, control wirings and protection equipment put back in place. All necessary re-commissioning tests must be done before we can change over the power supply. All these tasks must be completed satisfactorily, before passenger service can resume the next morning. That is why ECLO is so valuable to us. You try to accomplish all this within that two to three hours from midnight to early morning. It’s unrealistic.

11.    We plan to start work on the power supply system later this year. The team has already started on the design and planning for this renewal project. It is a laborious task. We cannot rush it. It will take us five years to complete the renewal project. Extended engineering hours have allowed us to speed up the re-signalling project. If necessary, we will seek commuters’ understanding for more extended engineering hours to help us complete the power system renewal more quickly.

12.    I would like to thank each and every one of our rail workers who toil in the trenches. You have sacrificed your weekends and your family time for Singaporeans. Our rail operators are working closely with the National Transport Workers’ Union, to make sure all of you have a safe working environment and get enough rest.

13.    Since joining MOT, I have spent most of my time working with you, to improve our train reliability. This is our top priority. Two and half years later, we are seeing light at end of a tunnel. There has been progress and our MKBF is improving, crossing milestones which we have never crossed before. But we are not yet out of the tunnel. We must press on. We are on the right track. Stay focused on the mission. We will complete our mission in due course. This, I am fully confident.

14.    I am launching the MOT (Minister for Transport) Challenge Shield, to remind all of us of our primary mission and to encourage all our transport workers, to spur them to do even better. I thought a tangible signal like this, not for the sake of ranking, but to remind ourselves permanently why rail reliability is such a priority for us, how we have neglected it, and never to neglect it again. We are in process of stabilising and restoring it, regaining public trust, and we will get there. However, it does not mean mission accomplished. It is not – continuous attention and focus on this area is needed. By all means, you can look at other secondary missions after you have a good world-class project which we all can be proud of. You can sell your services overseas, but your mother temple must be world-class. Otherwise it is empty talk. And then every decade or so, we have to come back and have a new team and re-build. So I hope this MOT Challenge Shield will help to crystallise that concept and focus. There will be two awards, very simple awards, identified by objective measurement – the most reliable MRT line based on MKBF and the most improved MRT line. Each award will come with a modest cash prize to be used for staff welfare and appreciation of our engineering and maintenance crew.

15.    Selection will be based on the MKBF achieved by the lines during each calendar year, starting with 2018. The MKBF data to date, up till the end of April, are most promising. Downtown Line (DTL) has exceeded an MKBF of 1 million train-km. NSL has improved its 2017 MKBF by more than 500,000 train-km. All other lines are making good progress. We have 8 more months to go and all have an opportunity to win the inaugural MOT Challenge Shield. I look forward to awarding the Challenge Shield next year.

Learning from Aviation

16.    Mr Tan Gee Paw started this multi-sectoral Infrastructure Forum so that our engineers can learn from one another, even though they come from different sectors. There are best practices to be learnt and shared. There are useful case studies to inspire one another. There are also sad incidents to remind one another.

17.    As engineers, we know not to re-invent the wheel. At the last Forums, we had ST Aerospace, SIA Engineering Company, the Building Construction Authority and 3M to present their asset management best practices and approach to innovation. Today, we continue this spirit of learning from the best-in-class and we have the Republic of Singapore Air Force, Changi Airport Group and CAAS to share their experiences on how they design for reliability in aviation. I look forward to their presentation.

Thank you.