NSEWL will be 'almost new' by 2018: Khaw

November 17, 2015 | By | Reply More

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SINGAPORE: The process to overhaul the North-South and East-West (NSEWL) line has started and it needs to ramp up its maintenance, Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said in his blogpost on Tuesday (Nov 17). He also called for a focus on “engineering excellence” among the top brass.

In his post, Mr Khaw listed the seven principal elements of the strategy to restore the NSEWL’s reliability, which included the need to improve maintenance as well as to build up the pool of engineering talent. 


Mr Khaw wrote that the NSEWL will be 30 years old soon, and like car parts that “need to be periodically replaced or extensively overhauled, the NSEWL’s station facilities, trains, tracks, signalling and power systems are similarly due for such an exercise”. These exercises are also opportunities to upgrade equipment.

“This process has begun. All the sleepers for the entire North-South Line have been replaced; the replacement on the East-West Line began in May. We have also begun replacing the third rail, which provides electric power to trains. We are also upgrading the signalling system to allow us to run trains at shorter intervals, and thus increase capacity by up to 20 per cent,” he said.

“When all these works are completed by 2018, we will essentially have an ‘almost new’ NSEWL.”


The current level of maintenance is “inadequate”, added Mr Khaw. He said SMRT and SBS Transit (SBST) will have to ramp up their maintenance resources, including manpower.

“The availability of skilled manpower is a challenge which we must overcome. To this end, we must also work hard to retain existing professionals and upskill them at every opportunity.”


Mr Khaw also suggested reducing revenue service of trains by half an hour during off-peak periods, such as early Sunday mornings, to give more time for the maintenance crew to carry out their work.

“We hope to get commuters’ support for such a measure,” he said.


The minister also reiterated the need for the transport operators’ top brass to have a “clear focus” on engineering excellence.

“Corporate focus on engineering excellence is essential and the management must reiterate it at every opportunity,” said Mr Khaw. “SMRT’s top leadership have expressed strong commitment to me, to raise rail reliability.”

He said that shareholders must also realise that they are primarily buying into a specialised engineering company.


As for the role of the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Mr Khaw said they are strengthening their regulatory regime “to catch problems upstream”, rather than taking a more outcome-based approach.

“By the time a fault happens, it is too late. This is where doing things right is as important as doing the right thing. LTA is formulating a stringent set of maintenance performance standards, with more prescriptive, process-based requirements for the operators.”

He added that LTA will be embedding dedicated teams in the NSEWL to give engineering expertise.


The minister also called for an integrated team to be forged, as problems can emerge from many possible areas such as design, operations or maintenance. 

“Finger-pointing in the first instance will not get us anywhere near this outcome; it only causes distrust between parties or worse, leads to under-reporting or even cover-up. We need an enlightened approach of transparency and open collaboration amongst all parties, and I am insisting on such a culture,” he wrote.


Mr Khaw reiterated that all parties involved in the different stages of the rail network – design, build, operate, maintain – must work closely together.

“For example, the designer must appreciate the operational complications and learn from them, so that his future designs can address these issues. As an engineer, I subscribe to the mantra that ‘a good design is easy to build, maintain and operate’.”

He said there is “room to improve the integration in the current MRT industry structure”, and this is a “strategic issue which we are currently thinking through”.

The desired outcome of these seven elements, according to Mr Khaw, is for “good engineers to be able to do good work, for the larger public good, undistracted from secondary non-engineering objectives”.

He ended his post by saying that the approach applies to the other lines run by SMRT and SBST. “The approach will also guide us in starting the new line, the Thomson-East Coast Line, on the correct footing from day one, unencumbered by legacy issues.” 

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