Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

What Train Commuters Really Want

SMRT begun “signalling checks” of their brand new signally system this month, during weekdays, and including during peak hours. Not surprisingly, numerous disruptions occured, leaving commuters upset and wondering if this is just but the usual breakdowns, now cleverly disguised as “signalling checks”. We’ve had signal faults, track faults, train faults. Faults are now “checks”.

The public was even earlier informed that these checks may involve disruptions to the train operations. It sounds like faults and problems are becoming the new normal.

I found it rather interesting that SMRT had to go through great lengths, this week, to explain the necessity of these signalling checks. Yes, I appreciate the need for them, but the timing , coming after a number of disruptions, sounds like the problems were more severe and numerous than SMRT had anticipated.

An unscheduled disruption is one matter. During normal operations, problems can happen. These are not unexpected (i.e. expected) given that things can fail quite routinely, but you don’t specifically have an expectation of a particular failure to happen. So while you may have contingency plans in place, they will always seem inadequate to fuming commuters.

On the other hand, when you go in to purposely do something, to change something, to make routine operations now different from normal, you should expect problems. Thats’ what SMRT seemed to know, so they told everyone to expect problems. But I wonder, did they make any plans to specifically handle the disruptions that they had specifically expected to happen?

It sounds like the SMRT is treating the operational train network as a testbed. Things are expected to break, and you (the commuters) are expected to deal with it. It’s like a piece of beta software. It’s being tested, and your’e the guinea pig helping to test it.

At some point, I’ve wondered if this new signally system is all worth the trouble. I’ve already wondered about it from the outset. The highlight of the new signally system is the reduction of train interval to 100 seconds, from 120 seconds. The idea is that trains can run more frequently, can move more people, and thus reduce crowding at stations.

However, do you not find that the savings of 20 seconds seems very meagre? You get a 20% improvement. I really don’t know, but are we supposed to be very impressed with this 20 seconds?

I thought, if the trains can run reliably, and always come on-time every 120 seconds, we would be pretty good. Reducing from peak frequency from every 120 seconds to every 100 seconds cannot be a bad thing, of course, but that’s provided reliability doesn’t suffer. Don’t we all want trains on-time and reliably, rather than higher peak frequency?

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