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Claw At Root Of Train Breakdowns

SMRT has set a new record for massive train disruptions, besting their December 2011 incidents that saw disruptions on large portions of the North-South Line. Last night’s epic disruption saw the complete shutdown of all services on the North-South and East-West Lines during the evening rush hour. Something must be done. Not just talk, not just action, but we must see results.

SMRT Train

Transport Minister Mr Lui Tuck Yew earlier this year spoke about clawing back commuter confidence in the public transport system. I think, he made a most unfortunate choice of words. Claw? I think, what must have happened is that the folks at SMRT took it upon themselves that they needed claws. It was their new mission. The Transport Minister said so. But where do you find claws?

Well, perhaps they could remove every other claw from the third rail, which carries power for the trains, along the North-South and East-West Lines. The claw which had been the focus of the December 2011 breakdowns. The engineers probably tested that the new (presumably) claws were strong enough, and they could hold up the third rail just fine even if alternate ones were removed. They forgot, that unlike in the lab, the real tracks on the ground (or underground) are subject to massive vibrations. The vibrations might cause variations in rail alignment, and the variations could widen when alternate supports are removed. Once you have some gap, electrical arcing might happen. Oh, yes, that’s right, electrical arcing was suspected to be the cause of last night’s breakdown. The electrical arcing subsequently caused breakers to trip throughout the rail network.

Alright, so that’s just a joke. But, who knows, perhaps the truth isn’t too far off.

In all seriousness, I still take issue with Mr Lui’s use of the word claw. He wants to claw back commuter confidence. To me, confidence is something like a privilege that you receive, because of great satisfaction you have given to customers. It’s not something you claw back. You don’t earn confidence, at least not automatically like in the sense of a transaction, because of something you have done.

To use the word claw, Mr Lui gives me the impression that our confidence had belonged to them in the first place, but was lost because of a spate of unfortunate incidents, and thus he now demands to repossess our confidence. No. That’s not how it works. Our confidence did not belong to the SMRT, LTA, or Mr Lui’s ministry to begin with.

Maybe we can talk about our confidence again when we see some concrete improvement, according to the terms that commuters care about.

I don’t believe that the true cause of our train breakdowns have been dealt with. It is not about claws or sleepers. It’s a systemic organisational problem. It’s probably even beyond the SMRT organisation.

During situations like this, to hear that Mr Lui is only merely “extremely concerned” is such a let down. He should be flabbergasted. He should be consumed with rage at the complete incompetence of the LTA and SMRT. Why is he only just concerned? It is telling.

In Singapore, breakdowns are simply part and parcel of train services. I wonder what kind of standards have we lowered ourselves to. Meanwhile, some people are patting themselves on their back for a job well done, even getting a handsome pay raise. Who cares about what is actually happening on the ground?

Instead of clawing for someone’s confidence, may I suggest that the SMRT, LTA, and Mr Lui’s ministry claw at the root cause of the problems. I do assume that they do want the problems fixed too. General Elections coming around notwithstanding.

1 thought on “Claw At Root Of Train Breakdowns

  1. The root of the problem? Putting in useless paper generals and admirals who are only good at destroying (soldiers and sailors are trained to kill and destroy, not to maintain and create.)

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