FIXING the MRT’s equipment and maintenance problems – from dislodged rail claws and clips to broken cables and sagging power lines – requires investing a significant amount of time and manpower (‘Why the trains could not be run’; last Friday).
Engineering integrity is not something that can be checked easily once a system is installed and running.
For instance, let us examine the case of last Thursday’s more than 10-hour disruption of the North-East Line.
Ensuring the safety of the system does not end with the selection of the correct, safe working load of a steel cable and its correct installation. Over time, the multi-strand steel cable could corrode due to humidity in the tunnel and electrolytic action as a result of being close to high-voltage conductors. Even the strands in the inner core of the cable might get corroded, weakening the other strands. And such a danger may escape detection under cursory, visual checks.
Although the steel cables may have been designed to shoulder up to 10 times their safe working load, they may still fail catastrophically as a result of such inner core corrosion.
MRT lines should be shut down periodically to undergo scheduled maintenance which should be carried out on a sector-by-sector basis during an off-peak period or weekend.
Falling claws, jumping clips and sagging overhead power lines are symptoms of component life expiry, or problems with the way equipment was installed, or inadequate maintenance.
No cursory inspection can undo such problems.
Incidents like the recent spate of train disruptions always trigger the takeaway which was impressed upon me during the quality enhancing ISO 9000 classes which were popular more than 20 years ago. That is, we should spend money to prevent problems and not waste money to correct problems.
Chen Sen Lenn
The above article was emailed to me by a fellow blogger asking for my comments.
Much I would like to but the reality is that I’m not allowed to comment beyond the obvious. My hands are tied. Nevertheless, I’ll just make a common sense observation. It’s entirely my own view.
My good friend Mr Gilbert Goh from Transitioning.org gave an excellent reply to the above concern.
“It is shocking to know that the last comprehensive rail inspection was done ten years ago – regardless of how sturdy the mechanical component may be.
In countries like Australia and England, entire lines will be shut down – mostly during off-peak weekend period, to allow technicians to properly inspect the train lines and perform any appropriate servicing to defects if any.
Currently, SMRT technicians could only do essential rail repair works after revenue closing at around 12.20am till opening at 5.10am. Clearly, this kind of technical servicing arrangement is insufficient and could in the long run endanger the safety perimeter of the trains and track line.” Unquote
I’ll just comment generally on the track maintenance. I just wish to add that the last train entering the depot is after 1am. By 5am, the first train has to be on standby at the reception track for launching to the main line. If we take into account the travel time between Changi depot to say City Hall, it’s about one hour to and fro.
There are two depots on the East/West line i.e. Changi Depot and Ulu Pandan Depot at both ends of the EW line. However, there is only Bishan Depot on the NS line. The travel time to Marine Bay station and back to Bishan Depot will be much longer. All works trains must come from the three depots to do any maintenance work on the tracks.
Four hours minus the travel time is left with only about three hours to do any track maintenance work. Taking into account the handling or assembling of equipment, it effectively cuts down real time to less than three hours of work.
It is just pure common sense to conclude that barely three hours a day is definitely insufficient to do a proper job. Maintenance works such as replacing the metal tracks (permanent way in railway terms), worn out wooden slippers, ballast thumping underneath the tracks or checking of the panorail clips or 3rd rail claws are definitely time consuming.
The current practice of ad hoc problem rectification haphazardly is analogous to using a plaster to cover up festering wound. Just look at the unsightly green netting on certain stretches of the track i.e. Jurong East and Clementi. It’s an interim measure to “catch” those “flying clips” from the track.
What about on other stretches of the track? Those clips don’t fly on other stretches? Are we going to put netting on all the elevated tracks in the entire system? Is this a mark of a world class transport system where we pride so much as a national icon? Really Langgar! Link
The LTA is the regulator of all PTOs. The top Mandarins in LTA got to initiate and come with a solution fast to settle all those irritating glitches. No buts and no ifs. No more excuses. Just get on with the job and deliver it nicely.
I was told that in Japan they built three running tracks. One is always left empty for maintenance works. That is why their trains can run 24 hours in Japan. Whereas we do not have that luxury.
Our system is not constructed in that way. If we had adopted the Japanese system, much problems would have been solved. In Hong Kong, their train has eight carriages whereas ours is only six! Imagine the overcrowding would be lessen if only we had followed them from the onset. But then we did not expect our population to surge to five over million within the last few years.
There is a need to reconcile between the window period for regular maintenance works and the exigency of train services.
The writer Mr Chen Sen Lenn has suggested that certain sector or section be closed on a Sunday or off peak to facilitate proper and thorough maintenance is an excellent idea that need to be seriously explored. Buses could be used to bridge the gap.
I feel that it’s a better arrangement albeit slight disruption on a Sunday or off peak period rather than we face a major disruption system wide on a weekday peak for many hours resulting in a massive chaotic situation. The planned disruption could be augmented with buses for continuation of journey by commuters.
Employing more staff is not the main issue here. It’s the time constrain factor faced by the train operators that need to be addressed. So far it’s not been practiced here yet i.e. planned disruption by section or sector.
We must remember that the tracks on our existing EW and NS lines are aging. They are more than 24 years old. We need regular preventive maintenance to ensure that the trains continue to run smoothly without any more glitches. No need to waste money to seek consultants’ advice. It’s no rocket science to understand the crux of the problem.
Commuting by trains has become part of our landscape. We really need to ensure that the system is reliable, safe and efficient. We need to win back the public trust if we want our trains to be the passenger’s choice of travel.
“The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the official policies, practices or opinions of SMRT or any organisation with which I may be affiliated”.