MRT SAFETY – Shut down regularly for full system checks


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

Source of the article.



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 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

Source of the article.


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”.


About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends.
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13 Responses to MRT SAFETY – Shut down regularly for full system checks

  1. patriot says:

    Like it or not, All the Land Transport Operators in Sin must do their utmost to ensure the safety of their passengers. There can be no compromise and how they should go about their maintenance is beyond the public at large. There are much more advanced and complicated rail systems in operations around the World for a much longer time than us and our operators can learn from them.

    As commuters, our oni wish is to have customer satisfaction in that there is as little disruption and breakdown or better still, no such occurrence at all. IDEALLY, there should be no accident involving the train, the rail and within the train station. The Operators must be made liable for any and every injury and or fatality caused that are due to their failure and negligence.

    Our Land Transport Operators can also learn from Singapore Airlines which has a longer history than our Rapid Rail System and it’s safety record is World known.

    And yes, commuters too have to ensure that they too, behave responsibly and should not cause or complicate any mishap should it happens. Having said this, me must say that in my view, the transport operators are solely responsible for the safe and efficient running of their services. AS TO HOW THEY GO ABOUT TO ACHIEVE GOOD PERFORMANCE AND SAFETY FOR THEIR CUSTOMERS, THE OPERATORS SHOULD WORK WITH THE LAND TRANSPORT AUTHORITY. AS THE AUTHORITY ON LAND TRANSPORTS, THE LTA IS AS RESPONSIBLE AS THE OPERATORS IN THE SAFETY AND EFFICIENT RUNNING OF THE LAND TRANSPORT SYSTEM.


    • Hi Patriot,
      Thks for your feedback. Nice to see u here again.

      You are correct to say that LTA is the “King” – overall regulator of all PTOs in Singapore. As such, they need to take the lead in all matters of safety and efficiency of all the PTOs. All players in the transport industry need to work together for a problem free and efficient transport system. That is the main issue of the public like yourself. We understand this. Hope those in LTA come up with solutions to our current woes.

      Yes we shld learn from others on how well they run and maintain their systems. We shld take preventive maintenance as top priority and not relegated to the lowest priority just becuz it doesn’t reflect on the bottom line of profits. It is a mistake to adopt such a mindset. Before a major incident happens, it’s better to iron out any minor glitches. Before it becomes a life threatening disease, it’s better to nip the sickness at the bud.

      Thks for your comments.

  2. Lee Chian Sue (Bukit Batok) says:

    This could be the sign of the times. Preventive maintenance is a good idea. I noticed that Darkness (insert year) of the brotherhood frequently comments in your blog. I read his comments in your last post. Diabolically intelligent, probably the smartest and most matured blogger out there currently. Since you have a relationship with him, is possible to use your influence and try to get him back into the mainstream blogging community. Most of us know that he has cold shouldered Singaporedaily for whatever reason and he has imposed a 5 year moratorium. His attitude can only be described as confrontational and highly counter productive. He doesn’t want to negotiate or even want to have anything to do with them. In my opinion, blogosphere is already so fragmented as it is and worst of all there is no leadership. If he can find a way to resolve his differences with the admin of Singaporedaily, this will go a very long way to so that all of us can get along together and perhaps we can all also tap his wide experience and brain, if there is a problem.

    • Dear Lee CS,
      I am most flattered by the onerous task you just assigned me. I do not understand what I’ve got here that attracted him such a brilliantly intelligent blogger. He is unique and weird I must say. Only in a 100 years will such a man appear on the scene! Frankly I do not know him personally. Hopefully he reads what you have written here and reconcile with his personal baggage if any with Sg Daily. My ‘relationship’ – quote from you – with our fren is akin to the proverbial lovers who understand each other but in a platonic relationship! With a nudge, a grunt or a sniff we know our moods so to speak.

      Nevertheless, I will just try to patch them up! Our fren shld know about the little story of “the bundle of sticks” which he used to quote me! The lesson is there for us to learn. We must be able to see the wood for the trees! As frens, hope he values our opinion.

      Thank you for dropping by. Hope to see u here more often.

  3. observer says:

    Yeah talk to the big man, we are afraid, if we bring it up, he will scold us

    • Hi Observer,
      Your comment is typical and it reflects the kind of culture in Sg. We are all afraid and fear to speak up. We are always at the mercy of the “big man!” That is sad. How to improve and achieve breakthrough in such a n environment? We may be the 3rd richest country on par with the 1st world but sad to say compared them we are still far behind in terms of speaking the truth!
      I have spoken my piece. I have done my duty as a concerned citizen of this country I truly love!

  4. ape says:

    Just wondering, why maintenance staff must depart and return at the depot? Can they not standby at the nearest station to sector where maintenance is to be carried out? Move in immediately when the last train passed.
    Other than humans, is there any machines, fitted with sensors, that can run on the tracks and do a quick integrity check?

    • Hi Ape,
      The answer is yes and no. If you referring to the thumbing of the ballasts (granite aggregates) below the tracks, a special machine – a type of locomotive works train is needed to do the job. Where to stable such a huge works train other than the depot? We need to do thumping every now and then to shore up and compact those ballasts to main the track stability and alignment. It’s a slow tedious job.

      If the staff were to standby in a station near to the work area, them all the equipment and tools need to be hauled to that station. It got to be repeated every now and then depending on which station where work is to be carried out. Mind you some of those equipment is bulky and cumbersome. It’s NOT like an ordinary tools box we can carry about. In terms of logistics and deployment, it could be quite challenging. Usually all the equipment or tools are already on the works train so it just about moving to the work sector .

      Hope that clears some of your doubts. Thks for your comment.

  5. Thunder Fury says:

    The problem lies on LTA itself,there’s just too many trains running during non peak and peak hour,plus the lunch shuttle service of which is not practical and waste of money ,not many pax using that service.
    Guess our sys is put to maximum ,and causing lots of disruptions

    • Hi Thunder,
      Thks for your comment. You are correct to say that. Our system is really stretched to the limits yet there is little scheduled time for maintenance. In other words, they neglected basic essential preventive maintenance to the perils of all! That is why there are so many problems which resulted in the PM calling for a public COI. In his words, the system is “not stable!” Nothing runs forever without proper maintenance. It is as simple as that. LTA being the regulator should also be held accountable for the system’s instability. They call the shots BUT when things gone wrong they “push” it to the operator and find scapegoat. That is the typical mindset of those powers to be. They do not have the courage to ‘come clean’ and admit their folly. After all they are the ‘king’ so they are infallible! That is the ‘Langgar Tiang Authority!’ they are too huge and too powerful!

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Gintai,

        Closing a line (or even a section) for maintenance will be very disruptive, even on off-peak days like Sunday. When the Jurong East Modification work was carried, they shut down the Bt Batok-Jurong East stretch for a weekend, and they had to mobilise hundreds of buses; and commuters were inconvenienced and confused – despite ample notice.
        That’s just one small stretch over one weekend. Hard to imagine what would happen over longer stretches and longer periods – repeatedly.
        I am wondering if the current maintenance regime can be improved significantly by adding more staff. This of course will require more money.
        But of course, if the system has fundamental engineering weaknesses (or flaws), the best way forward is to shut down and address once and for all.

        • Hi Anonymous,
          Thks for your contribution. It’s true that some inconvenience will be caused by a partial shutdown as pointed out in the Jur East modification.

          But then it’s better than having a system wide unexpected disruption as pointed out on the post. Like I say manpower is not the crucial issue here. It’s the lack of time ie less than 3 hrs or 4 hrs of maintenance work which is obviously insufficient. We have to bear in mind that our system is more than 25 yrs old. The wear and tear under our humid weather condition is showing up. More time is needed to maintain the tracks. Is there any other solution besides planned shut down and disruption? I heard from the maintenance guys that they may just have to give that idea a try.

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