TL;DR – And it should perhaps be funded by cutting the pay of the management team?
It is starting to get ridiculous. This weekend, there was a MAJOR train disruption along the North-South Line. It started at around 5:30pm on Saturday evening when flooded tunnels and a trackside fire forced trains to skip 13 stations from Ang Mo Kio to Marina South Pier. Service was only fully restored on Sunday at around 2pm.
The disruption lasted close to 22 hours and was possibly the most serious outage since December 2011. During that outage, 200,000 commuters were affected by a major service disruption along the NSL over two days.
Are we doing enough to maintain our train system?
What is particularly worrying about this incident is that work was done precisely to attempt to prevent such an incident. The tunnels were flooded despite recent improvements to flood prevention measures. Currently, flood barriers at 35 underground MRT stations have been completed across the network. But it seems that those measures were still not enough.
And it’s worrying. It suggests that SMRT had underestimated the requirements of the flood prevention measures needed to stop the tunnels from being flooded.
How did that happen? Perhaps the rain was unexpectedly heavy? Or perhaps LTA didn’t make the necessary investment to put in adequate flood prevention measures?
If it’s the latter, then we’ve got a huge problem.
Our train system is an integral part of our land transport network. But for a very long time, SMRT neglected proper maintenance of our train system. That led to train disruptions happening at an apparently increasing rate. Now, it feels that there’s a train disruption every few days. Particularly frustrating when it often happens at peak hours when people are trying to get to work and school in the morning, or trying to go home in the evening.
It’s gotten to the stage where it’s something that we have come to expect (and hopefully, not accept).
It just has to work
But should we? Should we accept and expect the frequent disruption? Definitely not.
On the contrary, we ought to expect things to work. After all, that’s the attitude that our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had. That’s how Singapore managed to rise above the challenges and became the exceptional nation that we are.
Here’s what he said in his 1984 National Day Rally speech:
“Organisation, stability, efficient, effective, corruption free government and administration. Everything works, whether its water, electricity, gas, telephone, telexes, it just has to work.”
That’s not to say that we fire the chief every time something goes wrong. Mr Lee went on to say in that speech that while firing a chief is easy, finding one who can and is willing to do the job properly to replace the one that’s fired is not easy.
But. Someone needs to be held accountable for the current situation. Someone needs to come out and take the heat, shield the engineers and technicians, the frontline staff and the rank-and-file staff from the frustration of the commuters.
These people have had to work far harder and go beyond the call of duty because not enough was invested into maintenance. It’s not fair for them to then have to bear the brunt of criticisms and frustration from the public while the management and leaders hide behind press statements and corporate communications teams.
Management should do the right thing
In fact, I would go as far as suggest that the management team take a pay cut so that the engineering and operations staff can get some sort of special bonus for the extra work that they have had to put in, and the stress they have had to withstand. It would be a boost to morale too.
Also, such a move would go some way to restore our faith in the management teams of the rail operators and also LTA. It would help persuade Singaporeans to believe that the management team consists of good leaders who are indeed trying to do their best to improve our train system and do their staff right.
I think that is the honourable thing to do.