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Singapore: Train Disruptions Spark Debate

Train disruptions marred the operations of Singapore's Mass Rapid Transport (SMRT) this month which inconvenienced thousands of passengers and generated a heated discussion about the quality and efficiency of the country’s transportation system. Initial investigation revealed 61 faults in the rails and 13 trains were found to be defective.

From the blog of Gintai

Unbranded BreadnButter notes the decline of the SMRT which was once the world’s first listed metropolitan rail company

When it was first listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 2000, it prided itself as the world’s first listed metropolitan rail company that was publicly listed. More than a decade down the road, with epic disruptions during the peak shopping period, cracks are appearing on this grand experiment once lauded as a world class public transport system.

Ravi Philemon compares the rise and fall of SMRT to Singapore society

Why do I say that the story of the SMRT is the story of Singapore? Because the early leaders of the country put in place various rigorous systems for governing the nation, and the leaders who came after them assumed that these systems are fool-proof; that you only need to put in place trusted aides to maintain these systems and everything will be fine.

From 2010, there have been over 40 disruptions in train services. Vandals had broken into SMRT train depot to vandalise the trains on two occasions, raising concerns of security. SMRT has never taken responsibility for any of these failures. In fact, SMRT has tried to shift the blame to the security company when they were questioned for the security lapse in their depot.

To appease public anger, the government immediately created a committee to probe the disruptions in train service. Political Writings suggests some questions for the committee

The Committee of Inquiry is to establish the cause of the incident, ie who created the physical conditions that led to the incident. Who did not follow procedure, who did not perform the necessary maintenance, was the maintenance regime adequate and in line with manufacturers’ recommendations to begin with, were we running the system beyond it’s design load and/or design frequency, etc.

Reinventing the Rice Bowl thinks competition will be good for SMRT

While it may be impractical to have two MRT operators on the same line we can certainly have independent bus operators who compete with the train operators and are not part of the same monopoly. Hopefully they would then be able to respond much faster to the current shortfall in service on the MRT network. More competition would also be likely to lead to greater investment and a better travel experience for commuters.

Desparatebeep questions the financial priorities of the train company

Well, I'm not going to go into the financial statements of the transport opperators but what's clear is that the money which seemed to flow to the senior management and majority shareholders didn't flow into simple routine checks that could have saved people a lot of agravation and trauma.

From the blog of Gintai

My Singapore News is worried that fare hikes will be proposed soon to improve the quality of train service

The second point is equipment failure and more maintenance. More maintenance and servicing, more frequent change of equipment means more cost. You just cannot have more servicing and maintenance without having more technicians.

Whatever the outcome, commuter pockets gonna be burnt a big hole. It is going to be costly to the commuters as the profits must still go up and up.

The Blue Sweater believes that the profit-driven SMRT is not compatible with its public-oriented mission

While the profit-motive is arguably a contributing factor in the crisis, as necessary expenses (such as personnel and maintenance) are driven down with consequences, another reason could be that the profit-driven ethos of the corporation is at odds with the public-oriented mission it is supposed to serve.

I’m not calling for the re-nationalisation of our public transport, but it does raise questions about the promises of privatisation and corporatisation, and forces us to re-think the balance between private management and government regulation.

Encountering Urbanization hopes the debates will foster more dialogue between government and the people

Additionally while these disruptions are certainly inconvenient I must admit it is also refreshing to see so much discussion among friends, colleagues and across the Internet about the role of public servants and public agencies in a place that has been dubbed a “nanny state” for taking care of its citizens. Perhaps these disruptions and people’s anger can help shape the evolving dialogue in Singapore between the government and the people. After all a more resilient city needs not just resilient infrastructure but also resilient and engaged citizens that help create innovative solutions to benefit their city.

Singapore Recalcitrant criticizes the SMRT management

The frequency in the number of breakdowns in services does not convey confidence in the commuting public nor does it reflect well on the efficiency or the lack of it in the management. One or two breakdowns should have forewarned the management of possible flaws in the system and that efforts should have been made to detect these defects and rectify them. Complacency seems to be the order of the day and nothing seems to have changed the frequency of disruptions.

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