In a recent interview with ST, SMRT CEO LG (NS) Desmond Kuek told the media that SMRT’s train withdrawal rate has come down from 3.3 for every 100,000km operated in 2012 to 1.05 last year after he came on board on 1 Oct 2012, taking over from Saw Phaik Hwa.

Train withdrawal rate is where a train is withdrawn from service because of faults.

“This is the lowest in seven years,” LG (NS) Kuek noted. “And we are targeting to go even lower this year.”

“We have made tremendous progress on many fronts… but there is much more to be done to improve rail reliability,” he added.

He admitted that the task of getting SMRT back on track is “incredibly tough and challenging”.

When he first came into SMRT, he saw SMRT having “deep-seated issues… managerial, structural, cultural and systemic issues”.

So, what he did next was to assemble a team of senior executives in SMRT, made up mainly of former SAF soldiers. Then he started beefing up the technical staff.

After his restructured SMRT, he noted that there has been “a clear shift in our staff culture”.

LG (NS) Kuek also boasted about the changing of SMRT’s 30-year-old train signalling system. “This may not sound like anything exceptional to some, but Thales, our contractor, tells me that this is its biggest project on a ‘live’ system anywhere in the world,” he said.

LG (NS) Kuek is confident that SMRT will rise from its recent chequered history to recapture its spot as one of the world’s top metros. “Whatever has happened in the past does not faze us – it only makes us stronger,” he said.

Since assuming the helm, LG (NS) Kuek has been thinking of diversifying SMRT’s business. He started a rail engineering subsidiary to market Toshiba train motors, and tied up with France’s Faiveley Transport to supply train maintenance, repair and overhaul services in South-east Asia.

In April, it announced it’s investing in OMG, a new company vying to be Singapore’s fourth telco. But it later dropped the idea amid mounting criticism that SMRT is moving away from its core transporation services.

“Our aim is to be the people’s choice – that people will take the train because they want to, and not because they have to,” he said.

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