Editor’s Note: This forum letter first appeared on the Straits Times forum.

With the recent major disruption to our train network (“2 major MRT lines down for over 2 hours”; Wednesday), perhaps Singapore could take a leaf out of the book of our Asian neighbour, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is a 218km metro network that serves 1.6 billion passengers a year and carries, on average, 5.2 million passengers a day.

CNN recently ran a report on the Hong Kong MTR and branded it as what success looks like from a rail operator’s perspective.

The following are some of the noteworthy things the Hong Kong MTR has achieved.

The MTR can replace a 60m rail piece in 2 1/2 hours, and within the constraints of its daily maintenance window, which is from 1am to 5am.

This is executed by over 1,000 workers focused primarily on maintenance work for the rail lines.

It has an algorithm that efficiently schedules and manages the nightly engineering work.

The MTR operates 2.8 million train trips a year, with a 99.9 per cent on-time rate.

Its Super Operation Control Centre manages the islandwide mass transit system, and all communications between different parties.

The internal operating target is to resolve every issue within two minutes.

With two operators, SMRT and SBS Transit, perhaps Singapore needs a centralised control centre to manage the whole rail network.

The MTR operates the London Overground, the Melbourne and Stockholm metro systems, as well as parts of the Beijing, Shenzhen and Hangzhou metro systems in China. It also provides consultation services to other railway networks around the world.

The MTR invests about HK$5 billion (S$873 million) in maintenance, upgrades and renewals to its system. The company is mindful that, even with the latest systems, things have to be changed every 10 years.

The MTR also uses radio-frequency identification technology to help monitor the condition of its trains and machinery, and provide early warnings of potential problems.

Even without the issues facing our rail network, Singapore should be open to learning from its neighbour, with regard to running a reliable rail network.

Wong Shih Shen

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