On Channel 5′s Talking Point yesterday (14 Jul), ME8 (NS) Lee Ling Wee admitted on national TV that SMRT was not able to handle last week’s massive train disruptions on its own, despite deploying 700 staff that night.

He suggested setting up a taskforce by roping in the Land Transport Authority and other enforcement agencies.

ME8 (NS) Lee is SMRT’s managing director in-charge of train operations. His salary is presumed to be more than $500,000 a year, according to SMRT’s Annual Report

“The total aggregate remuneration paid to the Group’s top 5 key Management personnel during FY2015 was S$3.646 million.”

“One trainload is about 1,400, so we’re talking about three to four trainloads of people descending onto the concourse and we were just not able to cope. This is a situation whereby I think SMRT just doesn’t have the organic capacity to cope with this level of disruption. I think perhaps it’s something that we need to take at the national level,” he said.

On Talking Point, LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong, who used to the the former Chief of Navy, said that they had mobilised whatever assets they could on the night, including buses from SBS Transit. The authority was also planning to call on private bus operators if it had to, as back-up. “We will have to have a deep examination what worked, what didn’t work. We pull back and ask ourselves what are the additional contingency actions and plans we need to put together so we can be better prepared,” RADM (NS) Chew said.

“That (the disruption) was a very dreadful moment,” ME8 (NS) Lee continued. “It was peak hour and 250,000 commuters will be inconvenienced, among which we have Muslim Singaporeans who are going back to break fast. But what is the alternative? The alternative is to continue, which means it may get more trains stuck between stations.”

“One train has about 1,500 passengers and if you have 10 trains stuck between stations, it means we have a situation whereby we have to evacuate 15,000 people walking on the track – you think about it, children, students, pregnant ladies, the elderly – that is a situation I didn’t want to have, so I guess it was the lesser of two evils,” he added.

ME8 (NS) Lee stopped the train service during a service breakdown in the evening of 7 Jul last week. The stoppage affected 250,000 commuters at all 54 MRT stations on both the North-South Line and East-West Line, with many commuters taking their frustrations online, scolding SMRT – which runs both lines – and LG (NS) Desmond Kuek its CEO.

ME8 (NS) Lee also pointed out that the North-South and East-West Lines were the first major lines to be built. He said they are towards the end of their life span, when they see a spike in defect rates.

“The third rail system has been in place since 1987, so it is almost 30 years old, and some of these insulators are aging, and so there’s a possibility that some of them have lost their insulation properties,” he said. He acknowledged that maintenance has to be kept up.

Who is ME8 (NS) Lee Ling Wee?

ME8 (NS) Lee was brought in by LG (NS) Kuek in 2013 to lead and manage all matters of Train Operations, Engineering and Maintenance.

Before going to SMRT, he was the head of Air Engineering & Logistics Department, HQ RSAF. He was said to have 25 years of experience in engineering and maintenance of combat air planes.

In 2011, he became the first military domain expert (ME) to be raised to the rank of ME8 – equivalent to a Brigadier-General. He started his career as an air-force engineer in 1991. He was a colonel in the RSAF before he switched in 2010 to the new service scheme.

When he was promoted to ME8, he said he would like to share the honour of the promotion with his community of air-force engineers. When asked for his thoughts on the ME scheme, he said, “I see it as an innovation among the armed forces around the world. This is something unique, probably the world’s first such career scheme.”

He added that the scheme was a “bold move by the Ministry of Defence to meet the rising aspirations of younger Singaporeans”.

He was the 6th person with military background to join LG (NS) Kuek in SMRT.

LG (NS) Kuek probably thought that if his ME8 (NS) Lee can fix sophisticated F-16 fighter planes, maintaining trains and rails should be a piece of cake for him. That may explain why LG (NS) Kuek hired ME8 (NS) Lee to take charge of SMRT trains.

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