Dear Editors

I refer to Christopher Tan’s article “Focus on people, not just numbers, in rail reliability” (Straits Times, Sep 13). It states that “Commuters in Singapore will be among the first to agree that there is a disconnect between rail reliability statistics and what they experience on the ground.

Latest figures, for example, show that reliability has improved by three times since 2015. Alas, the two older lines are more prone to glitches too. From 2015 to the first half of this year, they were responsible for 22 out of 37 major breakdowns (those exceeding 30 minutes). That is about 60 per cent of major breakdowns.

It does not help that most breakdowns happen during peak hours. Out of the 15 disruptions reported by The Straits Times this year, 13 took place in the morning or evening peak. Rail reliability numbers track the distance or train-km traveled before a breakdown happens, even if they do not capture the severity of each incident. The expansion of the rail network in recent years has expanded the denominator. And when the denominator is bigger, the resultant ratio looks rosier.”

As to “As other key assets such as trains, track and signalling – currently responsible for the majority of glitches – are renewed, commuters should have a better experience.

But this will take up to seven years! It is a long haul for folks who have been waiting for a smoother ride since 2011″ – I would like to applaud and thank Christopher Tan for telling us what is arguably the most significant piece of information about the MRT, that I believe nobody (SMRT, transport ministry, media etc) has ever told Singaporeans – which is it “will take up to seven years” to fix the current breakdowns!

Dr Park Byung Joon, a senior lecturer at SIM University, told Channel NewsAsia that the seven-year period needed to repair the train’s (26 of 35 “China-made” trains delivered to SMRT in 2013 were found to have cracks) defects “seems extremely long”” (Channel NewsAsia, Jul 5, 2016)

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Train withdrawal rate is where a train is withdrawn from service because of faults.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.” “The operators can, however, do more to ease the pain in the meantime. Most of it lies in effective communication. Today, it is evident that commuters do not have sufficient information given in a timely manner for them to decide whether to wait out a delay or seek another travel option.”

With regard to “It is still not clear when their fares can be waived, and which buses are free. Even train station staff and bus drivers are sometimes clueless” – just look at how troublesome it has been to get a refund of probably just tens of cents – “Affected commuters can collect fare refunds within the next 14 days from passenger service counters at any SMRT train station, said SMRT” (“SMRT to refund commuters after power trip at several stations“, Channel NewsAsia, Apr 25, 2016).

“A recent story of passengers having to guide drivers who were unfamiliar with a bus bridging route goes to show this.delays seemingly being underplayed. For instance, announcements say five minutes when, in reality, it is 15 minutes or more. Other times, there are no announcements at all, and commuters have had to figure things out themselves.

Incident alerts are also not always coordinated between the two rail operators, and commuters who could easily have avoided an affected line end up in one.”

Leong Sze Hian

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