Interview with Desmond Kuek at Asia Pacific Rail 2017

What are some of the latest technologies that SMRT is looking to adopt to improve service reliability and passenger experience? Read on to find out what Mr Desmond Kuek, President and Group CEO at SMRT Corporation Ltd, shared at the Asia Pacific Rail 2017.

1) The focus will remain on reliability and customer experience. As urbanisation and population grows, public transport needs will continue to be a dominant issue. The most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable solutions are usually to be found in mass rapid transit rail systems. It is expected that this will continue to be the solution of choice for many cities in the foreseeable future, hence much emphasis will be placed on systems, processes, and technologies needed for rail asset owners and operators to provide affordable and quality transport services to commuters.

End-to-end connectivity for public transport journeys will be even more important. Many cities already have good connectivity for trunk nodes, but typically missing is that first mile connectivity to the nearest MRT node and the last mile connectivity from the MRT node to the destination point for the commuter. There is great interest and innovation through ICT with new modes of transportation and third party mobile applications – for mobility as a service to commuters.  The aim is to make transport journeys seamless across various public and private, including personal mobility, modes – so that commuter choice based on time and affordability for their journey – can be better discerned.

2) At the rail engineering end of technology, SMRT is looking to invest in condition monitoring, and how data can be collected, collated and analysed with a view to meaningful decision-making for more predictive maintenance. SMRT is interested in sensors, sense-making and the way in which information can flow wirelessly and in real-time back to decision or control centres that can make those meaningful decisions in a time-relevant way for safety and reliability.

In the face of an aging workforce, SMRT is also looking at technology to make the workplace more productive and efficient. Innovations with robotics and drones that can help in physically demanding areas where maintenance activities are mundane, hazardous or not so easily accessible.

A third area of technology exploration is with commuter touch-points, such as passenger information systems, payment systems, and to facilitate inclusiveness in the community.

3) A lot of SMRT’s current challenges have to do with enhancing the reliability of the trains network as the systems age. The oldest lines are now 30 years old, and renewal of all the component systems have begun and are expected to be completed in the next 1-2 years. This includes sleeper replacement, upgrading the third rail and power systems, and introducing a new CBTC signaling system. Trains are also being progressively overhauled for better reliability.

The challenge is doing all these upgrading works while the system is still running live. There are only 3 hours every night to get all these engineering works done in time before commuter service starts at dawn the next day. Work is done under tremendous time pressure, and there is a need to plan and resource the activities well in order to fully optimize track access. And most importantly, to ensure, in all the intensity of work, the highest level of safety for our workers and commuters.

Ambitious Rail Reliability – Desmond Kuek

Wondering what the experts have to say about rail reliability in Singapore? This Straits Times news article quotes SMRT CEO and Group President, Desmond Kuek and National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng. Also quoted is Hong Kong Polytechnic University transport practice professor Lee Kang-Kuen. Read on to know about the prospects for rail reliability in Singapore and how this would impact you as a commuter.

Here’s a summary of what SMRT CEO, Desmond Kuek had to say in the very first Singapore Rail Technology Conference. In the context of Singapore’s MRT:

  1. “The North-South and East-West MRT lines managed 144,000 train-km between disruptions in the first 10 months of this year. This was the best performance for the lines since 2012.”
  2. “The 2018 target of 400,000 train-km between disruptions is an ‘ambitious aspirational target’ for the MRT network here. What this means, is that our trains cumulatively travel no less than 10 times around the Equator, or more than 4,000 times across the length of our North-South and East-West lines, before incurring a single delay of more than five minutes”. Desmond Kuek also added that only a small handful of rail operators internationally have managed to hit such targets consistently.
  3. “SMRT is working hard to achieve the target and is ‘encouraged by the steady progress already made’. This includes upgrading efforts such as the replacement of sleepers and third rails on the North-South and East-West lines, which is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of next year.
  4. “These changes make SMRT better able to provide safe and reliable service, without the burden of heavy and lumpy capital expenditures, and the distractions of meeting short-term earnings expectations.”

SMRT CEO, Mr. Desmond Kuek also mentioned about the delisting of SMRT from the Singapore Exchange earlier this month. Another point was the introduction of the new rail financing framework last month. This transferred ownership of assets such as trains to the Government.

Desmond Kuek quotes about rail reliability targets.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek on ambitious rail reliability targets.

These pointers indeed show promise for a more reliable and trustworthy commute for the citizens of Singapore.

8 Positive Changes to SMRT – With CEO Desmond Kuek

Took the public transport and reached your destination on time? Meet the man who has been largely instrumental in making this happen – SMRT CEO and Group President, Desmond Kuek.

Wondering what was the impact on Singapore’s public transport after Desmond Kuek took office?

Here’s a compilation of an article featured on The News Paper. This highlights 8 positive changes that have taken place since October 2012, when Desmond Kuek came on board.

  1. More technical staff at work:

    To highlight numbers – SMRT’s team of technicians grew to 2,169 (21% increase). Also, the number of engineers stands at 278 (59% increase). Though the report didn’t explicitly mention benefits of employing more people with better technical knowledge, it sure showed improvements.

  1. Fewer trains withdrawn due to faults:

    Withdrawal rate refers to the percentage of trains withdrawn from service because of faults. This has come down from 3.3 for every 100,000 km operated in 2012 to 1.05 last year. Desmond Kuek said – “This is the lowest in seven years. And we are targeting to go even lower this year.”

  1. Worn-out gear steadily being replaced:

    An ongoing project, this includes replacing wooden sleepers with concrete ones. As of January 2017, re-sleepering is 100% complete on the North-South and East-West Lines.

  1. Replacement of power-supplying third rail:

    Did you know that the main cause of two massive breakdowns in 2011 was identified to be sagging sections of the third rail? Another ongoing project, replacement of 3rd Rail is 71% complete on the North-South and 83% complete on the East-West Lines, as of January 2017.

  1. Shorter intervals for train signalling system:

    With this change in signalling, trains can arrive every 100 seconds. On the other hand, trains can currently arrive every 120 seconds. The re-signalling project is expected to be completed on the NSL in 2017 and on the EWL in 2018.

  1. Overhaul older trains:

    These older trains will be fitted with new motors from Toshiba. These motors are supposed to use 30% less electricity.

  1. A new framework for rail financing:

    The Government will own all operating assets. Of course, this will help allow SMRT to focus on quality of service, without being bogged down by the massive capital expenditure.

  1. Changing commuter behaviour:

    The best example of this is train platform door at Serangoon MRT Station. Affixed with a poster of the cartoon character Move-in Martin, this was a part of a campaign launched to promote thoughtfulness.

From what we see, many measures that are being undertaken to improve Singapore’s transport system are inspired by successful cases abroad. For instance, the CEO, Desmond Kuek mentioned about service ambassadors in Taipei being deployed to block people from boarding when train doors are in the process of closing. This evidently helps in preventing commuters from herding around the train. No doubt, without this, trains would remain at the station longer and hence hold up subsequent trains.

All things considered, what do these changes and work-in-progress measures mean for commuters? A greater likelihood of more comfortable rides. And perhaps a lot more, which will be evident in the near future.

SMRT CEO and Group President Desmond Kuek

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek, standing in front of the new SMRT train at Bishan MRT depot on June 16 2015. For a story on what he has achieved so far after 3 years in SMRT. (Photo: Lim Yaohui for The Straits Times)

A Continued Journey towards Rail Excellence

In the Singapore Rail Technology Conference held on 18 November 2016, Desmond Kuek, CEO of SMRT gave the welcome speech. Speaking of achieving higher rail reliability, he said: “In Parliament in early November 2016, the Minister for Transport reiterated the aim of reaching 400,000 mean-kilometers between failure (MKBF) by 2018. It is an ambitious aspirational target. What this means in more graphic terms is that our trains cumulatively travel no less than 10 times around the equator, or more than 4,000 times across the length of our North-South and East-West Lines, before incurring a single delay of more than 5 minutes.” He stated that this is a prodigious target, and a very few operators across the world have achieved this steadily.

As of October 2016, the North-South and East-West Lines, Singapore’s 29-year-old lines, achieved 144,000 MKBF (Mean Kilometre Between Failure). This, according to Desmond Kuek is a performance that is better than SMRT’s prior recorded history. The newer Circle Line clocked 233,000 MKBF, but has a long way to go to reach 400,000 MKBF.

Desmond Kuek said – “We are working hard to achieve this, and are encouraged by the steady progress already made. Getting to such a level of rail excellence requires multiple and concerted effort by many parties.”

He also outlined six key areas that would take the rail network towards their targets:

  1. Renewing and upgrading the rail network on time
  2. Recovering swiftly from occasional service faults and failures
  3. Setting the right structure and framework in place for rail sustainability
  4. Enhancing the maintenance regime
  5. Developing the engineering professional workforce
  6. Harnessing technology as an enabler and game changer

With these areas of work taking place, we can hope to expect a facelift in Singapore’s rail network in the years to come.

New Beginnings – Singapore Rail Transport Conference

Earlier this November, SMRT Corporation hosted the world’s leading Metro Corporations at the CoMET Annual Meeting 2016 held in Singapore. Following this, SMRT also convened the inaugural Singapore Rail Technology Conference (SRTC).

From what we hear, this was a conference focussed purely on rail technology and was attended by key rail operators and industry experts across Asia and Europe. The SRTC also facilitated discussions that encouraged the exchange of best practices, innovations and possible collaborations between the participants.

SMRT intends for this conference to be an annual feature so as to gather rail experts across the globe in rounds of healthy debates and discussions. This would certainly help in sharing information on rail technology and initiating collaborations between transport agencies, operators and academic institutions. Such conferences are steps towards safe, reliable and customer-centric public transport services for commuters.

Here’s a glimpse of dignitaries including SMRT CEO, Desmond Kuek attending the event:

SMRT Rain Conference

SMRT – Singapore Rail Transport Conference

CoMET Annual Meeting in Singapore

CoMET or Community of Metros, is a collaboration of some of the largest metro systems in the world. It functions as a system of international railway benchmarking. The 16 member metros include Beijing Subway (China), Berlin U-Bahn (Germany), Guangzhou Metro (China), Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (Hong Kong), London Underground (London, UK), Mexico City Metro (Mexico), Madrid Metro (Spain), Moscow Metro (Russia), New York City Subway (New York, USA), Paris Métro (France), Santiago Metro (Chile), Shanghai Metro (China), São Paulo Metro (Brazil), Taipei Metro (Taiwan), Singapore Mass Rapid Transit – SMRT (Singapore) and Delhi Metro (India).

The main objectives of CoMET are:

  • Building measures to establish best practices for Metros.
  • Providing comparative information for the metro board as well as the government.
  • Introducing and managing a system of measures for management.
  • Identifying and prioritising areas for improvement.

The CoMET Annual Meeting 2016 was held in Singapore this November. The meeting was hosted by SMRT, Singapore’s very own Metro corporation.

The annual meeting in Singapore, held under the auspices of SMRT, served as a forum where member metros could share their operational experiences and gauge how they have performed. With a collective goal to step up the standards of metro services around the world, the members of CoMET took the opportunity to learn about best practices from each other.

SMRT Singapore hosts CoMET

CoMET’s Annual Meeting 2016 hosted by SMRT, Singapore

Singapore’s First Postgraduate Railway Course Launched by SMRT

Heard of a postgraduate course in Railway Studies? Sounds quite interesting to learn all about rails, how they are engineered and how they function, right?

Did you know that the University of Birmingham, the leading university in the UK on railway research and education, offers one of the most reputed programmes in Railway Studies? Singapore’s very own metro – SMRT has partnered with the University of Birmingham in October this year, to further strengthen the professionalism of their rail engineers. This comes as a part of SMRT’s strategy to provide better train journeys by improving reliability, stability and maintenance standards, by deepening the expertise of SMRT engineering staff. A welcome move indeed!

This collaboration of SMRT with the University of Birmingham offers a postgraduate certificate in Urban Railway Engineering for SMRT’s engineering staff, the first of its kind certificate course in Singapore. This is one step ahead in SMRT’s wider effort to support rail engineering talent from the National Institute of Technical Education Certificate (NITEC) all the way to the post graduate level, while exposing them to best-of-class practices.

Watch this video where Benjamin Chen, Manager of Train Operations at SMRT and Prof. Clive Roberts, Head for Railway Research and Education at University of Birmingham, explain how this course could be massively beneficial for those who intend to work in the railway industry:

The ultimate intent is to nurture a sustainable group of engineering professionals to support and stand for better rail reliability, and this course, we believe, would serve as the perfect pedestal to achieve that.

As Quoted by Desmond Kuek

Leadership is not just about leading with the head. Leading with the heart in an empathetic manner, understanding the  effort put by the workforce as well as the situation of the end customer goes a long way in building the right rapport with people. SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek believes in a similar motto. Here’s what he quotes:

Quotes by Desmond Kuek

Quotes by Desmond Kuek