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.

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.

SMRT partners with Community Chest for an Inclusive Playground

When the entire community steps in to step up a vulnerable group, it instills a great sense of unity and belonging Community Chest is one such organization which facilitates community service in the aim of reaching out to the less fortunate in every segment of the society.

And how does this organization carry out its goal?
Community Chest operates alongside a network of partners who actively step up their Corporate Social Responsibility to use their business strengths and networks to bring joy to the lesser privileged. SMRT too has partnered with Community Chest since 2015 to engage in serving the lesser fortunate people of Singapore.

In this video, the various partners speak about their association with Community Chest. SMRT CEO, Desmond Kuek speaks about the Inclusive Playground, made for children with special needs to be able to play together. Jointly created by SMRT and Community Chest, this Inclusive Playground was launched in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in 2015. “Supporting the needy of the community is in alignment with the primary motto of SMRT – Moving people and Enhancing Lives”, says Desmond Kuek.

Furthering the partnership, this year, another Inclusive Playground was opened in Ghim Moh, which also includes a fitness corner for seniors. A great way to promote interaction across generations, this playground has been received very well across the community as it helps in enabling mobility for all.

Exclusive Interview with SMRT President and Group CEO Desmond Kuek at HR Summit 2016

CEO HR summit

SMRT President & Group CEO, Mr Desmond Kuek, gave an exclusive interview in the plenary session of the 2016 HR Summit on 17 May. The interview was facilitated by Channel NewsAsia newscaster, Steve Lai, and attended by close to 1,000 participants. For the first time ever, members of the public were given the opportunity to pose questions directly to Mr Desmond Kuek, and gain greater insight to the inner workings of SMRT. Here are some highlights from the interview with Mr Kuek:

When asked about his leadership dictum, “You either lead, follow, or get out of the way – but you never stand still” and what it means to him:
Mr Kuek shared that he first adopted the leadership dictum when he was with the Singapore Armed Forces to inspire his people to take the initiative and make changes that can lead to a meaningful difference, instead of just accepting the status quo. There is always an opportunity to make a difference, whether one is leading or following another’s lead. Failing to do so would only render one increasingly irrelevant and ineffective.
He continued to apply this leadership mantra when he moved on to lead the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, and also currently in SMRT where we are constantly pushing the boundaries and driving for excellence.

When asked about how he ensures that staff morale is maintained amidst growing public dissent over the MRT system:
Mr Kuek confessed that there were numerous challenges and issues that had to be addressed when he first joined SMRT. The major train disruptions of December 2011 shook public confidence and dragged down the company’s reputation. Staff morale was low, and some staff shared that they were embarrassed to wear their uniforms because of public dissent. Compounding these difficulties was the need to engage multiple stakeholders: the public and commuters, shareholders, regulators, business partners, and also SMRT’s own employees.
Against this formidable backdrop of challenges, Mr Kuek chose to place his key focus squarely on SMRT’s employees as they are the cornerstone to any improvements to be made. This meant placing a sharp focus on leading and engaging employees well, believing that this would translate to superior workforce health and operational performance. This would in turn inspire stronger commitment to create shareholder value and a positive customer experience.
Thus, Mr Kuek invested much time and effort in engaging ground staff, understanding their concerns, and building trust. For instance, one of the first things he did upon joining SMRT was to send an email to all staff asking ‘What are you thinking?”. He was pleasantly surprised to see hundreds of employees coming forward with their thoughts and ideas to make the company better. In addition, various initiatives were put in place to enhance engagement and strengthen open communication. He is heartened that employees appreciate these efforts, as reflected in SMRT’s sustainable engagement score of 86% in the organisational climate survey conducted by Towers Watson. This places the company on par with global best-in-class standards.

When asked about how he reconciles SMRT’s role in providing an essential public service while being a publicly listed company whose profit margins are answerable to the shareholders:
Mr Kuek frankly acknowledged that it is not an easy task to provide a public service while remaining answerable to shareholders – but it is not impossible. He shared that SMRT comprises not just Trains and Buses, but also a commercial team which does an excellent job of managing the retail and advertising businesses.
He further revealed that that most of his energies are devoted to improving rail reliability instead of the commercial business because of the urgent need to renew and upgrade the North-South and East-West Lines, Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily utilised MRT lines. Much work is being done to reconstruct the biggest arterial lines while keeping the trains running during the day – akin to conducting surgery on a patient who is awake and complaining about the pain.
Despite recent high-profile train breakdowns in the past year, Mr Kuek shared that rail reliability has improved. SMRT’s mean distance travelled between delays of more than 5 minutes has improved around threefold, and the team is striving to bring down the frequency of breakdowns lasting more than 30 minutes. He concedes that SMRT has some way to go before catching up with the best metro in the world. Together with the rest of SMRT, he takes it as a personal and organisational challenge to improve rail reliability standards to be the best in the world.