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.

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

As quoted by Desmond Kuek

Enriched with a variety of experiences from his career and life, Group President and CEO of SMRT – Desmond Kuek is a thought leader in many ways. On January, 11th 2016, Mr. Kuek gave a stirring speech at the opening lecture of the iMagination Week, held at ESSEC Asia Pacific in Singapore. Here’s the inspiring line he opened his speech with:

Desmond Kuek quotes


Speech by SMRT President and Group CEO, Mr Desmond Kuek, at the Official Opening of SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory on 20 May 2016

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan
NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson
NRF Chief Executive Officer, Professor Low Teck Seng
SMRT Board Chairman, Mr Koh Yong Guan
Distinguished Guests, Industry Partners, and Colleagues.

A very good morning. I join Bertil in welcoming you to the opening ceremony of the SMRT–NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory (or in short, the Corp Lab).

Last month, Minister Khaw blogged about the North-South Line clearing 100 days without any major incident. The clock unfortunately had to be reset on the 25th of April, when both lines were affected by a power fault. So we start again. Achieving a high level of service and reliability is an ongoing effort, requiring consistent management and staff attention, close scrutiny of processes, sensing and sense-making of problem areas preventively and predictively across the entire system, and an indomitable will by all parties to drive toward excellence.
Even as we do so, the North-South and East-West lines are undergoing a complete renewal in its sleepers, signaling, third rail and power systems, station infrastructure, as well as refurbishing old trains and bringing in new ones to meet higher ridership demands.  It is a massive undertaking because it is all being done while the system is live – with only 3-4 hours each night to squeeze in as much engineering and maintenance work as possible before the line is cleared on time for commuter service at dawn the next day.  A doctor friend of mine remarked to me that we are doing an open heart surgery on a patient while he is still awake – and complaining of the pain.
Meanwhile, SMRT Train’s ridership continues to grow with a daily average of over 2 million passenger journeys on our North-South, East-West and Circle lines. Our trains cumulatively travel the distance of nearly twice round the equator every single day, and we strive to do so while ensuring that there is no single delay that affects commuters for more than 5 minutes.

It is a phenomenal effort. The network expansion and growing operational demands place even greater impetus on SMRT to examine new ways to make the rail system more robust, more resilient to failure, and quicker and more nimble to recovery if it should.
To this end, we must leverage on technological advancements through close collaboration with industry partners and academia, to introduce solutions that can enhance our preventive and predictive rail maintenance capabilities. One key effort is in condition monitoring to diagnose and arrest root causes of problems before they occur. This enables us to capture accurate health status of operating train and track equipment without affecting regular train services. Timely remedial actions and time-critical decisions can then be made, preventing any single but critical fault from cascading into a major service disruption. We have had success with the recent introduction of some such condition monitoring systems. One example is the Third Rail Sag Alert system, which has managed to capture 14 warning triggers in 2015.
So the first track in our research collaboration under the Corp Lab is to further explore and implement technological solutions for a more advanced condition monitoring system that will enhance the resilience and safety of our rail network. One specific project is the defect detection of the rail electrification system through non-contact radio frequency induction coupling technology. This allows us to identify and localise a train’s electrification defects on the third rail safely and remotely, so that early rectification can be done. Another project, which will create an “Automated Inspection System for train wheel and axle defects”, integrates automated testing and monitoring methodologies for undercarriage components with data analysis software. Being able to screen the structural integrity of the components allows accurate identification of problem areas for more detailed inspections.
The second track in research collaboration in Corp Lab is targeted at enhancing the integrity and reliability of our rail assets through re-manufacturing processes and failure mode analysis. An example is the project on wear life characterization and enhancement of rail and train wheel performance. This project enables us to optimize wear performance and enhance the resistance between the rail and train wheels. This means that we can better assess the remaining life of our rail and train assets, which translates to better prevention of potential faults through a refined maintenance schedule. What all these efforts lead to is smoother and uninterrupted journeys for all our commuters.

The Corp Lab is an excellent collaborative platform where industry meets academia for meaningful exchange of knowledge and expertise, with the view to implementable solutions for today’s more intractable problems and in anticipation of tomorrow’s challenges.  NTU’s scientific and research capabilities will augment the operational and engineering experience of SMRT, and working together, we look forward to innovative solutions that will help ensure the sustainability and high performance of our rail network, one that is safe and reliable for all, and to serve the needs and problems faced by our rail transport network.

I would like to express my appreciation to all our partners and stakeholders who have contributed to the realization of the Corp Lab today. It’s been nearly two years of working through to reach this point in the Corp Lab. A lot of hard work has gone into making the Corp Lab possible, and I would like to thank the dedicated staff from NTU and SMRT for showing the way in forging this partnership.  We are also grateful to the National Research Foundation for their assistance in funding this collaboration.  Thank you, Minister Khaw, for your strong support given to this collaboration, by your gracing this occasion.  We look forward to many successful, implementable solutions from the Corp Lab that will help SMRT in its vision of moving people and enhancing lives, as we work together with the Ministry of Transport and Land Transport Authority toward an MRT system that is best in class in the world.

Thank you.

Welcome Address by Mr Desmond Kuek, President & Group CEO, SMRT Corporation Ltd at the SMRT Customer Experience Innovation (CXI) Conference at the Devan Nair Institute of Employment and Employability

21 January 2016

Welcome to SMRT’s first Customer Experience Innovation Conference – CXI. We are pleased that you can all join us, and I would like to welcome our guests, strategic partners and distinguished panel of speakers, for taking time to be with us this afternoon.

Today’s CXI conference is one of many initiatives that we embarked on as part of a Service Excellence campaign that was started back in 2013. It is important for us to understand why we did so, and why we continue to place significant management emphasis on driving and sustaining the organization-wide effort to bring about a high quality in customer experience.

The period of 2010-2013 was a particularly rough patch in SMRT’s 29 year history. Although it may seem to some like just the other day, it has been 4-5 years since. If you recall, a series of troubling incidents during these recent times – from vandalism, to major train disruptions and nagging reliability issues, to an illegal bus strike – Singapore’s first strike in 26 years – had severely hurt our reputation, and shaken public confidence. Meanwhile, ridership continued to grow and operational demands intensified despite an aging network urgently in need of renewal and upgrade. Investor sentiments were undermined as profits plunged, and internally, staff morale was at a low with high staff turnover in many quarters.

Against such a formidable backdrop of challenges, where and how do we start to get people on board, our programmes on track, and the company on top again? We needed to regain the trust and confidence of all our stakeholders. And there are many: our staff who commit to achieving our company’s mission and goals; our commuters whom we carry on their journey safely each and every day (all 1 billion passenger journeys last year); the authorities who entrust us with the delivery of a high quality of public transport services; and our shareholders who invest with us in anticipation of steady annual dividends.

Not all these interests are aligned, as you can expect. But all, whether external or internal, are customers in one form or another whose experience with us is important. We decided therefore to place our leadership focus squarely on people – and set out on a Service Excellence campaign to deliver the kind of customer experience that we would all be proud of. We made Service Excellence one of 6 core values – the S in SMRTnI. We set Customer Experience as one of the 5 key strategic thrusts that would guide the prioritization of management effort across the company. It formed part of a set of key performance measures that would be factored in our collective management performance incentives. More than just a desired outcome, we turned this into a platform to shape work culture and engage the hearts and minds of all 9000 of our staff.

Changing culture takes time and consistency of leadership effort. It needs to involve every single individual in the organisation. Often results are seen only in the long run, and one can easily be distracted by immediate issues and expediencies. We knew it was a journey that might never finish but that did not deter us from making a bold start. With collective buy-in from rank and file, we embarked on Service Excellence with a passion – to unite everyone with a common mindset and purpose – to build trust and bring on smiles every day, and with everyone who journeys with us.

This was the critical catalyst for an organization-wide change effort to align all staff in operations, maintenance, administration, commercial business, quality assurance, and front-counter activities – toward excellence in their service wherever they were in the company. We wanted to foster a climate where people can feel empowered to initiate and innovate in their Service Excellence efforts towards positive customer experience.

In these past 3 years, I’m proud to say that we have made significant progress. Our Organizational Climate survey conducted by Towers Watson last year showed that 9 in 10 employees are proud to be in SMRT, and 86% are sustainably engaged – a measure of how engaged, enabled and energised they feel about themselves in the company. On a global scale, that puts SMRT as Best in Class, especially for companies undergoing transformation and transition. In business output, the bus business turned around to make a small operating profit after many consecutive quarters of losses. And based on the international metric for train reliability based on delays lasting more than 5 minutes for every 100,000 km, we have that number down from 1.8 in 2011 to 0.71 in Dec 2015, the best performance in the past decade despite the ageing network.

But it’s the ground-up stories of people who have gone the extra mile that move and inspire us. One example is Chief Bus Captain, Sim Boon Hwa, who in December last year was approached by a school-girl who thought she had lost her wallet onboard the bus service 188. He was supposed to start his duty in a few minutes, but seeing how sad and anxious the girl was, he did a quick search on the service 188 buses that were parked at the interchange. Unable to find the wallet, he asked her to follow him on his bus service 855 to make a police report at Queenstown Police Station along the route. Before she alighted, he gave her $50 in case she needed money to pay for her trip home. The next day, the girl called to inform that she had found the wallet in her friend’s car, and to arrange to return the $50. But Mr Sim declined and told her that the $50 would be his Christmas present to her.

Another example is our Assistant Station Manager, Nurulhuda. The passenger lift at City Hall MRT Station was undergoing maintenance until 8 am that morning. Knowing that her regular passenger who is wheelchair-bound would face difficulties when she exits the station, she took the initiative to call her and advised her to delay her journey to avoid the inconvenience. While the gesture may have been simple, having that attention to detail and personal touch with each and every commuter is truly Service Excellence at its best.

With many other deeds like these, SMRT has won numerous national-level Service Excellence awards over the past few years – including the prestigious Singapore Service Excellence Medallion, the Singapore Experience Awards for Customer Service under the Transport industry and Contact Centre Association of Singapore annual awards.

We are determined to continue to serve and excel, innovating in improving the experience of all our customers. This afternoon, we look forward to learning and sharing with experts and leaders in Customer Experience and Innovation. Innovation is as much an idea or act, as it is a state of mind. We can apply this in end-to-end service delivery in a commuter’s journey, from before he or she even steps into the network, with way-finding, passenger information services and physical signages, to consumer amenities in the retail shops and advertising spaces as he makes his way through the transit network, to every single commuter touch-point that make for a more enjoyable journey. I wish all of you a meaningful afternoon of reflection and inspiration.

Speech by SMRT President and Group CEO, Mr Desmond Kuek on the Official Opening of JurongHealth Mobility Park on Thursday, 7 January 2016 at Jurong Community Hospital

A very good morning:
Ms Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West Community Development Council;
Mr Foo Hee Jug, CEO of JurongHealth;
Colleagues and friends.

When JurongHealth approached SMRT in 2013 with their idea to create a first of its kind mobility park that included public transportation features, we immediately said yes. It sits well with our vision of “Moving People, Enhancing Lives”. SMRT’s experience transporting millions daily by rail and road transport can greatly contribute to such a park that brings rehabilitative care for patients to a whole new level. We are proud of this partnership with JurongHealth over the past three years.

We contributed a life-sized train, bus and taxi to replicate real-life conditions so that people with mobility needs can regain their confidence in taking public transport. Many of us take this daily routine for granted. But for those who have suffered some disability or illness, this seemingly simple activity can be both physically and emotionally challenging. Training and sharing sessions will be organised so that staff can assist patients and commuters to make the necessary adjustments and feel more comfortable when using our trains, buses and taxis.

SMRT is committed to supporting and giving back to the community we serve every day. This Mobility Park is one such meaningful effort. We hope that patients will enjoy using the facilities, adjust more quickly to using public transportation after their extended illness, accident or surgery, and we look forward to them resuming their daily activities with friends and family.

I congratulate the project teams from JurongHealth and SMRT who have worked hard and dedicated themselves to making Singapore’s first mobility park a reality. Well done and congratulations on the official opening.

Thank you.