SMRT staff goes the extra mile to help autistic boy get home

With April being World Autism Awareness Month, we share stories of how SMRT’s frontline staff put the company’s WeCare service ethos into action to help commuters with autism.

For Assistant Station Manager (ASM) Nor Heiadayah Binte Abdullah, this means being observant and going beyond the call of duty and paying extra attention to students from special education (Sped) schools such as ASPN Tanglin School located within the proximity of Redhill MRT station where she worked.

Her proactiveness paid off towards the end of her shift on 9 February last year, when she noticed a boy in an APSN Tanglin School uniform looking frustrated and lost. When she approached him at the platform, the boy cried uncontrollably. Undeterred, she kept assuring him she was there to help.

“I just wanted to help him, and I told him that no matter how he felt, I was there for him and he could sit down and talk to me,” said ASM Heiadayah. “I recognised his school uniform. Knowing that he had special needs, I was concerned about his safety and well-being as it can be difficult for students like him to express their feelings.”

When a train pulled into the station, the boy dashed to board it and ASM Heiadayah, 40, quickly followed him. While in the train, she noticed the mobile phone number of the boy’s mother, Madam Chin Chow Hong, was on his lanyard and contacted her.

Madam Chin, 44, revealed to ASM Heiadayah that her son, Mr Bryan Wong, 17, has autism and was supposed to head back home in Yishun as per his normal routine.

“I was very anxious and helpless when I received the call from Heiadayah, because I knew something must have happened to Bryan,” said Madam Chin, who is a training coordinator. “Prior to this incident, Bryan was lost on four separate occasions while taking the public transport. On that day, Bryan was disoriented because he had a meltdown.”

ASM Heiadayah told Madam Chin, who was busy at work, that she would accompany Bryan from Redhill to Yishun. To further reassure Madam Chin, she also provided regular updates on how Bryan was doing.

ASM Heiadayah Binte Abdullah (right) helped Mr Bryan Wong, who has autism, reunite with his mother, Mdm Chin Chow Hong. Photo: SMRT
SMRT Assistant Station Manager (ASM) Nor Heiadayah Binte Abdullah (right) helped Mr Bryan Wong, who has autism, find his way home. With them is his mother, Mdm Chin Chow Hong, at Yishun MRT station. Photo: SMRT

Recounting this incident, Madam Chin revealed this was the first time someone offered to accompany her son home.

She said: “Heiadayah is special to me and I am very grateful that she went the extra mile, even though she did not have to accompany him to Yishun MRT station. I will remember this incident forever.”

Frontline staff efforts part of SMRT’s WeCare service ethos

The story of ASM Heiadayah, and that of her colleagues SASM Alain, SM Norazhar and ASM Hafiz (see other post here) are examples of SMRT’s WeCare service ethos put into practice, where frontline staff go the extra mile to provide commuter-centric, safe, reliable and comfortable journeys.

The WeCare service ethos can be found in the suite of services by SMRT, such as dementia Go-To Points and Go-To SMRT. These are all part of SMRT’s efforts to build affinity and better serve commuters on our network.

This post was adapted from the article “SMRT’s WeCare service ethos is powered by its frontline staff”, the full version of which was published in The Sunday Times on 3 April 2022.

SMRT staff help wounded boy who has autism

As part of service excellence, SMRT’s frontline staff put themselves in the shoes of commuters in order to serve them as best as they can.

With April being World Autism Awareness Month, we share how one of SMRT’s frontline staff, Senior Assistant Station Manager (SASM) Alain Goon, 52, put the company’s WeCare service ethos into action to help a commuter who has autism.

On 9 February this year at Caldecott MRT station on the Thomson-East Coast Line, SASM Goon spotted a young boy, who looked like a primary school student, with bloodstains on his arms and bruises on his kneecap.

“Something was amiss because it seemed like he had an accident and I wanted to offer my assistance. He appeared lost as well,” said SASM Goon. “It was not easy to get the boy to the first aid room as he ran away when I approached him and proceeded to play the cat-and-mouse game with me.”

(From left): ASM Muhammad Hafiz Bin Latiff, SASM Alain Goon and SM Norazhar Bin Omar. Photo: SMRT
(From left): ASM Hafiz, SASM Alain and SM Norazhar from Caldecott MRT station showed teamwork and empathy to assist a boy with autism. Photo: SMRT

With the help of his colleagues, Station Manager (SM) Norazhar Bin Omar, 45, and ASM Muhammad Hafiz Bin Latiff, 29, SASM Goon managed to locate and coax the boy to the first aid room, where they cleaned and bandaged his wounds.

Upon realising the boy could not share his name and address, SASM Goon found a mobile phone number in the boy’s bag and spoke to his mother.

“She told me that her son has autism and thanked us for taking care of him,” said SASM Goon.

Frontline staff efforts part of SMRT’s WeCare service ethos

The story of SASM Alain, SM Norazhar and ASM Hafiz, as well as that of their colleague ASM Heiadayah (see other post here) are examples of SMRT’s WeCare service ethos put into practice, where frontline staff go the extra mile to provide commuter-centric, safe, reliable and comfortable journeys.

The WeCare service ethos can be found in the suite of services by SMRT, such as dementia Go-To Points and Go-To SMRT. These are all part of SMRT’s efforts to build affinity and better serve commuters on our network.

This post was adapted from the article “SMRT’s WeCare service ethos is powered by its frontline staff”, the full version of which was published in The Sunday Times on 3 April 2022.

Planning, drills and training help SMRT staff in flood response

When Hurricane Ida hit New York in early September 2021, many parts of the city’s underground metro system were submerged in floodwater, severely hampering train services.

While Singapore is unlikely to experience cyclones and typhoons – as hurricanes are known in Asia – some parts of the island are prone to flooding, particularly with unprecedented climate change. This could impact the country’s MRT network upon which many depend on for their daily commute. While we cannot control nature, we can be better prepared for it.

So how does SMRT do this? By working closely with the relevant authorities to plan in advance our flood response strategy and through regular drills to keep staff trained and operationally ready.

On 17 September, SMRT Trains conducted a ground deployment exercise on the Circle Line at Paya Lebar station to reinforce the training and operational readiness of its staff in the prevention of potential station flooding. It involved different teams across SMRT Trains, including the Operations Control Centre (OCC), Station Operations and Maintenance Operations Centre.

The two-hour exercise (see video below) showed (1) close monitoring of the threat of flooding via national water agency PUB’s high water level alert system; (2) activation of graduated flood response plan; and (3) the safe and timely deployment of flood barriers at the station’s entrances.

To simulate real-life conditions in the exercise scenario, there were heavy thundery showers with strong gusty winds in the north-eastern part of Singapore. When waters in the Geylang River rose above 75 per cent of the river’s capacity, OCC placed on alert the Flood Response Team, which comprises 30 SMRT staff from depots and other stations. Paya Lebar station staff also continually monitored the station’s surroundings.

SMRT staff installing stackable flood barriers.
SMRT staff install stackable flood barriers during the exercise at Paya Lebar station on 17 September 2021. Photo: SMRT

When the water level in Geylang River rose above 90 per cent, the Flood Response Team was activated to report to Paya Lebar station. Upon arrival, they moved stackable flood barriers into position at designated entrances of the station.

When the exercise scenario had waters rising above ground-level drains and submerging footpaths around the station, the stackable flood barriers were deployed within 30 minutes by the Flood Response Team. In an actual flood incident, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) would be informed concurrently at this point. Commuters would also be alerted to the situation via station announcements and on SMRT’s social media platforms.

Members of the Flood Response Team with other SMRT staff.
Thumbs up at the conclusion of a successful exercise at Paya Lebar Station on 17 September 2021. Photo: SMRT

But SMRT’s efforts in flood prevention does not stop there. Refresher training for SMRT staff in responding to a flooding situation, among other exercises, is conducted twice a year. SMRT will also continue to work with relevant agencies to review flood protection measures to strengthen their effectiveness amid climate changes.

Ultimately, providing safe, reliable and comfortable journeys for commuters remains a top priority for SMRT. And a key to achieving this is to always stay prepared and plan ahead.

Click here for Minister for Transport S Iswaran’s written reply to Parliamentary Question on Flood Management and Adaptation Measures for Public Transport Systems.

Making Track Inspection Safe, Efficient and Productive

Every night, patrollers walk the railway lines to check on the condition of the tracks. Running rails (rails on which the train wheels are supported and guided) are important assets that may affect passenger comfort, journey time or even the safety of operations if they are damaged. As running rails are subjected to wear and tear, capturing and analysing rail-wear data allows efficient and more timely planning of long-term running rail asset renewal.

These inspections, when done manually, are time consuming and can be physically straining for staff. In a bid to improve the effectiveness of rail inspection, SMRT Trains’ Maintenance Permanent Way team worked with GRAW, a measurement-systems vendor to develop a custom-made measurement device, known as the Laser Track Trolley to allow quicker, continuous and more accurate inspection of the running rails.

The Laser Track Trolley measures not only running rail wear but also track geometry data at the same time. It improves data coverage and reduces the number of operations required for inspection. Data collected is then recorded in an integrated control panel and subsequently synced to its software for analysis by the engineers. Incorporating the Trolley into SMRT’s maintenance regime has enhanced productivity by freeing up valuable track access for other maintenance and renewal activities.

With its modular, portable and user-friendly design, the Laser Track Trolley allows running rail inspection to be conducted efficiently.

Mazlan Bin Mohamed Ali, Technical Officer, Permanent Way using the Laser Track Trolley during Engineering Hours

The Laser Track Trolley initiative has improved the safety and workplace health of SMRT maintenance staff. What’s notable is that the Laser Track Trolley can be flexibly deployed on other rail networks. SMRT is also exploring possible ways of adapting the same technology for maintenance of other critical rail assets such as the power rail, track foundation and tunnel infrastructure.

On 20 Nov, 2018, the Permanent Way division of SMRT Trains won the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) International Railway Group Award 2018 for Improvement within Health and Safety. The award was given in recognition for their maintenance initiative of the Laser Track Trolley, which has enhanced infrastructure asset integrity and improved workforce safety and health.

Jean-Francois Chassin (L), Principal Fellow with Tan Jun Khiang (R) Senior Engineer from SMRT Permanent Way division receiving the International Railway Group Award 2018 for Improvement within Health and Safety

Paving the Way for Better Journeys III – Survey Winners

Better Journeys 3 SMRT Brochure

SMRT Trains is working to renew the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL), Singapore’s oldest and most heavily utilised MRT lines.

In May, SMRT published ‘Paving the Way for Better Journeys: Edition 3’ to inform residents of these upgrading efforts that aim to bring commuters better connectivity, greater convenience, more comfortable rides, timely information, smoother transitions, and safer and more reliable journeys.

This complex set of engineering projects is the first major upgrade for the lines since operations began in 1987. With trains serving commuters around 20 hours every day, work crews optimise the remaining hours to maintain and renew the network.

Thank you for your feedback and support. We take your comments seriously, and will continue our rail renewal efforts to provide you with better journeys.

The following winners have won an exclusive stored-value card, and will receive an email from us shortly. If you did not provide your email address, do look out for a phone call.

Click the image to view a larger version.

Working at SMRT: More than Just a Day Job

 Principal Engineer, Wayne Chen

– Wayne Chen, Principal Engineer, Permanent Way

After seven years at a statutory board, I made the move to SMRT Trains in 2015 with the hope of contributing more to the rail industry. What attracted me to the company, was the fact that SMRT has many brownfield projects to work on, whereas it was all about introducing new systems where I was at.

I need to be in the depot early every weekday morning to attend our daily Permanent Way morning meetings at 8am. These meetings start early as the night engineering teams from around the country would update the day teams on maintenance done on our tracks and issues encountered during the wee hours before. The rest of the day is spent working with the day teams investigating root causes behind various issues, finding long-term fixes, and working to optimise our maintenance processes. I usually leave the depot in the evening for dinner with the wife and children.

Sometimes, that is not the end of my work day.

Once I’ve tucked my children in at 10pm, I head back to the depot to spend the night with the engineers and technicians working the night shifts. This is not just about working on the maintenance of our tracks to keep it safe and fit for operations. It is also about being there with my team to show them we are in this together. We are #OneSMRT.

The team thinks that I am there to motivate them. In reality, I rely on them for motivation. The passion they possess and the pride they take in their work keep me focused on the goal. Many of my colleagues have clocked 30 years on the job. Their work ethic and the ownership they have over the job is simply quite mind-blowing.

We are determined to provide Singaporeans with better journeys every day. This is not your usual office job. It is definitely worth it when I know my team and I have contributed in ensuring our commuters get to their destinations safely and comfortably.

#LetsPressOn #SMRTogether


Wayne Chen is a principal engineer at SMRT Trains. He performs engineering analysis and trending assessments to improve the reliability of rail track components and equipment for the North-South and East-West Lines.

Bridging the Reliability Expectation Gap

In transit systems from London to Sydney, rail passengers are told to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform.

For Mr Shahrin Abdol Salam, Senior Vice President, Plans and Development, SMRT Trains, the phrase takes on a deeper meaning as his team works on the massive renewal of the 30-year-old North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL), Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily-utilised MRT lines.

One of the biggest challenges is the way commuters judge the MRT system. “A commuter only cares about one train – the one that is either at or not at the MRT station at the moment he arrives. He does not care about the trains that have been running since 5am, or the ones that come after he has completed his journey.”

SMRT Trains, like many other rail operators, including Hong Kong MTR and Taipei Metro, uses Mean Kilometres Between Failure (MKBF) as a measure of service reliability. In the first half of 2017, MRT trains in Singapore travelled an average of 393,000 train-kilometres before a delay of more than five minutes, about three times better than 2015. The target is 1,000,000 train-kilometres in 2020.

The commuter, however, judges the system by what is happening the moment he’s on the platform, so past – smooth, comfortable and uneventful – journeys are quickly forgotten, he says, adding: “That’s why there will always be that gap.”

It is worth looking at what it takes for that single train to run without incident, Shahrin suggests. It takes interconnected systems of thousands of moving parts not just to work together, but to not break down. A failure in any one of these systems or subsystems can lead to a delay while the situation is rectified. Replacing any one of the systems also means having to ensure that they have to snugly fit into and sync with both the hardware and software of all the other existing systems.

The age and design on the system creates its further limitations – the primary one being the design of the initial system. There is no room for additional parallel tracks. That means, unlike in Tokyo or London, there is no option of shutting down a main line like the NSEWL, and diverting commuter traffic to alternatives.

“The NSEWL, which bears the brunt of most failures and complaints, is the backbone of our rail travel, and we don’t have the option of closing the system down. All our lines feed into it. So this 30-year-old system has to be renewed as it runs, and we continue to work hard and minimise the inconvenience associated with that.” The multi-year, multi-project rail transformation includes new concrete sleepers, a new signalling system, new power rails, refurbishment of midlife trains, progressive addition of 45 new trains and the delivery of 12 new trains by 2018.

Predict, Prevent, Recover

Various contingency plans have also been put in place to allow for quicker recovery from incidents when they do happen. When a hiccup occurs, inspection continues until the fault is identified, Shahrin says. “It is very easy for two- to three-minute faults to evolve into faults that last five minutes or longer. That is why we keep a close eye on every single fault.”

Through the 24-hour SMRT Maintenance Operations Centre located at Bishan Depot, engineering staff from different technical disciplines work together to react to incidents – big and small – faster. Frontliners at stations are also being trained as first responders to incidents.

From electronic displays in stations, real-time in-train information, mobile app SMRTConnect (iOS / Android), a Twitter feed with live updates and a dedicated WhatsApp number (97884398) for fault reporting, a growing list of options allow for effective two-way communication.

“We anticipate that there will be issues, and adapt our processes accordingly. We have trained staff to be more responsive in dealing with delays,” says Shahrin.

But for many of these moving parts, there will continue to be limitations.

“We are dealing with assets that are reaching end-of-life. Replacements are due and must be carried out to provide the safe and reliable journey that our commuters depend on us for,” Shahrin explains. For us, this means listening to our commuters to both identify and bridge those gaps.

 

Credits: Infographic – SMRT Trains Ltd. Operations Review 2017.

Trains Operations Review: Our Service Commitment

In 2017, SMRT celebrates 30 years of MRT operations.

Delivering a world-class transport service that is safe, reliable and customer-centric is at the heart of what we do.

As Singapore’s iconic train operator, we carry more than two million passengers on our train network daily. Throughout our 30 years of service, we have connected communities and transformed the way people live, work and play.

As we embark on our next leg, your journey matters. We look forward to the boundless opportunities to continue serving you and delivering safe and reliable travel experiences.

***

Firstly, we thank you for your support! With 162 compliments to every complaint received, your feedback goes a long way in encouraging SMRT staff. Always there to help you, our station managers and ambassadors are ever-willing to go the extra mile to make you feel safe and comfortable on our trains.

 

Feel free to tap on the many commuter service touchpoints we have across our stations, passenger service centres, platforms and trains to make your commute with us more comfortable.

Stay in touch with us through our digital platforms. Our two-way communication channels provide you with real time travel updates and a platform to give us feedback too.

At SMRT, we strive to create and provide a safe, inclusive and accessible environment for all our commuters. Here are just some initiatives we have implemented.

SMRT Trains will continue to bring you greater convenience and comfort.

Graphics: SMRT Trains Ltd. Operations Review 2017

SMRT-LTA Joint Media Conference

System-level performance checks of the new signalling system have placed SMRT in the spotlight recently. Mr Lee Ling Wee, Chief Executive Officer, SMRT Trains, updated the media at the SMRT-LTA Update on the re-signalling project today (14 July 2017). We share his remarks here.

***

Good morning, members of the media.

I just have three key points to make before we proceed with the presentation.

Seeking commuters’ patience and understanding

Firstly, I would like to thank our commuters for their patience and understanding and seek their continual support as we go through this process of system renewal on the oldest MRT line in Singapore as a nation. I would like to also add that not every incident and delay on North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) over the past weeks was caused by the new signalling system. From time to time, we still encounter signalling faults due to the ageing legacy signalling system that is still running part of the East-West Line (EWL) from Pasir Ris to Pioneer station. For example, the incident that occurred on Wednesday morning 12 July between Jurong and Clementi station was due to a track circuit failure, and is not related to the new signalling system on the NSL and Tuas West Extension (TWE). The new signalling system is definitely superior to the legacy system by design because of the system redundancy that it offers. It is important that we get over this transition phase where we rigorously check the system during passenger service and resolve all the initial teething problems. This is a necessary process that we must undertake because the NSEWL is an operational line.

Systematic approach to address and resolve issues

Secondly, we have put in place a systematic approach to implement the new signalling system. This includes a comprehensive and progressive plan to weed out teething issues, starting with software testing and verifications in Thales software lab, followed by proof of concept testing on the Changi Airport Line before carrying out engineering tests during off-service hours, and progressing to testing with passenger service from 11 pm onwards. When all these tests were successful, we moved on to full day service on Sundays, progressively increasing the number of trains until we ran a timetable on Sundays that is identical to weekdays with morning and evening peak hour patterns. Along the way, we systematically logged down and investigated every issue that we encountered. For each issue, we develop short term mitigation measures and operational workarounds so as to minimise impact to commuters. We also work out permanent solutions, such as software enhancements, with Thales engineers. Unfortunately, all these may not be obvious to commuters because a delay is a delay and commuters would not be able to distinguish a new category of faults from others that have been mitigated the day before. Later, Alvin Kek, who heads the NSEWL Rail Operations, will share with you some of these issues and explain how we have addressed them. While it may not seem like it, our data shows that delays due to teething problems relating to the new signalling system have reduced over past weeks and we are looking forward to software enhancements that we will be implementing tonight.

Working as a team

Last but not least, teamwork. Staff from LTA, SMRT and Thales have been working closely to deliver the new signalling system on both NSL and TWE over the past few months. We have joint meetings and task forces at all levels. During traffic hours, SMRT operations controllers in the Operations Control Centre (OCC) are supplemented by signalling engineers from LTA, SMRT and Thales so that we can quickly react to incidents caused by the new signalling system. Alvin (SVP, Rail Ops, SMRT) chairs a daily meeting involving staff from all three organisations to review new issues in the preceding 24 hours and plan for the activities ahead. Hoon Ping (LTA Chief Executive) and I co-chair weekly meetings with Thales management to make sure that we have the necessary resources to make good progress in this project. There is also a LTA-SMRT joint board committee to look into safety and service reliability issues relating to the new signalling system. As a team, we are sparing no efforts to stabilise the launch of the new signalling system on NSL and TWE so as to minimise inconvenience to commuters.

Conclusion

To conclude, on behalf of SMRT, I apologise for the inconvenience to commuters over the past weeks. SMRT is committed to serving our commuters. As a nation, this is the first time that we are implementing a re-signalling project on an existing line. We will make sure that the lessons learnt from the North-South Line are ported over to the East-West Line. The completion of the NSEWL re-signalling project will bring long-term benefits to our commuters. These include more reliable train services and an increase in train capacity, translating into shorter waiting time and less platform congestion during peak hours. I would like to assure commuters and the public that as a team, LTA, SMRT and Thales are sparing no effort, working hand-in-hand to iron out teething issues with the new signalling system.

Thank you.

Fine-tuning the New Signalling System

Since we began regular system-level performance checks on the new signalling system for the North-South Line, we have received valuable feedback and suggestions from many individuals and organisations. I thought it would be useful to share with commuters the intricacies of implementing a new signalling system on an existing line.

Greenfield projects in railway engineering refer to those conducted on completely new lines, e.g. the Downtown Line, while brownfield projects are those executed on existing systems, e.g. the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL). New enhancements in a brownfield project would have to integrate seamlessly into a ‘live’ system.

A greenfield signalling project typically takes a few months of intensive daily testing involving thousands of hours. For a brownfield project, if we were to restrict the performance checks to only weekends, or engineering hours (i.e. 1.30AM – 4.30AM), it would take Singapore years to implement the new signalling system on the NSEWL. This is why we have no choice but to conduct checks throughout the day, including weekday peak hours, when trains are running at high frequencies with heavy commuter loads. In addition, we have about two million passenger trips on the NSEWL every day. It would not be prudent to shut down the lines for extended hours to conduct the performance checks.

My team is now ironing out teething issues with the new signalling system. Every time we encounter a problem, we systematically log and investigate the issue. We then work with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and system supplier Thales to come up with hardware and software fixes to rectify the issues. When we began weekday checks, we encountered a number of software related issues that affected train services. After joint investigations with LTA and Thales, we managed to identify the root causes and developed operational workarounds while waiting for software fixes to be implemented by Thales.

Some – including my own friends – have asked why the re-signalling project takes so long. “Surely SMRT cannot be the first operator in the world to change signalling systems,” they exclaimed. A former classmate told me that one of her friends is now an engineering professor, and offered to have him advise us on this project. I had to clarify that this is unlike the Circle Line incident in 2016 when we dealt with unknown unknowns. We are adopting a planned, systematic approach to identify and rectify the issues in our signalling trials.

Each software update is thoroughly tested in the laboratory. It is also tested on the tracks during engineering hours, before being applied during passenger service hours. These fixes take weeks to be delivered. We are planning a software patch in the coming weeks. We hope for a smooth implementation.

The procedure is tedious, because no two railway systems are identical in the way they are designed and operated. The system hardware and software we have are customised for the unique local environment. While the system supplier had experience working with other operators in the world, they are unable to simply replicate the well-oiled systems of Taipei, Hong Kong and London, and import those here.

Safety is of paramount importance. The signalling system is like the brain that commands and controls trains on the network. We will fine-tune the signalling system and ensure that it can accurately track the exact position, speed and braking distance of all trains on the network. It will take us some time, but we are not taking any chances as far as safety is concerned.

My team and I have learned a lot from Singapore’s very first re-signalling project. We are keenly aware of commuter feedback and inconvenience due to the ongoing performance checks. I would like to assure commuters that we are working hard to get over with this phase of system renewal on the NSEWL. We remain committed to completing the performance checks as soon as we can, and to fulfil our promise of providing commuters with better journeys. Thank you for the patience and understanding.

Lee Ling Wee
Chief Executive Officer, SMRT Trains