SMRT CEO: Standing Together As One

Staff Memo by President and Group Chief Executive Officer Mr Desmond Kuek

Dear fellow colleagues,

Much has been said about SMRT – in the news, on social media, at family dinners. Whether or not the remarks are fair and balanced, we take them all in our stride. There is always room to learn and do better. That’s our SMRT spirit; we are always striving for excellence.

We have much work to do. Each day, our trains travel altogether nearly twice around the equator. Most days, they do so without a single delay lasting more than five minutes. On those occasions when operations are disrupted, our service teams put aside whatever they are doing and rush on scene to attend to our commuters. After midnight, when commuters are asleep, we are still working – checking, repairing and ensuring that the trains and tracks are in good order to start service again at the break of dawn.

Thank you for putting in your best effort – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is hard work, often unnoticed, but you do it with passion and purpose. More than three million passengers ride on our trains and buses daily. Many of them are most appreciative of all that we do. They stand behind us.

Singaporeans depend on us daily for a safe, reliable and comfortable journey. We must not let them down. Let’s show everyone that we still stand tall and proud, committed to our cause. We belong to a great company, built over 30 years and serving the vital mission of moving people, enhancing their lives.

We are well on our way to achieving all our goals, especially the one million in mean kilometres between failure (MKBF). When we do, and we will, it will be because of you – each and every one of you.

Together, we stand as one SMRT family. #SMRTogether

Desmond Kuek

SMRT CEO: Resolve to Do what’s Right

Staff Memo by President and Group Chief Executive Officer Mr Desmond Kuek

Dear colleagues,

7 November should have been a celebration of 30 years of MRT operations. Instead, we were awash in collective shame because a few of our staff had let us down. They did not do what they were entrusted to. Their supervisors assumed that nothing would go wrong just because it hadn’t gone wrong before. Possibly they thought no one would notice, or care. Maybe it was always deemed to be someone else’s problem.

Integrity. Ownership. Responsibility. We want these to be seated deep inside each one of us.

Without these, things can go horribly wrong. As it did. We had worked so hard to come this far, but when some of us fail to do what’s right or do the right thing, we have nothing more to say but apologise to the nation. Chairman, CE Trains and I did so on behalf of our SMRT family.

We must take the lessons seriously. We have not lost if we learn. It is not the mistake that defines a person or an organisation, but how we learn from it, rising to be stronger and better. We must, and we will.

Our SMRT journey continues. This will be a crucial new beginning for SMRT if we commit ourselves to a culture of discipline and excellence in providing safe, reliable, commuter-focused public transport services that Singaporeans can be proud of.

Together we have made great progress on many fronts across the company. Let’s resolve to do even better with our work habits, attitudes and behaviour. When you see or sense a wrongdoing, make it your duty to step forward to correct or report it. Encourage open communication with your fellow workers. Every day, we uphold trust and open reporting without fear of reprisal from our superiors. Managers and supervisors must be responsible for the performance of their teams. Every team must be accountable for the actions of each member.

We are only as strong as our weakest link; don’t leave anyone behind. Infuse everyone with the strongest sense of pride and professionalism by showing them that what they do each day matters to our achieving our shared mission.

I know that many of you already do. Thank you for leading by your example. On this 30th anniversary, let us all, each and every one of us, resolve to do what’s right, wherever we are and whatever we are entrusted to do. Take responsibility, walk the talk, own the outcome.

Every one of us counts, and when we each do our part, we will fulfill our vision every day – moving people, enhancing the lives of everyone who journeys with us.

Let’s press on. We will get there.

Desmond Kuek

Radio Giveaways’ Winners

Thank you for taking part in our online quiz last week.

Here are the answers:


  1. Mr Ong Teng Cheong, then-Deputy Prime Minister, was the guest of honour when MRT operations began on 7 Nov 1987.
  2. 188,000 many wooden sleepers were replaced on the North-South and East-West Lines.


We would like to congratulate the following winners:

Lee Lin Hsu

Nur Razak

Nurafian Zulkifli

Ong You Yuan

Tong Yew Fai


We will get in touch shortly. Thank you.

Re-signalling Update: Your Questions Answered Here

Last month, we answered 7 commonly asked questions about SMRT Trains’ new signalling system.
As system-level performance checks on the new signalling system for the North-South Line (NSL) continue, we seek to regularly answer the questions you have on re-signalling.


1. Compared to the Circle Line (CCL) and the Downtown Line (DTL), why is it so challenging to run re-signalling checks on the NSL?

The signalling systems on the CCL and the DTL were implemented before the lines commenced passenger service. Each line has one type of train, which was easier. On the other hand, the NSL currently has four different fleets of trains. Each fleet has its characteristics, and every train is unique.
Moreover, the newer lines run completely underground so they are not subject to inclement weather conditions. In contrast, our NSL operates on both open viaducts and tracks underground.
All these factors add to the complexities of our re-signalling project.

2. Has there been any progress after a month of system-level performance checks?

Yes, we have rectified several teething issues including the following:
• Improved alignment of train doors and platform screen doors at stations;
• Better regulation of train service intervals and train dwell time at stations;
• Significantly reducing incidents of train overshoot at platforms; and
• Smoother train braking and acceleration along the viaduct during adverse weather conditions.

3. The Tuas West Extension (TWE) was launched on 18 June 2017. Why was there a disruption on 28 June 2017, just ten days later?

Unlike the main stretch of the East-West Line (EWL) which is still running on the legacy Westinghouse system installed since 1987, the newly-completed TWE operates on the new signalling system.
This explains why trains moving to and from the TWE will have to pause at Pioneer MRT Station for a few minutes each time to switch signalling systems. On the evening of 28 June, the radio communication network of the new signalling system failed and affected the NSL and TWE.


4. How long more will the re-signalling checks on the NSL last?

In a briefing last month (May 2017), LTA shared that a complex system like the new system would take about four to six months to stabilise from the time it is rolled out on a regular basis (29 May 2017). We are not alone in this. Our fellow operators in London and Hong Kong faced similar issues when they renewed their old signalling systems. They also took a while to rectify the issues.

Isaac’s very own Train City

At the age of six, Isaac Nathaniel D’Souza was presented with a SMRT train model by one of our colleagues. His fascination with trains grew exponentially, and he is now the proud architect of his very own SMRT Land – an intricately-built miniature city of electrical train models – right in his home.

A true blue train fanatic, Isaac is a Service Ambassador at Jurong East Station. In his quest to build the city, he spent a whooping five-digit figure to remodel his room and purchase materials for details such as the roundel replica and train livery on his walls. Isaac is inspired by his visits to different parts of Japan, where most of his electrical train models come from

International Customer Service Survey on SMRT Train and Bus Services

SMRT’s train and bus services are part of an international customer service survey, now on from 24 April 2017 till 21 May 2017.

The online polls for the 2017 Customer Satisfaction Survey (CSS) are led by the CoMET and Nova, and the International Bus Benchmarking Group (IBBG) for train and bus services respectively. These surveys, which allow commuters to rate transport operators on their levels of service, provide data that show areas in which train and bus services serve commuters well and flag out areas for improvement.

These two surveys will help us better understand your satisfaction levels towards our train and bus services.

Click here to participate in IBBG CSS.

Click here to participate in to participate in CoMET Nova CSS.

Both surveys are managed by Railway and Transport Strategy Imperial College of London (RTSC).

Once the surveys are completed, RTSC will compile the data, provide them to participating metros, and present them at the CoMET and Nova meetings in the second half of 2017.

The CoMET Benchmarking Group has 17 members made up of some of the largest metros while the Nova Benchmarking Group currently has 16 members consisting of mostly medium sized or newer metros. CoMET and Nova provides a confidential forum for metros to share experiences, compare performances, and identify best practices and learn from each other.

The IBBG is a comprehensive programme benchmarking urban bus operations. The consortium is currently made up of 15 medium and large sized bus organisations in the world.

The surveys go live from Monday 24 April through Sunday 21 May 2017. Your information and responses will remain confidential and will not be used for any other purpose.

We thank you for sharing feedback via these surveys.

SMRT Rail Report 2017

Mr Desmond Kuek, President and Group CEO, SMRT Corporation
Mr Lee Ling Wee, Managing Director, SMRT Trains

Our multi-year, multi-project efforts to improve the journey for train commuters by enhancing rail operations, maintenance and engineering are seeing steady results. This is thanks to close and constant collaboration and cooperation with our counterparts from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Transport Ministry. Our joint efforts in renewing the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) – Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily-used MRT lines – alongside the push to raise reliability on the Circle Line (CCL) and Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) are well on track.

About this time each year, we typically meet with media and analysts to report on our full-year financial performance. Following our delisting from the Singapore Exchange last October, we are no longer obliged to share on financials, but will nevertheless do so for our Trains business when our accounts have been audited. More importantly, we intend to proactively share on operational developments and report on the progress made in rail reliability and service-related journey matters. This is to keep our commuters informed on our overall progress with ongoing rail reliability efforts, update on work done in the past year and what to expect in the coming year.

Further Progress in Rail Reliability Improvements

Our investigations have shown that the rail disruptions lasting more than 30 minutes that have inconvenienced commuters on the NSEWL are chiefly due to parts of the rail network that are awaiting replacement such as track circuits and ageing train parts such as propulsion, brakes and signalling equipment. Parts of the rail network that have been renewed are performing well. We are optimistic that in time to come, the rail transformation will give Singapore a renewed and much-improved MRT system.

Using the 12 month average of Mean Kilometres Between Failure (MKBF) for incidents lasting more than 5 minutes as an indicator for reliability, as at 31 March 2017, the NSL and CCL have seen major improvements and are now at 180,000km and 282,000km respectively while the EWL has held steady at 145,000km. Compared with 5 years ago, this is a 3-fold improvement in rail reliability for our oldest lines, and almost five times for the CCL. This is the number of kilometres that we clock before incurring a single incident of service delay lasting more than 5 min. Naturally, the longer the interval, the better.

Measured another way, what is also noteworthy is that the NSL achieved 200 days without a major incident on 18 March 2017. Meanwhile the CCL crossed 150 days without a major incident on 1 April 2017. For the EWL, unfortunately we incurred a service delay caused by additional time needed to complete the replacement of a switch rail during engineering hours between Joo Koon and Pioneer MRT Stations on 12 February 2017 when we were on our 194th day, and so we start the count again from zero. We are placing significant emphasis on managing down the number of such major incidents lasting more than 30 minutes because these are the ones that cause great passenger inconvenience when they occur.

While these results are encouraging, we have still some way to go to be best in class in the world. There are a handful of other operators in the world belonging to this class, and we are determined to make the journey for commuters even better as we aspire to join the best in class. So this year, we aim to make an even higher stepped improvement, and do better than 300,000 km. By next year, we target to reach 400,000 km – in line with the stretched goals that the Transport Ministry has set, to be among the best in class in the world.

Our effort to reach and sustain 300,000 MKBF is underpinned by five focus areas. These are: Structure, Asset, People, Process and Technology. We have revamped and strengthened the Trains organisation Structure with planning and resource management functions closely integrated with rail operations, maintenance and engineering capabilities. The multi-year, multi-project rail transformation effort will see our Assets renewed or upgraded, while improvements in People management will bring out the best in our engineering and maintenance staff who will be augmented by improved Processes and more extensive use of Technology to keep our rail network in good working order. These focus areas will sustain better reliability, availability and safety for our MRT network.

Our push towards a reliability-centric maintenance approach will benefit commuters as engineering staff can intervene proactively to fix faults before they occur. At the heart of this effort is the increased use of condition monitoring devices and data analytics. This will allow our engineering staff to focus on preventive and predictive maintenance to detect, identify and fix emerging rail problems. When fully implemented, we expect to drive down the need for corrective maintenance.

Renewal Works Are On Track and Will Improve System Resilience

Our assets have mostly reached end-of-life, and others are in need of a midlife upgrade. This is not unexpected as this year we are marking our 30th year of MRT operations. Renewal works to upgrade and expand the network are timely and commenced a few years ago. We thank our commuters for their patience and understanding, knowing that we only have a limited number of hours each night for engineering works and need to stabilise the system in time for commuter service to run again at dawn the next day. When all our systems have been renewed, and with a comprehensive preventive and predictive maintenance regime in place, we can look forward to higher system resilience, and even better train reliability and availability. As at 31 March 2017, our train service availability rate stands at 99.89% for the NSEWL, and 100.00% for the CCL.

In December 2016, we completed the change-out of all 188,000 wooden sleepers on the NS and EW lines. Speed restrictions have been lifted, and the ride is now faster and more comfortable. Track works on several other components such as the power rail are due for completion next month (May 2017) while the track signalling system on the East-West Line will be completed next year. The renewal of the power supply infrastructure for selected traction power substations is on schedule for completion in the next five years. To improve capacity, we have made good progress with the testing of a new signalling system (a Communication-based Train Control or CBTC system) that can shorten the wait time from 120 seconds to 100 seconds, thereby improving peak-hour capacity by up to 20% with the addition of more trains to each line.

Investments in Human Capital

We now have 5,200 staff in Trains and had grown 6% from April 2016 to March 2017. We now have more than 400 engineers, almost double the number we had three years ago.

We have ramped up professional rail specific training for our engineers to better manage the new and complex systems. To complement the training and development curriculum that SMRT Institute offers, SMRT continuously seeks partnerships with top academic institutions to train and develop a sustainable pipeline of rail engineers for the future.

SMRT announced a collaborative effort with the University of Birmingham to offer the UoB -SMRT post-graduate certificate, the first of its kind in Asia, and has trained close to 200 of our engineers in its two runs last year.

Working for You in 2017

The Thomson-East Coast Line is open for tender and we have made a competitive bid with a focus on quality, reliability and customer service to operate the line when it is open from 2019.

This year, the NSEWL will see a significant expansion with the opening of the 7.5km Tuas West Extension. We have already taken over the Tuas Depot and the four new stations from LTA, and have been working hard together with LTA to get the depot and stations ready to serve commuters in that area soon.

We are keeping up with efforts on the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (BPLRT), and note that it has achieved 40,000 MKBF as at 31 March 2017. We are happy to hear that LTA is looking into the upgrading and renewal of assets for the BPLRT, and we look forward to working with them to improve LRT services for the residents in Bukit Panjang.

SMRT is also carrying out upgrade works to station facilities concurrent with ongoing rail renewal efforts, starting with a project to renew escalators across the NSEWL from now till 2021.

Concluding Remarks

Last year we transited SMRT Trains to a new rail financing framework, and completed the privatisation of SMRT Corporation under Temasek. We have sharpened the focus on rail service and maintenance, without the burden of lumpy capital expenditures and short term earnings pressures.

As we celebrate 30 years of MRT operations this year, we will continue our close partnership with LTA as we renew our commitment to rail excellence, and broaden our urban mobility portfolio to serve the end- to-end journey needs of all our commuters.

Paving the Way for Better Journeys – Lucky Draw Winners

SMRT is renewing the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL), Singapore’s oldest, longest and most heavily utilised MRT lines. The multi-year, multi-project efforts underline SMRT’s commitment to serve our commuters better.

Last October, SMRT published Paving the Way for Better Journeys: Edition 2 to inform residents living along the North-South Line of our rail transformation efforts and benefits. These include smoother rides arising from sleeper replacement, shorter waiting times from new signalling systems, third rail replacement which boost network resilience and reliability, and higher train frequency as more trains are added into the network progressively.
Better Journeys
Survey Result
Nearly 90% of survey respondents could see the efforts SMRT put in to improve their travel experience.


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.


Please click on the image to view an enlarged version.

A peek into lessons learnt from Singapore Rail Transport Conference


Attended by more than 20 international railway experts, the inaugural Singapore Rail Transport Conference (SRTC) held in November 2016 provided a platform for sharing and potential collaboration in the area of technology development and innovation among operators of some of the world’s busiest metro lines. SMRT gained valuable insights as we strive to enhance rail performance and reliability.

The conference also provided us with an opportunity where we could benchmark ourselves against regional transport providers like Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR). Here are some key learning points shared by two of our guest speakers.

“Not everything needs to be in-house”

Professor Alfred Huan, Chairman, SMRT Technical Advisory Panel stated that SMRT has taken on “the very ambitious task and programme to upgrade its own engineering capabilities”. He added that this includes the company’s efforts to digitise data and adopt digital technology to coordinate our operations and maintenance.

Professor Huan, who is also the Executive Director of the Institute of High Performance Computing at A*STAR pointed out that as SMRT continually builds up its network of expertise, “not everything needs to be in-house”.

“Instead SMRT can tap on expertise within Singapore’s good eco-system of universities, A*STAR, and other research organisations”, said Huan, who was also a guest speaker at the conference.

“The important thing for SMRT is to be able to understand how to integrate all the different expertise around to promote its own objectives.”

Hong Kong MTR Vs SMRT – Adopting industry best practices

Speaking to reporters on technology advancement on the side lines of the event, Professor Lee Kang Kuen, Professor for Transportation at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said both Hong Kong MTR and SMRT have adopted continuous condition monitoring. This is currently seen as one of the best practices in the industry.

“I can see in Singapore, SMRT is adopting the same drive as MTR in really going along with the industry best practises. With all these on-going efforts, there will be a quantum leap in reliability improvements,” he added.

Hong Kong MTR’s experience achieving a high MKBF

The HKMTR reached 520,000 mean-kilometres between failure (MKBF) in the first quarter of 2016 while SMRT aspires to achieve 400,000 MKBF by 2018.

Professor Lee shared his confidence that SMRT would be able to achieve its rail reliability targets by improving from our experiences and lessons learnt in our 30 year history.

“MTR started operations back in 1979, so it is actually about 10 years prior to SMRT. MTR has improved through lessons learnt over the years. For each lesson learnt we adopted improvement measures. This is how excellence can be built up. I’m sure that with the same approach being adopted by SMRT that excellence can be achieved here,” he said.

“Exchange of experiences not “import”

When asked by a reporter what aspects of the HKMTR could be imported to Singapore, Professor Lee pointed out that each network has its own features, and it is important to share experiences and not “import”.

The professor, who has over 40 years’ experience in railway Operations and Maintenance (O&M), projects and consultancy, also stressed the importance of having these sharing sessions regularly.

“I am actually very delighted that this (the conference) has been done quite well where member railways get to share their experience so other members will not repeat what has gone wrong,” he said.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek at HR Summit 2016

SMRT President & Group CEO 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.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek at HR Summit

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.

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek Powering SMRT Transformation and Culture Change

Image courtesy of HR Summit 2016

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek at HR Summit with Steve Lai.JPG

Image courtesy of Steve Lai (Source: Instagram)