Takeaways from CoMET Annual Meeting 2015

Transport professionals from SMRT and around the world who attended the CoMET meeting spent many enlightening hours sharing experiences, challenges and possible solutions to running heavy rail networks that carry millions of people daily.

President and Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Desmond Kuek, led a delegation to the 2015 Annual Meeting of the CoMET Benchmarking Group in Madrid. The Spanish rail operator, Metro de Madrid, is currently the chair of CoMET.

The Annual Meeting is the occasion when the administrator of the Group – the Railway and Transport Strategy Centre (RTSC) of Imperial College London – presents results of its year’s work in identifying best practices and strategies to improve the efficiency and productivity of the metros. The gathering of CEOs and COOs was also an opportunity for the senior management of each metro to discuss and exchange ideas of strategic importance.

Each metro shared their latest updates and developments. Attendees also toured various facilities of Metro de Madrid. The focal points for this year’s research were ‘Operating Very High Frequency Metro Services’, ‘The Management of Electronics Maintenance’, ‘Multi-Functional Staff’, and ‘Customer-Focused Train Design’. These topics are of great importance to SMRT especially at a time when we are making the transition to a new signalling system, implementing system renewal and upgrades, and improving customer service touchpoints.

Key Takeaways from Madrid

In the metro community, there is a saying that “rarely is there a challenge that another operator hasn’t also faced“.

This was vividly demonstrated in the sharing session by the various metros.

Customer Services
Free Wi-Fi service at station platforms is getting popular now amongst metros. Metro operators in Moscow, Russia, and in Berlin, Germany, are implementing this in all their stations, as is the case in Singapore, with LTA leading the effort. To top this, Moscow plans to introduce Wi-Fi on all trains too. We will closely monitor Moscow’s experience and learn lessons from them.

Hong Kong experienced a highly publicised case relating to the restriction of luggage sizes when staff tried to stop a musician carrying a large musical instrument into the station. There was a public outcry and Hong Kong had to resort to establishing standards specifically for large musical instruments (cello, double bass, tuba, etc.) allowed into the metro.

Hong Kong is conducting a trial on smart tactile indicators (floor tiles with raised dots and bars to guide the visually handicapped) with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags embedded. With RFID transceivers integrated in smart canes, the user can receive more detailed information as he / she approaches a junction.

Taipei has introduced a new feature in its travel app which provides real-time next train arrival information to commuters at the platform. We will closely follow this and learn lessons from Taipei’s experience.

Manpower and Staffing
In view of the high demand for engineering talent, multifunctional staffing is a popular solution, with a case study dedicated to this subject presented at the meeting. Guangzhou has combined station operations, train operations and station light maintenance roles for every staff member deployed in the Chinese city’s network. Berlin has combined the roles of station manager and train captain with staff members performing these roles on a rotating basis. The city of Brussels in Belgium has deployed maintenance staff to operate passenger service trains during peak periods when there are fewer trains to maintain as they are mostly in revenue service. At times when the stations are less crowded, station staff are also deployed to drive the trains to augment the total number of drivers needed.

Shenzhen is beginning to introduce split-shift duties for their train crew to meet peak demand and to provide relief for drivers at meal times. This is consistent with our train-crew schedules since we started operations.

Establishing direct contact with passengers is also on the agenda for several metros. In the United Kingdom, London has closed all station ticket offices and has deployed ticketing staff at the concourse to assist passengers in using automated ticket machines. They provide general customer service face-to-face, rather than behind a sheet of glass. Over in France, Paris is also taking steps to encourage more direct human presence and contact in their stations. They specify this as ‘customer-focus requirement’ when they issue operation concession contracts for new lines.

SMRT Station Ops staff

These practices are similar to SMRT’s own initiative of encouraging our station staff to come out of the Passenger Service Centre and interact with our commuters. Increased face time with passengers, especially during peak hours, will encourage our station colleagues to serve commuters better.

Maintenance

SMRT maintenance staff

A common challenge faced by most, if not all, metros is the limited amount of time for track access to perform maintenance work. Metro operators indicated that they had a maintenance window of only three to four hours nightly, when trains are not running, to perform critical inspection, maintenance, repair and upgrading works. For example in New York, they are finding it difficult to maintain low levels of customer complaints when sections of lines are closed for maintenance or upgrading. They are prepared to drop their requirement for providing alternate services and just allow existing services to operate, even at degraded modes.

In similar fashion, London closed an important rail segment for a period of 20 days to renew its ageing crossings and track beds. Although some lessons can be drawn from the older metros, the points of comparison may be different in terms of network redundancy, alternate travel options and commuter profile.

Berlin has introduced night and weekend shifts to even out maintenance work and to improve availability of the train fleet. This is consistent with the challenges that we face today.

Hong Kong is experimenting with the use of drones for surveillance, crowd management and asset inspection. We are concurrently exploring this option and will identify opportunities for sharing of experiences with Hong Kong MTR.

Energy
Taipei reported that they are stopping some escalators during the off-peak period as a measure to conserve energy. Several metros are converting their lights to LEDs to reduce their energy bills.

Delhi has embarked on tapping solar energy from roof-top panels to supplement its existing power sources, targeting to achieve 50MWh by 2021.

Demand Management
SMRT has been offering discounted travel for morning pre-peak hours for many years and since 2013, commuters have been travelling for free during these hours. Hong Kong began a trial for early-bird discounts last year, offering 25% discounts for trips exiting the city area before the morning peak period. Similar to SMRT, they experienced a change in travel patterns.

CoMET Annual Meeting 2016 to be in Singapore

SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek at a CoMET Meeting
SMRT has been selected to take on the Presidency of the CoMET Benchmarking Group in 2016 with Mr Vincent Tan, Senior Vice President, Rail Operations & Corporate Services, assuming the position of President. SMRT will host the Annual Meeting of the CoMET Group in November 2016.

Some of our staff will be called to assist in the meeting and play host to the delegates from more than 20 metros. We look forward to you extending the warmest welcome to our international colleagues as we prepare for CoMET 2016 in the Lion City.

A little background on CoMET and Nova Benchmarking Groups
The CoMET Benchmarking Group currently has 17 members. They comprise some of the largest metros. It was formed in 1994 with 5 members; Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR), London Underground (LUL), Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), New York City Transit (NYCT) and Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG).

The Nova Benchmarking Group currently has 16 members which consist of mostly medium-sized or newer metros. It was formed in 1998, with SMRT as one of the founding members.

Having grown in network size and ridership, SMRT migrated to CoMET in 2014.

The groups are jointly owned and steered by the members, with project management, administration, and research carried out by the Railway and Transport Strategy Centre (RTSC) at Imperial College London.

They provide a confidential forum for the metros to share experiences, compare performances, identify best practices, and learn from one another in order for member organisations to improve overall performance.

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