Experts tell me that the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is amongst the best in class on rail reliability. Our operators, SMRT and SBST, must seek to match MTR’s reliability and close the gap as soon as possible.
While efforts in recent years have improved train reliability, the current situation is still not good enough. For example, although the average distance travelled before a delay of more than 5 minutes for our North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) has improved to 137,000 train-km, we are still far short of MTR’s performance of about 300,000 train-km.
This is a chart that I will track closely.
 Delays exclude incidents caused by external factors such as passenger action.
 New MRT lines such as the DTL, which started in December 2013, typically take six to nine months to stabilise.
 The figures were estimated at the time of the blog post in October 2015. These have since been updated as of December 2015 as the analysis and classification of some of the outstanding incidents have been completed.
While all delays are frustrating, major disruptions (which we, as well as MTR, define as delays exceeding 30 minutes) in particular, greatly inconvenience and anger commuters. Last year, we had 10 such disruptions across all our lines. MTR experienced 12 major disruptions last year, but their network is significantly longer than ours.
My immediate priority is on these major disruptions: what caused the past disruptions, can we prevent a repeat, what other possible causes have we identified, and have we addressed those causes as well?
The consensus view is that we have under-invested in rail maintenance, and our engineering capabilities in this area are still lacking. We will need to ramp up investment in this area. We will need to recruit and retain more skilled workers. All these are significant challenges, not easy to resolve quickly, but we are determined to overcome them.
We will need time to turn around and then stabilise the situation.
Meanwhile, as I highlighted earlier, even MTR experiences major disruptions, once a month on average last year. We should therefore be mentally prepared for the next disruption. We will be very disappointed when it happens, but we shall stand up, lick our wounds, examine the causes, and work very hard to prevent a repeat.
I hope Singaporeans will cheer us along, like we cheer our athletes even when they lose. Indeed, more than the spectators, our athletes are the most disappointed with themselves when they do not perform to expectations.
Likewise, I am sure that every disruption hurts our maintenance crew. They told me so when I visited them. Let’s stand with them and boost their morale. It is not SMRT’s or SBST’s name that is at stake; it is Singapore’s reputation. How every one of us responds to a breakdown makes a difference.
We are now behind Hong Kong MTR, but we shall catch up. Do give us some time to address all these problems.
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