MRT: Khaw Boon Wan’s nightmare

Sense And Nonsense - by Tan Bah Bah


Singaporeans are beginning to have a love-hate relationship with their mass rapid system otherwise known as MRT and also Khaw Boon Wan’s nightmare.

But first, a bit of story-telling about the origin of the MRT.  Never been told, I promise. So you are the first to know about it.

Years ago, I was at an American think tank in California and having lunch with one of its very senior inhouse consultants. He asked me whether I knew Lee Kuan Yew or Dr Goh Keng Swee. Of course, I said No. How I wished. But we were not in the same social circle, really.

Then he came straight to the point. He told me he might have been partly  responsible for Singapore’s MRT.  I was surprised because I had never heard of him and I could not see how he was connected with it.

He told me a number of other interesting things which I would skip over here since today’s subject is just the MRT.

This is his MRT story: “I got to know Dr Goh because I had helped him in a number of small projects over the years. Then one morning, I got a call from him. He asked me whether I know anything about mass rapid transit systems and public transport. I said not quite because I did not specialise in these areas.

“Anyway, he asked me to get two sets of experts for a public debate on having the feasibility of having an MRT in Singapore, whether to commit to such a system or carry on with a truly comprehensive bus network. I told him I could do that.

“I knew some Harvard people and also some private sector consultants. I gave the list a week later to Dr Goh and I believe he chose some of these experts and held a public debate on whether Singapore, a small island, should even have an MRT. The rest is history, Tan.”

Yes, the rest was history. I want to be accurate, so I quote verbatim from the Infopedia:

“Despite the findings of mass transit studies, the government was still hesitant to commit to the MRT system. A team of foreign consultants (also known as the Harvard team) led by team leader Kenneth Hansen was engaged to review the previous mass transit and other transportation studies.

“In their report, the Hansen team argued that the earlier studies were based on incorrect assumptions and thus failed to consider other approaches to solve Singapore’s transport problems. Rather than a MRT system, the Hansen team recommended a high performance all-bus system coupled with feeder routes and motorcar restraint. Even if Singapore were to develop a MRT system, the team suggested that only one line be built as they believed that this would be sufficient to relieve traffic congestion and allow the bus system to function.

“The Hansen report resulted in much public attention on the MRT issue. It was widely publicised in the local media and a forum debate between the opposing consultants was televised. In May 1982, the government finally made the decision to build and completely finance the proposed S$5-billion MRT system.”

The important point I wish to make is this:  Our earlier leaders were very careful, very hardheaded about everything they did. By and large also, they did not open their mouths unnecessarily and say inane things.

Can you imagine? They were unsure whether to have an MRT. Perfectly normal for leaders who have had to commit public money and resources to an initially disruptive project (when the system was being constructed). They actually had a live public TV debate to rope in the whole population in the decision-making.

What Dr Goh – and later Ong Teng Cheong because I was told he was very keen on having an MRT – bequeathed, I am just sad our subsequent leaders have somehow messed up.

What happened during the Yeo Cheow Tong, Raymond Lim era? How did we ever end up with that CEO who seemed more interested in the retail than rail business? I am not putting any major blame on Lui Tuck Yew because I believe he did his best trying to cope with a system which could not cope with a sudden surge of users brought in by the massive import of foreigners.

So we now have Khaw Boon Wan supervising an overhaul which seems to be quagmired in an unending chain of fault exposures and a litany of strange  explanations and excuses.

Meme of KBW on social media. Anon

One day, it is signalling. Next, it is defective doors. And we have just witnessed the ultimate Ownself Praise Ownself delusion.  He said the MRT is three times  more reliable than in 2015 and conveniently excluded the delays in the North-South Line due to the resignalling works on the North-South Line because these incidents “happen once in every 30 years”.

And he is unhappy with the media for playing up news on the problems.

Khaw said: “They think it is so easy … just like holding a pen and writing a few articles, and you get the signalling done. I wish it was so simple…If it was so simple, they don’t need us. We can ask the reporters to run the train system.”

The cheapshot answer to his remarks would be: But reporters are not paid millions. A fairer reply to him would be: Just do your job and stop giving excuses.

We want to have an MRT system which we enjoy riding on and not regard as unreliable – and our collective daily nightmare.

Meme of KBW on social media. Anon

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.


  1. He is a joke. Anyway, this leadership have brought in so many foreigners till our infrastructures are unable to coup with a sudden influx too quickly. So he the TOP leader indirectly screw up everyone, even his own ministers down to the citizens. All his ministers don’t dare to give their personal opinion as “HE” always think HE is right. HE think HE is his Father, that have good foresight and almost always makes the best decisions. HE thinks HE is his fathers’ Son, so would possess his fathers’ traits. HE IS DREAMING AND HE SHOULD STOP WASTING PUBLICS MONEY AND RESIGN!

  2. MRT faults are mainly due to poor maintenance planning and schedule from the beginning. When the lines were new and working fine which the then lady CEO choose not to spend money for it’s up keeping maintenance but only want boards.and shareholders to see making $$$$. Now KBW still digging all the messy stuff out. So KWB don’t find excuse lah. You jolly know the history of MRT dissatisfied performance was headed by incompetent CEO and was appointed by your G leader .

    • Well said, the faults originated from the forgoing and neglects for maintenance OF tracks and equipments and many good engineers were sidelined and made redundant by that woman COE whom was alleged to be appointed due to interference from a higher office than thou.
      Sad, the resultance of not adhering to practice OF accountability. These are the culprits who should be brought out to be judged by the discontented public.

  3. Remember how we used to want to purge Lui Tuck Yew until he resigned? Maybe we shouldn’t have done that. End up what was suppose to be a better fix-it guy ended up replacing him.

    • Liu was drummed out wrongly. I personally saw Liu at MRT stations to survey and check for where the problems lie unlike his replacement that only push buttons and churn up excuses with no results in sight

  4. To improve… First change the name of SMRT (Singapore mass rapid transport) to SMTR Singapore mass transport rail. Next apologize to the countries whose citizens’ buttocks were whacked. Then call in the high priests to exorcise the whole system. Then….

  5. This idiot always think we are just born yesterday and refused to admit his incapability. He should step down and not keep finding excuses and now even pushing & blaming the Reporters. Btw, all the Media dogs reserved to get fuck because none of them dare to report the facts of any incidents or problems caused by their govt.

  6. This $8 Minister is paid $1,760,000 per annum. We can get over 33 new engineers @ $50K per annum to solve the issue of breakdown.. Why do we need a $8 Minister with no engineering background or cow sense for that matter.

  7. First need to think of ways to cut down the over loading… Due to too many riders.

    You can test all you want… The train is not designed to take load carrying millions.

    • Japan’s rail system runs at over 400% capacity but still works. Not comfortable but at least reliable. Capacity is not the issue here causing the breakdowns. Lack of maintenance with good quality parts is.

    • Alnedra Su Yian…Japan population 127millions…Singapore 4 millions Ard when MRT was considered.
      Would you design a train system capable to hold 100 millions population with in mind only 4 millions population?

      Now they are beefing up maintenance… Just to prolong the lifespan of the overloading trains…
      Is like pumping in drugs into cancer dying patients to ease their pain.
      N not cure their cancer.

    • I don’t expect the MRT to handle 100 million, but even at 200% capacity it should be able to handle 8 million right? Look at proportionate capacity, not absolute numbers.

    • Alnedra Su Yian…
      Precisely… It was never in the mind to cater the capacity of 200 %….
      As the flood gates opens, Overloading of Train system with millions of commuters are increasing non stop. N it failed at peak periods…mostly bcos that’s the time when overloading happens.
      You don’t see our trains failed when commuters are the least…

  8. Good for nothing very highly paid monkies, very RELIABLE for almost daily train breakdown, his blow job is to give STUPID excuses, STUPID reasons, STUPID answers and STUPID and RETARTED way of blaming the peoples aand the news paper news’ report…please go perform QUAK & KBW = HARaKIRi SOONEST

  9. Whatever smrt excuses might be. They still need to get it fixed be it easy or difficult task. Get it done or at least a definite lead time to resolved. There won’t be under or exaggerated reporting if problems are solved. Just get the trains moving

    • Correct!! This things won’t surface if there’s no much foreign trash. If SMartaRseT maintenance, maintain every 5yrs service. I suppose signing of MOU with foreign trash cuntries keep
      their acct. fatter, so they can buy villa’s, ferrari, jetplane and their many cunt’s in their afterlife. VTO!! No wonder there can only be One “LKY” our founding father of singapore.

  10. Would appreciate he stop saying I know I know.. when breakdown is not his fault but others… no standard minister never dare to take the blame

  11. The MRT issues n problems are intricate, difficult to understand, much less to explain to the mass understanding and acceptance of the general public.

    We must take Minister Khaw’s selflessness and good public spirit in his willingness to plunge in voluntarily to help resolve the problems, knowing full well what he would be getting into.

    Let us empathize with the problem here, and not throw stones at someone stepping out to help.

    Singaporeans surely can be more understanding.

    I want to specially thank Minister Khaw, for not side-stepping ( Slem-Ur ) but works so patiently at the issues. Thanks also to the MRT team involved.

    • Understand your pain and those of many other commuters. Thanks for feedback.
      What I meant is it’s difficult for the public to understand the technical issues.

    • Ron i was a SMRT staff. The problem isnot rocket science. Basically, its a breakdown of common sense and logic that is causing all this problems to keep snowballing. As Shanny said, “the rot starts at the top.”

    • So basically you are saying no one in charge at SMRT has enough common sense and logic to prevent or rectify problems that are accumulating and escalating ?

      Are you in a position to help directly or to influence top management to do so?

      Are you in the Engineering or Management at SMRT?

      Can you share more of the problems?

      I am really wondering what is actually wrong.

    • Ron Chan,
      This is what’s wrong:

      Maintenance expenditure:
      HK MTR: 1.08billion
      SG MRT: 121 million

      Thanks to good journalist, if not we will still be in the dark.

      “Over S$1.08 billion (HK$6 billion), or 37 percent, of MTRC’s revenue in 2014 was spent on maintenance, renewals and service improvements on the rail network.

      In the 2015 financial year, SMRT spent S$121.9 million, or 19 percent of its rail revenue, on maintenance and repair, although this amount excludes maintenance spending by the Land Transport Authority of Singapore.”

    • The MRT problem has great impact in Singapore and it’s people. It has a political, economic n social costs for the Government to bear.

      Drastic cut-back on repairs, maintenances, parts n component replacements and overhauls do not justify any trade off on dollars saved.

      I believe SMRT n the Government cannot afford the lingering ill effects of MRT breakdowns and are going all out to fix it.

      I believe the problems are not as easy to resolve as some thought. The MRT involves Mechanical, Electrical n Electronic Engineerings, Telecommunication Signaling, Maintenance n Operational and General Management which depended very much on skilled manpower and accurate computerized /automatic systems to function well. A small error can have cumulative n multiplying effects – paralyzingly a section or an entire MRT Line.

      I believe Mr Khaw has the common sense n logic above all other skills to analyze and come up with a resolution and good management for our entire MRT system, given ample time. I believe the Government is as anxious as any common citizen.

      It is not as simple as spending $x billion of dollars on maintenance alone that will solve the problem.

  12. a lot of people can say they are trying their best doing this and that but it’s still not fixing the problems. And why previously it’s working great and not now? Isn’t it still the same Mrt systems, the same architecture used, unless there are some shortcuts? If some argue it’s improvements from previous, the results doesn’t proof so. Anyway, some may say last time and now is different so cannot compare like that. Yes agree, can compare previous and now, cause previous we don’t have 5.9 million population and we don’t have peak hours all day round. Now I travel during 11-12pm east west line the train is packed to the door on weekdays, 11-12pm!

  13. Certainly we don’t need you. For the salary we pay you and the CEO we can get the best brains from the world to solve the problems. And we get a few of them not idiots like you.
    You bloody big mouth liar you are PAP’s greatest downfall. PAP will realize this in the next election.
    All Singaporeans on the ground are cursing you in every way every time your name is mentioned. You can go to HELL!

  14. I just wish khaw another quadruple bypass for $8 done by a quack doctor from India, who performs like the new signalling system in the mrt fiasco – fail frequently.

  15. Who can do better, can step forward n help, words are cheap..there’s only about 4 hours a night to rectify n up grade hundreds of KMs of old rail lines , it will take times to improve….

    • If $$ can solve the problem, it solved Long ago, there were no need to change more than 3 transport Ministers..n if the rail lines are just carbon steel then we won’t have signals n electronics problems.. they need time to improve, KPKB don’t help n yes there’re many inconveniences but is there any other solutions n if there’re, we have the $$ to pay..have we heard of any offer from experts round the world that they can do the jobs for a price .. if not, then why ?

  16. The ballest, the most cocky and dumb & dumber person ever produce in a garbage factory to run for any establishment & yet still earn millions of our hard earn money. Oops let me rephrase that, “our hard saving blood & sweat” of CPF but no jobs for our own majullah singapura people. Where’s the promise jobs and the upgrading to improve our life??? Ohh the foreign trash deserve the job that mean for US?? Shit forgot our dumdum gamen are greedy with licking our foreign cuntries for sustaining their pockets and offshore accounts with our reserve money and over spending useless projects that only mean for foreign trash only.

    What happen to those people of Majullah singapura? Oh we reserve such jobs like cisco, cleaner, security and low laying post for them(min requirement will be degree from recognise and legit certification only). If not available or to old to work, we can tap our foreign trash and rubbish to takeup the job. Really? Yes? Why? cos they have Degree mills from their mother father unishity. Wow? No wonder our social problem has risen to a level of disharmony in singapura. Thanks from the brilliant dumdum spineless leader that has no heart for their own kind. Lets vote them out. For the heartless, ballest, cowardish, backstabber who still believe u are well look after by our loving leader? Wake up, your hdb is NOT your asset! Your CPF is no more yours! Your JOB is no more yours! Your life is NO more yours! So if u dont vote them out, better migrate or just rot in hdb drain lah. Oops sorry even that you be fine for creating an environment of rubbish within the country. But foreign trash shitting and urine or selling illegal product is a conducive environment. VTO! VTO!
    Lets vote a new gamen, its about our lively hood of our future generations to come. Our fore father vested with blood & sweat to built this land call “Our Home”. Should we let everything that we work hard for to go to waste with incompetent and incorrigible leader who has lost touch with the people on the ground, they are heartless and greed to their power & money. Hope u can brings all the wealth to your grave. We miss LKY the true singapore father.

  17. MRT signalling fault has been happening more often since his takeover…when will it ever end or is this a scam to increase our fares as he did with our hdb flats

  18. with all the new flats at Yishun this has upped the no of residents there. let’s say there are 10,000 new residents where 10% of these new residents will go to work taking the train at 8 am, more or less at least 1,000 people will take the same train with me at that time. this is where the problem lies – the train cant take all and i have to oblige myself to miss the first, second and if i am lucky enough perhaps i can board the third train. what the media has reported is not an exaggeration – it is happening and you need to solve this problem.

  19. In the past we have train fault, signal fault, power fault, door failure fault. Now we have a new fault. It’s called main media reporting fault.

  20. If you just take the last 6 months of disruptions, do whatever testing during the wee hours when there are no riders ( eg 12am to 5am), SMRT would have had 5x30x6 =900 hrs of signal testing to get a train line operational. If that still cannot be solved, SMRT either got lemons for their new system or incompetence in its team/leadership.

  21. Don’t be so mean to Khaw Boon Wan..
    On comparison, he’s probably the most hardworking minister who doesn’t just talk off script and get his hands dirty into MRT overhaul works.
    Our MRT issues have been there even before he took office.

  22. I am asking PM to sack the useless Minister and CEO. Use the $4m plus a year to get the best brains in the world to solve the problem And you can pay a team with that money.
    We don’ t need them
    PM please stop wasting taxpayers money for useless idiots.

  23. LOL! Sure…maybe we should double or triple his current salary…then suddenly you see things start to move eh? Lol! Bunch of buffoons playing our asses day in and day out and yet we crave for more! Yeah baby!

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