SMRT secretly shipping 35 PRC-made trains back to China for repairs

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By: 永久浪客/Forever Vagabond

Reporters from Hong Kong FactWire have uncovered 35 faulty SMRT trains being secretly shipped back to China for repairs (https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/07/05/mainland-manufacturer-mtr-secretly-recalls-35-trains-singapore-due-cracks).

The trains were made by CSR Sifang in a joint venture with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, based in Qingdao, China.

It was found that these PRC-made trains have developed cracks in their car bodies as well as in key structural components, Factwire reported. “Details of the defects and the recalls have been kept secret in both Singapore and China,” it said.

Hong Kong FactWire is concerned about news of these faulty Chinese trains in Singapore as they have also been bought by Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation.

SMRT secretly moving faulty trains from Bishan Depot to Jurong Port

A source from the mainland railway industry told FactWire that SMRT was “secretly shipping defective trains back to mainland China for replacement and repair” by the manufacturer CSR Sifang. FactWire got wind that the faulty trains were stored at SMRT’s Bishan Depot and sent its reporters to investigate.

About 3 weeks ago on 12 June after 1am, FactWire reporters witnessed two trains wrapped in green covering being moved out of Bishan Depot. The reporters trailed the convoy all the way to Jurong Port.
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[fvplayer src=”http://youtube.com/watch?v=fn2OyAC_cnE”]

FactWire reported, “Each of the two covered train cars were more than 20m long. They were placed on large dollies used for transporting train cars and were towed away by cargo trucks, led by police cars and construction vehicles. At approximately 3am, the two train cars arrived at Jurong Port, located in Singapore’s western industrial area. Using a drone camera, reporters discovered that six train cars had already been placed in one corner of the port. Cranes, derricks, and other large machines believed to be used for lifting trains were situated nearby.”

Factwire has also confirmed from its source in China that these trains would be shipped by cargo ship to Qingdao, a voyage taking more than 10 days. In late June, FactWire sent its reporters to Qingdao to confirm the arrival of the defective trains from Singapore. Two of CSR Sifang’s staff confirmed that the trains indeed had arrived at the factory on June 25 from Singapore. Outside the factory, reporters saw trains wrapped in green covering identical to the kind seen in Singapore. Some of the green covering had “E27” printed on it, the same marking seen on the covering of the trains in Singapore.

Shoddy workmanship

From May 2011 to 2014, 35 of such trains were believed to be put into service by SMRT but problems with these trains were soon found after they began service in 2011.

According to FactWire, its sources said that the trains are of poor quality and that the glass next to passenger seats has repeatedly shattered due to shoddy workmanship. In 2011, one of the trains’ Chinese-made uninterruptible power supply batteries exploded during repair. While there were no injuries, CSR Sifang replaced all of the batteries made in China with new ones made in Germany.

In December 2011, serious malfunctions occurred on the SMRT’s North South Line, which the SMRT suspected were caused by the Chinese trains. A subcontractor responsible for supplying train components to CSR Sifang admitted to FactWire that after the malfunctions, SMRT significantly reduced the frequency of the Chinese trains and asked to delay payment for extra trains of the same series, greatly impacting the subcontractor’s cash flow.

Then in 2013, the quality issues worsen. FactWire’s sources said cracks were found in structural components, including the sub-floor – a compartment under the passenger floor holding the equipment box and electrical wires – and bolster function parts connecting the car body to the bogie, the latter having the most serious problems. “It’s a structural problem,” said the source. “The bolster function balances the train’s weight and swing range, [therefore] cracks are dynamic, [they] can spread to the train car body with the bolster function, so the entire train car must be replaced.”

Other sources told FactWire that some of trains manufactured by CSR Sifang were found to have impurities in their aluminium train car bodies, a very likely cause of the cracks now found in the trains.

Former Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation acting CEO Samuel Lai Man-hay told FactWire, “It is very unusual for cracks to appear in new components, and you don’t know how much pressure it can withstand after that, because running puts a lot of pressure on the train’s car body.”

“If [the incidents] are true, aside from cracks, battery explosions also reflect that the product may have quality issues. The quality control of the entire manufacturing process comes under suspicion, causing people to lose confidence in the product,” Lai added.

FactWire has also contacted several former SMRT staff. One of them said, “I’ve never encountered a situation like this in all my decades of working in railway construction. Replacing the whole frame [of the train] – you can tell how serious [the problem] is.”

Another admitted that the Chinese train had quality issues in its propulsion system, engine system, and other components. “It’s not a complete failure you know, it’s [that] the [train’s] life is so much shorter, maybe about half [of the normal lifespan]. [For instance], if normal trains can [run for] one million km, but this one can only do 500,000km.”

“[Chinese-made trains] are very cheap. How can you have [something] that is very good and pay a very cheap price? So this is [the] trade-off,” he added.

SMRT, LTA and Chinese manufacturer don’t want to talk to FactWire

FactWire contacted Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Singapore branch. In a telephone conversation lasting more than 10 minutes, the company’s rolling stock manager Ken Nishiyama did not deny the flaws in the C151A trains and their recall back to Qingdao for replacement. He twice asked the reporter: “How do you know [about] the project?”

When the reporter asked why the trains had quality issues and whether manufacturer CSR Sifang should bear responsibility, Nishiyama repeatedly stressed: “We cannot make any comment on the project, the progress, the issue, whether there is [a] programme or no programme.”

Meanwhile, SMRT, LTA, and CRRC Corporation Limited, CSR Sifang’s parent company, did not respond to FactWire’s requests for comment.