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Lui approved $749M to buy more PRC trains 2 months before defective ones were sent back

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By: Forever Vagabond

LTA has published a press release stating that cracks on the surface of the car-body bolster of the Chinese-made trains were first discovered in July 2013 (https://theindependent.sg.sg/it-is-not-unusual-to-detect-some-defects-on-new-trains-lta-works-overtime-to-assuage-public-concerns). Laboratory tests showed that the cracks were due to impurity in the aluminum car-body material that occurred during the manufacturing process.

LTA also said, “Due to the nature of the defect, the most effective way of addressing it is to replace the entire car-body shell. As the trains were under warranty, we required the contractor to replace the entire car body shell. Hence, since July 2014, the affected trains have been progressively sent back to the factory for rectification works.”

The train was a joint project between Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries and China’s CSR Sifang. According to a 2009 press release, Kawasaki was responsible for overseeing the project, designing and manufacturing the train bogies, and buying the major train components. CSR Sifang, on the other hand, was responsible for manufacturing the train car body, assembling the trains, and conducting factory tests.

But Hong Kong’s FactWire, who first broke the news few days ago, reported that Kawasaki had now decided to take over the manufacturing of the flawed aluminum train car body of the defective trains, leaving CSR Sifang only responsible for reassembling the train cars (https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/07/05/mainland-manufacturer-mtr-secretly-recalls-35-trains-singapore-due-cracks).

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Lui approved further $749 million to buy 91 more trains from CSR Sifang

At the time in 2013 when cracks were first discovered in the SMRT trains, the Minister of Transport was Lui Tuck Yew. No doubt, Mr Lui would have been aware of the problems of these Chinese-made trains, being the Minister himself.

Still, he allowed LTA to spend another $749 million to buy 91 four-car trains from the same Chinese manufacturer, for the upcoming Thomson and Eastern Region Lines. The new trains are supposed to be fully automated and driverless.

This was announced in May 2014, 2 months before the first batch of defective trains were starting to be shipped back to China for repairs (http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/lta-buys-91-trains-for-thomson-eastern-region-lines-for-749-million).

At the time of the announcement, LTA said that Kawasaki Heavy Industries is responsible for the overall train design, while CSR Sifang will produce the train body shell and the final assembly.

Now that we know CSR Sifang cannot be trusted to produce the train body, it’s not known if LTA would allow the Chinese to continue to make the train body for the 91 new trains.

Did Minister Lui decide to resign over knowledge of train defects?

Minister Lui sent in his resignation letter to PM Lee on 11 Aug last year, 1 month before the GE. In the letter, he wrote:

“I broached this subject with you early this year (2015). You and several senior members of the Cabinet tried hard to persuade me to change my mind. You reminded me that the responsibility of Government was a collective one, and no minister carried difficult problems like public transport alone. I deeply appreciate the reassurance and support. But having thought the matter over carefully, I have decided that I should stand by my original decision.”

He also mentioned about the serious setbacks in MRT incidents in his resignation letter, “But we have had some setbacks, including two major disruptions on the NSEW (North-South East-West) lines. Large-scale or prolonged disruptions still happen more frequently than is acceptable.”

Hence, from what he wrote, one can deduce that before 2015, possibly in 2014, Mr Lui had basically decided to resign from his job as Transport Minister. One can also see that he was working under a lot of pressure. It’s not known if the sending back of trains to China for repairs, which was started in Jul 2014, had tipped him over to decide to resign.

Mr Lui is now no longer in politics. He is currently an independent director of a public-listed construction company run by PA’s grassroots leaders (https://theindependent.sg.sg/ex-minister-lui-joins-construction-company-run-by-grassroots-leaders).

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