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MRT: From “meaningless statistics” to now “meaningless words”?




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By: Leong Sze Hian

Train disruptions caused by track circuit failures, unrelated to sleeper replacement

I refer to the article “Train disruptions caused by track circuit failures, unrelated to sleeper replacement: SMRT”.

“Disruptions on the East-West MRT line earlier this month were caused by faulty track circuits and were unrelated to the replacement of sleepers on the ageing line, said rail operator SMRT on its blog on Sunday (Jan 29). 4-year project to upgrade sleepers on the 30-year-old North-South and East-West lines completed last month. The four-year project to upgrade sleepers on the 30-year-old North-South and East-West lines was completed last month.”

Who really cares about whether due to reason x, y or z?

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When I read the above – I was flabbergasted. From a commuter’s perspective – what does it matter to us – whether the delays since the year started – were due to “faulty track circuits” – and not due to “the replacement of sleepers” –  or for that matter whether it was due to reason x, y or z?

Is it more frequent and longer breakdowns?

What may irk commuters may be that there seems to be more frequent and longer breakdowns.

Media articles that don’t make much sense?

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At this juncture, allow me to explain why I was flabbergasted when I read the subject article. This is not the first time that I am reading media articles about train delays that arguably, don’t make much sense, or arguably any sense.

Overall rail reliability improved?

For example, according to the article “Overall rail reliability improved in first nine months of 2015: LTA”, there were 7 delays in 9 months of 2015 compared to 10 in 2014.

“There were seven delays that stretched more than 30 minutes between January and September 2015, compared to 10 in 2014. This year’s numbers have not included disruptions on the North East Line in October and the North South Line in November. Both delays lasted about two hours.”

MRT breakdowns improved?

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How did the LTA or the media come to the conclusion that “Overall rail reliability seems to have improved in the first three quarters of this year (2015) compared to 2014, based on latest statistics from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) released on Friday (Dec 11, 2015)”?

With 9 major disruptions so far this year (2015) – how do we know whether there may be anymore disruptions for the rest of the 20 days of this month? If we have just one more disruption – it would equal the 10 last year (2014).

12 disruptions in 1st 9 months of 2014 becomes 10 disruptions in 2014?

According to the article “Number of major MRT delays hits four-year high”, “The number of major train service delays this year (2015) for the entire MRT network has hit a new high, with the dozen incidents in the first nine months of the year (2014) already outstripping the previous high of 11 that were recorded in 2011”.

So, how did 12 disruptions in the first nine months of 2014 become 10 for the whole year of 2014?

“Delays caused by external factors” not counted anymore?

Is it because some of the disruptions are now no longer counted under the new definition of “delays caused by external factors will now be excluded. This refers to factors beyond the control of operators or authorities, such as the actions of passengers”?

“Severity of breakdowns” also never count?

As to “Prof Lee said this shows work to improve rail reliability has been effective and the overall system looks like its stabilising. But he noted one area that may be missing in the numbers – the severity of breakdowns.

For instance – Singapore saw its worst disruption in July this year (2015), when the North South and East West lines were down for more than three hours, affecting more than 250,000 commuters.

“Using the new methodology (on) this kind of large scale breakdown, the magnitude would not be reflected” – it would appear that if we simply add up the total time of all the major disruptions – there may been no improvement.

LRT: 4 in 2014 increase to 11 in 1st 3-quarters of 2015

Perhaps the final nail in the coffin may be that “The number of delays lasting more than 30 minutes on the LRT has already gone up from four in 2014 to 11 in the first three quarters of 2015”.”

Breakdown 3 times already since 1 January 2016?

As to “Train services on the East-West line were disrupted twice in the past two weeks – once on Jan 19 (2016) during the morning peak period and again last Monday (Jan 23, 2016) evening – due to track circuit failures between the Jurong East and Clementi stations.

There was also a track fault near the Clementi station on Jan 4 (2016), which caused a delay of an hour during the morning peak period.

Still more “meaningless words”?

Track circuits are integral to the signalling system, said SMRT, as they send signals to the operations control centre to monitor the speed, location and identity of trains.

SMRT said that track circuit failure could be caused by an equipment failure either at a signal equipment room within an MRT station or at track side.

While a hardware failure in the signal equipment room can be quickly rectified, for trackside failures engineering staff must go down to the track to investigate the cause.

The transport operator said that this can be “very challenging” when the track is on a rail viaduct, particularly in cases of heavy rain or lightning risks.

Replacement of the signalling system, which began in 2012, will substitute the old track circuits with a “more advanced system that is more reliable”, said SMRT.

“After we renew the signalling system, faulty track circuits will no longer cause prolonged delays for commuters.”

New signalling system operational by end of 2018? 

More than 85 per cent of signalling upgrading works on the East-West line have been completed, and the new signalling system is expected to be operational by the end of next year” – what do all these “many, many words” mean from a commuters’ perspective?

Live with the delays until “the end of next year”?

Does it mean (or will it mean – only the future will tell) that we have to live with the delays until “the end of next year”?

20 seconds vs 30 minutes?

With regard to “The new system is also expected to increase train frequency as it will allow trains to run at intervals of 100 seconds, instead of 120 seconds now” – what’s the point of making a hoo-ha about trains that may come such that we may have to wait 20 seconds less between trains – but in recent years – the last trains keep getting earlier, and the first trains keep getting later?

For example, “Train services between Tanah Merah and Pasir Ris stations and between Joo Koon and Jurong East stations, will end up to half an hour earlier from Sundays to Thursdays, except on the eve of public holidays.

In a statement, SMRT said from Sunday (Feb 14, 2016) commuters who board the trains after 11.15 pm on the East-West Line are advised to plan their journey and consider alternative transport arrangements such as bus services.”

Still more reasons, more words?

In respect of “In a blog post last month, SMRT Trains managing director Lee Ling Wee said that a third of train delays that lasted more than five minutes last year on the East-West and North-South lines were signal-related.

“When a track circuit fails, trains have to travel at a lower speed over the affected stretch for safety reasons,” said the rail operator, adding that the slower speeds of trains caused congestion during peak hours” – this may be akin to “still more words” that may have very little meaning from a commuters’ perspective.


Aiyah – suggest why not just tell us whether the delays so far in the first three plus weeks of January this year, may be the worse ever in the history of the MRT in the January (s) of every year in the past?

Another example of “meaningless words”?

Allow me to give yet another recent example of “still more words” that may have very little meaning from a commuters’ perspective”:-

“MRT network performance up 30%

I refer to the article “MRT network performance up 30 per cent in 2016 from 2015” (, Jan 12).

Trains travelled longer distances before delays?

It states that “MRT trains generally travelled longer distances before encountering delays last year, compared to the year before, going by latest data from the Government showing improved train network performance.

Last year, trains clocked 174,000 train-km travelled between delays of more than five minutes, a 30 per cent increase from 133,000 train-km in 2015.”

Did Downtown Line stage 2 contribute to the improvement?

Since “The best performing MRT train line was the Downtown Line, which achieved 260,000 train-km between delays of more than five minutes last year, up from 45,000 train-km the previous year” – to what extent did the additional track, stations and trains of the new downtown line stage 2 extension which started on 27 December 2015 – contribute to the improvement?

Who cares how many km travelled between delays?

Arguably, what commuters may be more irked by – may not be how many km were travelled between (before the next delay) delays of more than five minutes, but rather how many delays of more than five minutes there were and whether these have increased.

How many longer delays?

What is perhaps even more important from the perspective of commuters may be how many delays there were of more than 10, 15, 30 minutes, one hour, etc – and whether these have increased?


As an analogy – it may be akin to telling you that you walked longer before you got hit by the next accident, but without telling you how serious the accidents were, or whether the number of accidents has increased?

Less meaningful statistics?

This may in a sense be somewhat like telling you the statistics that has less meaning or arguably, no meaning at all to you.

Learn about statistics?

Maybe the people who run trains may need to have a refresher course in statistics – can use SkillsFuture Credit or not?”

And writing too?

And after the subject article – perhaps arguably, I may also need a refresher course in writing.

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