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Train Delays, Commuters Khaw-Beh-Khaw-Boo

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By Kumaran Pillai

There was much ado about our transport system that it almost felt like we were watching reality TV yesterday. And it’s not just the Lee family feud that is gripping this nation’s headlines, Khaw managed to step into the limelight this week, sharing the #1 spot.

I have lost track of the number of train breakdowns in recent weeks – from trains up in smoke to signalling delays, to faulty supervision systems, to commuters falling onto the tracks – there is an entire smorgasbord of things that can go wrong should you ever decide to take the train.

Our transport minister, Khaw Boon Wan, on the other hand blames the main stream media for hyping it. He has in fact been drumming into our heads that the train system is three times more reliable and that the state-run-media has gone tabloid.

Khaw is not alone when it comes to throwing smoke at us – each year at the SMRT annual general meeting, Desmond Quek, CEO of SMRT, has been reiterating that the train system is more reliable these days. He said that the Mean Kilometres between Failure has improved:

The Mean Kilometres between Failure (MKBF) for delays lasting more than 5 minutes, a key international metric used to measure rail reliability, has improved from 65,000 km in 2012 on the NSEWL to 140,000 km at the end of last year. With our ongoing efforts, this has further improved to 154,000 km as at end-June 2016. It is the best performance rate on record in our history, despite ageing and intensified usage.

ST doing “damage control”

No confidence in numbers

But commuters and critics are not buying it. Mano Sabnani, former editor of Business Times, once said, “Everyone had to go back to buses. They appear to be more reliable than trains these days!”

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) economist and senior lecturer Walter Theseira said it is quite difficult for the public to reconcile their train disruption experiences with the statistics provided by the Government, which claims that overall rail reliability has improved.

“There seems to be a mismatch between what we read and what we experience,” said Leong Hze Hian, president of Maruah. “The government needs to do more to restore confidence in our transport system.”

Leong also commented that the statistics probably rely on data outside the signalling test periods which causes much of the delays. Hence, the train performance and government statistics is designed to make it look good.

Currently, breakdowns are computed based on 5 minutes delay and during peak hours even a one-minute delay is a long time, which can quickly cause massive crowds, adding more strain to the system, Leong said.

Employees show up late

There is business cost to train delays – companies need to cope with employees coming in late every morning and in fact some of our interns are blaming the transport minister for turning up late and attribute it to signalling delays. Some of them are of course habitually late and no transport system, however good, can solve this problem.

Population growth

Some observers say that the breakdowns are due to increased strain on our transport system. Our population has been growing rapidly since year 2000 from 4M to its current 5.6M but the infrastructure has not been able to keep up with the increased demands.

Despite all the fuss on social media about the breakdowns, over 70% of respondents think that we have a good transport system according to a survey conducted by Blackbox in July 2017.  It’ll be interesting to see whether the number will decline for August.

For those living in the heartlands, the train system is the fastest way to get to work and with soaring property prices in downtown area, the option of living closer to their offices is out. Cars are also too expensive and it is out of reach for many.

It is a daily grind for many commuters and count your lucky stars if you get to work or school on time.

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