Saturday 26 May 2012

MRT breakdown COI: Day 28

Dislodged claws 'not on my radar'
SMRT V-P quizzed on maintenance; he did not expect 3rd rail to collapse
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

THE top man in charge of trains at SMRT was yesterday quizzed on the most prevalent topic of the six-week-old Committee of Inquiry hearing: maintenance.

Mr Khoo Hean Siang was asked about SMRT's maintenance regimen, the amount of money it spends on upkeeping and renewing its operating assets, and why the power-supplying third rail and its support assembly had not been given as much attention as some other parts of the system.

On the latter, Mr Khoo, SMRT's executive vice-president of trains, said dislodged claws of the third rail had 'not been on my radar screen'.

'In my 25 years at SMRT, I've never come across a third rail collapsing,' he added.

The veteran said vibration was one likely cause for the claws dropping.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) asked Mr Khoo how SMRT went about addressing flat spots on train wheels, a leading cause of increased vibration.

Second Solicitor-General Lionel Yee, representing the AGC, presented figures to show that the number of wheel re-profilings - which make wheels perfectly round again - had been dropping in relation to the kilometres trains had chalked up.

In 2009, SMRT did one re-profiling per 26,754km operated.

In 2010 and last year, it was one per 27,096km and 27,012km respectively.

'Ideally, the number of train-kilometres should be falling instead of rising,' Mr Yee said.

Mr Khoo replied: 'I really can't comment. Things are so dynamic. It can go up, it can go down.'

Mr Yee also asked if SMRT's asset-management plan covered the third rail and its support assemblies, to which Mr Khoo said 'yes, when the time comes'.

'Has the time come?' Mr Yee asked in response.

Mr Khoo said the third rail is supposed to last 30 to 40 years, and that since it was an infrastructure, SMRT would have to discuss any replacement plans with the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the owner of the rail infrastructure.

But Mr Yee pressed on, asking whether it was now time for SMRT to consider replacing the third rail.

'We will review it,' Mr Khoo said.

In his written statement to the court, he stated that SMRT's spending on asset replacement and repairs as well as maintenance had been trending upwards since 2002.

When ridership rose sharply from 2009 to last year on the back of a population spike, the spending rose by an average 10 per cent - versus a 7 per cent increase in train-kilometres operated.

For financial year 2013, Mr Khoo said SMRT's repair and maintenance bill for the North-South and East-West lines will be $42 million - up from $30 million previously.

On top of buying a new multi-function vehicle (MFV) - which checks the alignment of the track and the third rail - he added that SMRT is also getting three geometry trolleys.

He said these are used by the track patrolmen and are like 'mini-MFVs'.

Asked how confident he was that SMRT could prevent another major breakdown, Mr Khoo said 'we've done everything possible' to prevent a recurrence.

The inquiry also heard evidence from its 116th and last witness yesterday: LTA deputy director Sy Hong Soon.

Mr Sy helped coordinate the LTA-SMRT joint track inspection after the Dec 17 breakdown.

The inquiry is expected to compile a report of its findings within the next several weeks.

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