TL;DR – No wonder the tunnels flooded.
An unprecedented flooding of tunnels brought our the MRT system on the North-South Line to a screeching halt for about 20 hours. The flooding was caused by the failure of the pump system. The pump system failed because of lapses in maintenance resulted in the bottom of the storm pit to be lined with sludge and debris.
Preliminary investigations suggest that quarterly maintenance works for Dec 2016, March 2017 and June 2017 were not conducted as prescribed by SMRT’s maintenance manual.
Records appeared to be falsified
What’s worse, it appears that the team who was supposed to perform the maintenance falsified records to make it seem like they performed the maintenance. They apparently signed off maintenance and submitted maintenance records even though they didn’t even get approval to access the tracks to maintain the sump pumps.
The pump records show that the pumps were not activated on the stated maintenance dates. If the pumps were indeed maintained, the pumps would have been activated on the maintenance dates. That was another piece of evidence which suggested that the maintenance team didn’t maintain the pumps.
Based on these findings from the preliminary investigations, the manager and staff responsible for the maintenance of the Bishan portal sump pump system have been suspended.
We can almost hear people screaming that these people are made scapegoats for failures by senior management.
Really deep-seated cultural issues
Let’s be fair. If the manager and staff responsible for maintenance really did falsify maintenance records, then they deserve to be punished to the full extent that the law allows.
That said, the senior management should also bear responsibility. SMRT’s CEO Desmond Kuek spoke about deep-seated cultural issues within SMRT.
But he’s been at the helm of the company for 5 years. Why are there still such serious deep-seated cultural issues?
Yes, after the flooding, SMRT has announced a whole slew of measures to prevent similar incidents from happening. These include
- Making appropriate changes to the management and maintenance team, where warranted;
- Setting up a joint readiness inspection team that will supplement report to SMRT’s own audit system and which will independently report to a SMRT Board’s audit and risk committee. In addition, this joint readiness inspection team will together with LTA, report to the LTA/SMRT Joint Board Technical Committee. This will ensure that maintenance and asset renewal are independently audited and monitored in a systematic manner;
- Engaging third-party subject matter experts to step up quality control surveillance of all preventive maintenance activities and conduct a system-wide inspection of critical systems. This will ensure that maintenance works are carried out in accordance with our specified standards; and
- Intensifying training to establish a higher work responsibility and excellent culture within front line peer groups.
Senior management should bear responsibility too
But why did SMRT have to wait for the tunnels to flood before putting in such measures? Why are they still reactively resolving issues, rather than proactively preventing problems from happening?
At the end of the day, the buck stops with the top management. They set the tone. They determine the culture. And it looks like they still have a lot of work to do.
Let’s hope that the top management of SMRT will take a good hard look at themselves, lead by example, and do whatever is necessary to boost the morale of, and inspire pride in everyone in SMRT.
They can start by listening to the suggestions from the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) – put training for their workers as one their top-most priorities, and properly recognise those who have been working conscientiously to ensure that train operations and train maintenance work are done properly.
You can read NTWU’s full media statement here.
If the top management of SMRT can do that, then perhaps we will finally have a reliable train system. Then perhaps it would be possible for us to have a car-lite society.