We must get to root of MRT problems, put it right: PM Lee
Major MRT disruptions hurt confidence and shouldn't have happened: PM Lee
The Bishan flooding and Joo Koon collision hurt public confidence in the MRT, and should not have happened.
"But they have, and we must learn the right lessons from them, get to the root of the problems, and put things right," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday at the People's Action Party (PAP) Convention.
While commuters were still coming to terms with the flooding at Bishan MRT tunnel last month, a train collision at Joo Koon last week left 36 people injured.
PM Lee, who is also the PAP's secretary-general, acknowledged Singaporeans' frustration over rail reliability, despite statistics showing that train delays and breakdowns have gone down.
In fact, Singapore is among the top four cities in developed countries to have trains that come on time more than 99 per cent of the time, he said, referring to a recent New York Times article that compared the on-time performance of transit systems.
"But to the public, it doesn't feel like that, and I can understand why. One reason is because when we have major disruptions like the Bishan flooding and the Joo Koon collision, the incidents loom large in the public consciousness, it hurts public confidence a lot," he said.
Calling it a priority to improve Singapore's infrastructure, especially the public transport system, Mr Lee noted the complexities of improving train reliability. Apart from the technical issues, there is also a need to strengthen the train operators as well to deliver consistent high performance.
Engineering and maintenance teams must be reinforced, and morale maintained, he said.
He added that the re-signalling work on the North-South line, which has been the cause of several disruptions, is near completion, and those living in the north of Singapore should see the benefits soon.
But he also asked for commuters who use the East-West line to "bear with us" as the re-signalling work commences on that MRT line.
"Once the signalling upgrade is fully completed, hopefully in a year's time, these delays should go away. And commuters should see the fruits of all our efforts to improve our train reliability," said Mr Lee.
Acknowledging that Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has "one of the hottest seats in the Cabinet", the PM expressed his support for Mr Khaw and his team.
"We know it's not easy. We know it takes time. We know there would be hurdles along the way, we will sort them out.
He said the best thing to do now is to give the transport team the time and space to work these problems out, and deliver "a first-class transport system".
The recent spate of MRT woes also prompted Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is PAP chairman, to start his opening speech with a quip about his 35-minute train journey to the convention held at Big Box in Jurong East.
Commuters had come forward with words of encouragement like "jia you", which literally translates to "add oil" in Chinese.
"I told them I can't, my cholesterol levels are already very high," Mr Khaw quipped.
"I thanked them and I promised them, we shall complete this work. And we will. This is a promise," he added.