Singapore’s most profitable duopoly train companies, SMRT and SBS Transit, scored a treble in a single day yesterday (Feb 10), with 3 train breakdowns island-wide.
During the peak hour morning, a signalling fault crippled the city with a 30-minute-long delay affecting stations from Newton to Marina South Pier along the North-South Line (NSL). The fault was resolved only at around 10.30am, but less than 5 hours later, a second train breakdown was reported in Bukit Panjang.
At 3.26pm, SMRT posted on Twitter that the Bukit Panjang LRT services was disrupted. SMRT rectified the fault some 20 minutes later but did not give details of the fault, except to say “a faulty train” was being recovered.
SBS Transit finished the day with a treble a few hours later with an explosion heard in Sengkang LRT line. According to residents living near Bakau station, a loud “boom” was heard at around 8pm. A power fault was reported around 8pm and one direction of the LRT line was down for the next few hours until operation ended. Although up to 6 fire rescue emergency vehicles were seen on site, SBS Transit denied there has been any explosion.
The last time Singapore saw three train breakdowns in a day was also not too long ago in December 2016.
Profits soar despite poorer performance
The three breakdowns in a single day was bad timing and especially embarrassing when SBS Transit just posted a 88% rise in net profit. Just a day ago, SBS Transit posted a S$31.4 million profit for 2016 due to huge cost savings from declining oil prices.
The bigger transport company, SMRT, is poised to post similar profits in their upcoming financial result. The soaring profits however did not translate to more rail reliability or better commuting experience for commuters. In contrary, the number of train breakdowns increased by 13.3% to 34 major incidents lasting over 30 minutes. However, the authorities claimed performance has improved by 30% according to a newly-created rail reliability standard.
Transport fare prices are determined by government agency Public Transport Council (PTC). The PTC’s primary role is to protect the profits of the two transport companies, and every application for fare raise by SMRT and SBS Transit were always approved. In the most recent fare revision, the PTC failed to accurately price fare charges, giving only a 1.9% deduction when oil prices declined over 30% since the previous fare adjustment.
The real problem behind train breakdowns is however the state of denial by the authorities. In Nov 2016, SMRT CEO Desmond Kwek claimed that the MRT lines had its “best performance in 29 years”. In Dec 2016, SMRT CEO was nominated by state media Straits Times as the “most notable person” in Singapore. Also in the same month, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) published a survey finding transport fare prices among the cheapest in the world, or so it claimed. Just earlier this month in February, government agency PTC claimed that their survey revealed that satisfaction with public transport is now at a 9-year-high.
Fake news and false information flood the government mouthpiece as the authorities spend more resources in “managing public expectations” than on doing actual rail maintenance work.