Photo of Khaw Boon Wan from Straits Times

SBS Transit did not have the engineering expertise to fix the signalling fault at the Downtown Line yesterday (Mar 1) and the new S$20 billion 42km train line was disrupted for the whole day. Train delays tripled more than the official announcement of 15 minutes, and trains were reportedly travelling slower than a bicycle at 18km/h.

Contingency plans were also thrown disarray with free buses only available at Bugis and Chinatown station.

State media Straits Times pointed the fault at signalling system supplier, Siemens. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and the CEO of SBS Transit avoided comments on the breakdown incident.

Coincidentally, MP Ang Wei Neng spoke in Parliament yesterday lamenting that Singapore has learned nothing about railway engineering despite having more than 30 years of MRT operations. The MP described the signalling system as a “black box” and stated that both SMRT and SBS Transit have to rely heavily on foreign suppliers like Thales and Siemens:

“Foreign companies such as France’s Thales and Alstom, and Siemens from Germany, have been the primary providers of rail components and systems here, including the MRT network’s signalling system and trains. Much of the train tunneling work is also done by foreign contractors such as Japanese firm Nishimatsu Construction and China’s Shanghai Tunnel Engineering. Local construction firms are usually the sub-contractors. From the inception of our MRT system until today — 30 years have passed — we have to rely on these foreign companies to replenish our rolling stock, to upgrade our train and … signalling system. In fact, the current signalling system in many MRT lines looks like a black box to us.”