Cracks on China-made MRT trains not ‘safety-critical’

From ‘Defects on SMRT train not ‘safety-critical’, to be repaired by manufacturer:LTA’, 5 July 2016, article by Kenneth Lim and Olivia Siong, CNA

A total of 26 of 35 trains delivered to SMRT in 2013 were found to have cracks, the public transport operator said on Tuesday (Jul 5). The cracks are in the structure of the trains connecting the car and the bogie (the framework carrying wheels), it added.

The defective trains, which are still under warranty, will be repaired by the manufacturer by 2023, managing director of SMRT Trains Lee Ling Wee said in response to media queries about a report by Hong Kong-based investigative news portal FactWire.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a separate statement that the defects “are not safety-critical and do not affect the train’s systems or performance”, adding that it has been working closely with the manufacturer Kawasaki Heavy Industries and CSR Sifang after defects were found on the trains purchased under C151A.

…FactWire claimed the details of the defects and recalls were “kept secret in both Singapore and China”, and that the defective trains were stored at SMRT’s Bishan Depot. According to the FactWire report, two train cars wrapped in green covers were moved out of the depot early on Jun 12, and arrived at CSR Sifang’s factory in Qingdao, China on Jun 25. The report also alleged that “serious malfunctions on the SMRT’s North South Line, which the SMRT suspected were caused by C151A trains” occurred in December 2011

In Aug 2015, SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek revealed that his sent his team for service excellence training at the Disney Institute to develop a ‘common purpose of building TRUST and bringing on smiles’. It appears that SMRT probably wished that they sent the defective trains back to China on a giant magic carpet instead.

Though the cracks were not considered to be ‘safety-critical’, the suspicious manner in which the delivery was handled brings to mind SGH’s delay in reporting the Hepatitis C outbreak to the authorities not too long ago. The Government’s ‘Factually‘ site were quick to put up their defence, explaining why trains are delivered in the dead of night (to minimise inconvenience to drivers), and that the green covers were meant to protect the China-made trains before they rupture further. Green, of course, being the colour of choice for the SAF when they want to camouflage their vehicles from prying eyes.

An FAQ that is conspicuous by its absence is why this wasn’t reported back in 2013 when it happened. If it were only a couple of trains, the silence would have been justified, but this was practically a whole fleet, done under the cover of night without our own Singaporeans noticing. Which makes one question SMRT’s ranking in the ‘Governance and Transparency Index’ over the years. Maybe they’re so good at being transparent that they can render such inopportune incidents practically invisible.

Trains aside, we should also start looking into  China-made HDB lifts as well, considering how many people have been injured by them recently. There comes a time when you need to stop using euphemistic technical bullshit like ‘safety-critical’ and just label these disasters waiting to happen as ‘dangerous’, especially when you get your hands cut off.

SMRT are frustratingly efficient at pulling off David Copperfield stunts, but can’t apply the same magic to prevent train breakdowns. That it required a foreign news site to uncover this fiasco doesn’t speak well of SMRT’s promises about building trust with commuters. The hairline cracks may be harmless from an engineering perspective, but the damage inflicted on SMRT’s reputation may well be irreparable.


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