MRT 20 hour disruption blamed on water pump

From ‘NSL train disruption: Malfunctioning water pump system to blame for flooded tunnel’, 8 Oct 2017, article in Today

A malfunctioning water pumping system allowed rain water to build up in the train tunnel near Bishan MRT station, which resulted in a massive disruption along the North South Line (NSL) at the weekend.

In a statement released on Sunday (Oct 8) evening regarding preliminary investigations into the disruption, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) noted that water had entered the tunnel through a portal opening near Bishan MRT station, where aboveground rail tracks make the transition underground.

It said that under normal circumstances, accumulated rainwater in the adjacent storm water sump pit would have been siphoned off by a system of pumps.

But as the pumping system had malfunctioned, rainwater overflowed from the storm water sump pit into the tunnel opening, and accumulating at the lowest point of the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell stations.

Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water.
Yet, to attack the hard and strong,
Nothing surpasses it.
Nothing can take its place.
– Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, Lao Tzu

Another day, another breakdown, another lesson on MRT systems learnt the hard way, another cog to blame other than the management, the regulator or the ministry itself; Signal fault, track fault, cable tie fault, sump pit fault, portal opening fault, heavy downpour fault. Screw you Acts of God. Screw you all.

Just this July, a water leak was determined to be the culprit behind the double whammy breakdown leaving 200,000 commuters stuck. Even during the post-mortem of  the infamous Circle Line breakdown in 2011, the deterioration of a DC cable was ‘exacerbated by the presence of water in some cable pits’.  Are we in such a rush to become a Smart Nation that we’ve stupidly forgotten to attend to the very basics of water seepage prevention?

Kudos to the bus drivers and engineers for fixing the problem and their ‘all-out tireless’ work (according to state media). Trust Minister Khaw Boon Wan to guilt-trip us all for our constant complaining by citing tales of heroic, soggy courage, of our brave men and women knee deep in floodwater in the muggy dark of a tunnel as a diversion from his Ministry and SMRT leadership’s incompetence. How dare you call this the WORST BREAKDOWN in the HISTORY of the MRT, news media? All you do is sensationalise with your ‘facts and figures’, sitting in your dry cosy offices while our staff work their butts off!

Speaking of the minister, though he should really be wading with torchlight in cute yellow boots to inspect the damage with our tunnel heroes, he’s actually in Panama as we speak, according to his conspicuously silent Facebook page. Maybe he’s busy gathering tips on water management.  As the palindrome goes: A man, a plan, MRT still breaks down anyway.

Given how crazy the weather has been and is going to be, and how SMRT is still cocking things up despite repeated, useless fines, maybe what we commuters need is not mandatory digital literacy programs, but basic swimming lessons. Or emergency canoes in train tunnels.


Khaw Boon Wan thinks main media has gone tabloid

From ‘Biased figures on MRT breakdown rate’, 29 July 2017, ST Forum

(Chan Yeow Chuan): I was taken aback by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s statement that the MRT is three times more reliable now than it was in 2015 (Khaw raises bar on MRT reliability; July 28).

However, after a more careful reading of the report, I realised that this conclusion was drawn from statistics that excluded delays caused by the new signalling system on the North-South Line.

Computing statistics this way is biased and unscientific.

I propose that delays caused by the testing of the new signalling system be factored in when calculating the mean kilometres between failures (MKBF).

If there has been a decrease in MKBF since 2015, this can be duly explained by the delays caused by the tests.

Calculating MKBF this way would give us a gauge as to how disruptive the tests of the new signalling system have been.

I support The Straits Times’ coverage of the recent breakdowns and delays of the MRT (Minister takes aim at press; July 28).

If these disruptions remain largely unreported or are glossed over by the newspaper, it could hurt its reputation and relevance as a news source.

Instead of expressing ‘grave concern‘ for the recent spate of breakdowns like his predecessor, Transport Minister Khaw opted for the deflective strategy of sympathising with SMRT workers and taking Trumpy potshots at the MSM.

“I don’t like the media reporting … Even our main media have turned tabloid. Yes, exciting and so on … frightening figures, headlines.”

“But I thought they were being unfair to the teams … working their guts out on this re-signalling project. They think it’s so easy, you know, like holding a pen and writing a few articles and get the signalling done. I wish it was so simple. If it was so simple, they don’t need us. We can ask the reporters to run the train system.”

This is the thanks you get for your not-so-subtle PAP propaganda, ST. All these decades helping to keep the PAP on its Iron Throne with your biased election reporting, and you get accused of distorting the facts. Which explains ST wasting no time publishing letters rebuking Khaw like the one above. At least Lui Tuck Yew knew better than to offend the PAP’s media mouthpiece.

In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Khaw himself claimed that MRT reliability , defined as mean km between failure (MKBF), had increased 3 times since 2015, and excluded delays due to re-signalling because these happen ‘once every 30 years’. I assume this 30 years was calculated based on the very first train ride back in 1987, but it’s a statistical fallacy intended to mislead laymen into thinking that we won’t get another issue like this until 2047. Did Khaw learn anything from Yaacob’s ‘once every 50 years’ figure for freak floods?

But perhaps one reason why commuters still think the figures don’t reflect reality is how they experience a typical breakdown. A failure is defined as ‘a delay lasting longer than 5 minutes’, which means a train stalling for 4 minutes 50 seconds will not be considered as a significant delay. To anyone who’s suffered peak hour crunching, this feels like fucking eternity. So technically a train can continue to clock serviceable miles even if it stalls for 2 minutes every 5 stations and SMRT can continue to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Media will always be media, and sensationalism with catchy headlines and glaring images is simply business as usual, part of the arms race vs the scourge of fake news and social media. While the quality of our MSM can certainly improve, what we really need, as lifelong commuters, is that the quality of SMRT management and their overseeing Ministers improve as well.

Speaking of ‘exciting’ headlines, always remember this, Khaw.






Khaw Boon Wan citing Chinese opera Butterfly Lovers

From ‘Sengkang columbarium: Khaw Boon Wan takes questions from MPs’, 29 Jan 2015, article by Lester Hio, ST

.. Mr Seng will know a very popular Chinese opera, Butterfly Lovers, or Liang Zhu. It describes the period of old China when girls, unfortunately no matter how talented they were, were not allowed to join schools. So there was this very young, beautiful, talented young lady, Zhu Yingtai, who wanted to study, so she disguised herself as a boy and succeeded in attending the school for three years.

… People just assumed that girls won’t turn up, and because they made the assumption, they discovered it only later and (asked) ‘why didn’t you know’. So they thought this one looked a bit girlish – but it turned out (she was) a girl.

So it’s a similar situation here, that the officers assessing the tender just assumed that it must be a company affiliated to some religious organisation.

I’m no expert in Chinese folklore, but from Khaw’s storytelling, I would figure that the cross-dressing fable of Zhu Yingtai is more about the rise of women against male oppression and discrimination in ancient China than how to hoodwink the Government, which was what clearly happened here when Eternal Pure Land bypassed the system. You could reference Little Red Riding Hood getting conned by the Big Bad Wolf disguised as Grandma, but resorting to fairy tales doesn’t make you appear as learned and refined as citing Chinese opera.

Of course it’s too easy to simply apologise for an error, you need to impress, or bamboozle, your parliamentary mates with your in-depth knowledge of the Chinese classics to explain how you were deceived, and move on quickly by promising to ‘restore the planning objective’. By the way, Khaw was tipping his hat to Seng Han Thong before he started the parable, the same MP who once uttered in a televised interview that ‘some SMRT staff, because they are Malay, Indian, can’t converse in English well enough..’. Which reminds me of this Chinese saying 五十步笑百步, about a soldier retreating 50 steps laughing at those retreating a 100. It makes me sound more intelligent than if I just said ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.

Another minister known for his fine storytelling prowess, and I’m sure also a devoted scholar of Chinese opera, is Lim Swee Say. One of his favourites is the tale of two enemies and a magic lamp, as an analogy for the conflict between the opposition and PAP. In 2010, he enthralled his listeners with a tale of a deaf frog climbing a tower and becoming a champion among the ‘kingdom of frogs’, suggesting that we can conquer all as long as we don’t give a shit about what our critics think. Till this day, no one is able to verify if such a parable even exists at all, or Lim simply croaked something up. There is one about a frog in a well though.

Some references are too literal and deep for the layman to appreciate. WP’s Chen Show Mao cited a self-praising Tang dynasty analogy, comparing the PAP to Emperor Tai Zong and WP as wise counsel Wei Zheng. He should take a leaf out of his boss Low Thia Khiang’s colourful ‘明知山有虎﹐偏向虎山行‘, a rally cry to attack the ‘tiger on the mountain’ during the revolutionary Aljunied campaign. Others, like Lui Tuck Yew’s ditty about a village ravaged by poisonous mushrooms, are just mind boggling.

If you’re not equipped to recite, or make up, an entire opera (literally ‘wayanging’) by heart, proverbs could do the trick. Now this, even our PM is capable of. In a recent speech he quipped  ‘You must go after the tigers, as well as the flies‘ (拍蝇打虎) to describe Singapore’s zero-tolerance towards corruption. In 2007, he used 树倒猢狲散 (when the tree falls, monkeys scatter) to describe the WP’s no-show in Aljunied GRC during the election campaign (Looks like the monkeys returned with a vengeance, climbed to the top of the tree and made it their home). He even has swoon-worthy romantic poetry up his sleeve, recently posting on his FB ‘沉舟侧畔千帆过,病树前头万木春.’ to describe a withering tree in Upper Peirce Reservoir (thousand ships sail past, million trees springing from a dying one). Now there’s a pick up line for the ladies, guys.

Khaw’s ‘Mulan’-ish fable is refreshing, nonetheless, otherwise we’d be bombarded by more tales of monkeys, frogs, tigers and trees. As for this columbarium condundrum, he may be assuring the public not to ‘杯弓蛇影’ (see a snake in a cup when it’s actually just a reflection of a bow’). But I believe, like most people would whatever their religious inclincation, that “人在做,天在看”. (Heaven is watching).

Vertical kampung to be built in Woodlands

From ‘Woodlands to get vertical kampung’, 4 Aug 2013, article by Salma Khalik, Sunday Times

Residents in Woodlands will be the first in Singapore to experience the community feel of an integrated building with public facilities such as housing, health care and hawker centres all under one roof.

Planned, built and run by multiple government agencies – a first – this vertical “urban kampung”, as National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan calls it, will bring together the young and old to live, eat and play together.

At the bottom of the building will be a massive “town square” or community plaza, and at the top, 100 studio apartments for elderly singles or couples.

In between will be a medical centre with about 35 consultation rooms and options for day surgery, senior activity and childcare facilities, shops and watering holes, as well as roof-top decks that residents can turn into community gardens.

In land scarce Singapore, architects have long dreamed of building the city upwards and this idea of vertical ‘strata zoning’ isn’t new at all. Urban planners have fantasised of residents working and playing within the same ‘self-sufficient’ complex, a soaring monolith that combines community services like schools and medical centres interspersed with commercial zones and open spaces for interaction and line-dancing. Ideally, you wouldn’t need to step out of the building or take public transport at all. The kampung kids of the future may not even know what the ground smells like if this thing takes off.

Proponents of skyline living have christened vertical city models with names such as ‘Babel’ and ‘Arcosanti’. Jakarta may even be ahead of us in terms of embracing the vertical city concept, with their Peruri 88 project, which looks like badly stacked real-life Tetris. In a world where overcrowded megacities are building modern microcosms of themselves, Khaw Boon Wan’s description of future living as ‘vertical kampungs’ is like calling Spotify an ‘online jukebox’. My impression of such a ‘kampung’ is something similar to the Ewok village on the Forest Moon of Endor. How apt that it’s to be located in WOODLANDS, of all places.

Not the artist’s impression

Like the Woodlands project, concentrating the community was the main concept driver behind one ‘progressive’ housing/shopping design in the late 1960’s. This $16 million, 30-storey landmark building was to be the highest in Asia at the time. Even its name embodied the spirit of the design, though today it’s viewed more as an endearing ‘grand dame’ kind of relic known more for its traditional eateries and grimy massage parlours than the archetype of vertical housing. It’s name? People’s Park Complex.

Jump ahead 40 years and we started thinking again of the ‘future of public housing’. Completed in 2009, this award-winning structure has interlinked sky gardens, bridges that allowed residents to ‘sky-walk’ , flexible interiors and remains the tallest public housing project in Singapore at 48 stories high. I’m talking about the iconic Pinnacle@Duxton, of course, basically the yuppie cousin of what Khaw Boon Wan has in mind for Woodlands.

I’m not sure about living in the same complex as a hawker centre or a hospital, where one may be exposed to deep-fry odours one moment and the smell of death the next. Or knowing that it’s not just your karaoke-blaring neighbour from upstairs annoying you but a band performing in one of these ‘watering holes’. I’m already having trouble dealing with void deck weddings and funerals as it is. I don’t want an iMax theatre round the corner shaking my walls before I sleep. I want to have an address that the average taxi driver recognises and I can pronounce, unlike Compassvale Ancilla. I want a HOME, not a 40-storey sardine can, which is likely the case if the designers commissioned for this project honed their skills playing Tiny Tower on their handphones.

Meanwhile, one can only hope that a ‘vertical kampung’ would fetch ‘kampung prices’. At the rate that property prices are climbing, one might as well apply for a space colony on board a mothership than live in someone’s SimTower fantasy come true.

Khaw Boon Wan: So what if you have a degree?

From ‘University degree ‘not vital for success’:Khaw Boon Wan’, 5 May 2013, article by Toh Yong Chuan, Sunday Times

Singaporeans do not need to be university graduates to be successful, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

What is more important is that they get good jobs after leaving school, Mr Khaw told some 160 students and young adults in an Our Singapore Conversation dialogue.

“If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless,” he added.

Mr Khaw was responding to a participant who said the Government should set aside more university places for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates.

Said Mr Khaw: “Can you have a whole country where 100 per cent are graduates? I am not so sure.

“What you do not want is to create huge graduate unemployment.”

I’m not sure what our Minister meant by ‘you can’t EAT it’. Did he mean you can’t physically eat a degree? Or is ‘eat it’ his way of saying ‘can’t endure suffering’ in the ‘bite the bullet’ sense? In any case, Khaw himself graduated from Australia under the Colombo Plan Scholarship as a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours Class I. In 2002, he was awarded a Doctor of Engineering honoris causa, which makes him DR KHAW according to the University of Newcastle website, though his Cabinet Profile retains the ‘Mr’.

The Minister’s daughter, Khaw Chun Ting, has apparently caught the engineering bug from her father, herself an Engine graduate from the Class of 2010.  Daddy looks as proud as any father would in his position in the picture below, and it’s not clear if he had the notion in his head then that a university degree is ‘no big deal, really’. I’m sure if Chun Ting wanted to skip uni altogether and join an NGO to save endangered turtles from extinction, Daddy would understand perfectly. (Chun Ting has a Facebook profile that you’re free to Google, where you can tell she likes performing on stage, has worked for ST Electronics and ‘Likes’ the PAP Facebook page. Obviously.)

It’s a given that extraordinary success stories have come out of individuals without stellar academic qualifications, but it’s tempting to ask a graduate Minister with a graduate daughter if he would have been OK with any of his daughters opting for a polytechnic education instead, or as his boss would call it, the JEWEL of Singapore’s educational system. It’s like asking Minister of Defence if he would send his sons to war, or the Minister of Education if he sends his kids for holiday tuition.

There seems to be a recent surge of calls for Singaporeans to be less obsessed with the paper chase and settle for jobs like hawkers or crane operators, by leaders who are the very products of the said paper chase no less. In contrast, we were all told in the mid sixties that a University education ‘will pay rich dividends’, the only place of learning which can produce not only ‘specialists, but also well rounded, cultivated men and women of learning…with analytical powers and WISDOM..who can be FUTURE LEADERS’. An article in 1966 ends with the following smarty-pants prediction:

Despite fears about their monetary value, a degree in time may well be regarded as the ONLY academic qualification for most jobs.

Then there’s the other problem about marriage and birth rates. Singaporean women, particularly graduates, have been found to prefer men with ‘higher qualifications’. The lack of a degree but a decent job may earn you ‘a good life’, but getting a ‘good wife’, or ANY wife, is another matter altogether if you’re not of a certain ‘calibre’. It’s an ugly truth that we all have to deal with every single day. I’d love to see the look on the Minister’s face when he finds out that his future son-in-law turns out to be a highly paid crane operator. Still, if you happen to be interested to know any of Khaw’s lovely daughters but do not hold a degree, I recommend that you save the article above and print for safekeeping, so that when the time comes to meet the parents and Khaw interrogates your educational qualifications or lack thereof, you’d know EXACTLY how to defend yourself.

I guess this guy’s face from the Sunday Times photoshoot of the Conversation event says it all. THIS FACE. My sentiments exactly.

Singaporean crane operators needed for BTO flats

From ‘More local crane operators needed: Khaw Boon Wan’, 2 May 2013, article by Charissa Yong, ST

More local crane operators are needed to boost productivity in the construction sector and reduce reliance on foreign workers, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan today. “Half of the (current 3,600) operators are Singaporeans. But we need more, a few hundreds more, as we ramp up our Build-To-Order programme,” he wrote on his blog. One crane is needed for each block under construction.

Mr Khaw said crane operators are crucial for prefabrication construction, a productivity-boosting strategy where building components are made in factories and transported to construction sites. They are then hoisted by cranes for assembly.

“This is a good job with attractive remunerations,” said Mr Khaw, noting that the relatively new crane operators can take home $4,000 a month including overtime pay and allowances, with more senior operators getting $6,000 to $7,000 a month.

Crane operators have been known to get up to $8000 a month as far back as 2007, when the nation was afflicted by construction frenzy. It’s easy to be seduced by such numbers to perform what appears to be a high stakes version of the claw-crane arcade game for a living, except that you’re hoisting steel and concrete instead of a plush Angry Bird toy. In the past you didn’t even need a licence or certification to do the job, and these soaring metal titans have become so commonplace a foreign businessman decided to dub them Singapore’s National Bird in the early 80’s, a pun that locals continue to use to death till this day. I believe Singaporeans are better at relaying this joke than remembering what our National Flower, or even what the National Anthem, are called.

And what a nasty Bird of Prey our ubiquitous crane turned out to be. Khaw thinks driving heavy machinery is a ‘good job’ but fails to mention that crane driving comes with its share of hazards aside from long hours alone in a cabin and that you’ll need at least 10 minutes to climb up and down just to take a piss. If you’re not careful, you may crush your fellow workers or innocent bystanders to death by dropping a load, or your entire vehicle may just topple over, maybe destroying someone’s house in the process. In 2008 alone, FIVE such incidents of cranes collapsing occurred, including one fatal accident in NUS. Plummeting to certain death aside, you may even fall head first and fracture your spinal cord after falling less than 2m from a cabin platform.

You’d need good hand to eye coordination, steady hands and plenty of confidence to pull off something deceptively simple 70 over storeys in the air. We don’t want to end up with unemployed men rushing to fill up forms and take up BCA courses upon the urgings of the Minister, only to realise they had acrophobia, claustrophia and sweaty palms all along. I’m also not sure if this is really a veiled attempt to hold HDB flat hopefuls at ransom or a bid to shirk responsibility: No crane operators, so too bad, NO FLAT FOR YOU.

The $6-7K monthly salary is not just there to prevent workers from staging crane protests. It’s a high-risk, lonely, low-prospects job that few young Singaporeans would pick up, and many would consider becoming a cabbie or even a hawker first before even considering construction work. If you tell your date that you’re a crane operator, she’ll be wondering if you wore yellow rubber boots to dinner. Our educational system, of course, is designed to push every kid AWAY from jobs that involve hoisting things on top of executive condos using joysticks. Damn you PSLE and O Levels! If I didn’t pass with flying colours I would have been heeding the ‘Khaw’ for more crane operators and help build someone’s dream BTO by now. Or at least help Spiderman catch some baddies.

Something is wrong somewhere with EC scheme

From ‘Khaw:Something not right with EC scheme’, 27 April 2013, article by Woo Sian Boon, Today

A few months after some super-sized Executive Condominium (EC) units were sold at eye-catching prices, sparking a public debate on whether the EC scheme was being abused, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has signalled that the scheme will be tweaked.

Speaking on Thursday evening to participants at an Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) session focused on housing, he said that “something is wrong somewhere” with the scheme. “We cannot carry on the ECs with these current rules,” he said.

 …Referring to the qualifying income ceiling for ECs, Mr Khaw said: “Hence, there is a sense of inequity here. The lower-income groups are getting less subsidies than somebody who is earning S$12,000. So, something is wrong somewhere. Therefore, we cannot carry on the ECs with these current rules.”


$2 million EC condos aside, Khaw Boon Wan remained a stout defender of the EC scheme up till now. During the Jan Parliament sessions this year, he called it a ‘wonderful’ scheme because it was like giving Singaporeans a ‘Lexus at a Corolla price’. He could have made the same analogy for Nparks purchase of a $2200 Brompton bicycle, except that something did in fact go terribly wrong with the Brompton deal. Chan Chun Sing would refer to buying an EC like eating XO sauce chai tow kuay in Peach Garden.

4 months since the EC grilling by fellow MPs and our MND Minister now realises that something is amiss, not sure WHAT that ‘something’ is and WHERE it is. Your guess is as good as mine, sir, but it’s not very reassuring to hear such U-turns from our leaders. It’s like undergoing emergency amputation surgery while still conscious and hearing your surgeon murmuring ‘ehhh, something’s not quite right’ when your bloody sawn leg is already dangling by its tendons.

Wavering confidence and uncertainty has inflicted many a politician, including LKY himself. At the launch of his book Hard Truths, he said:

The message I want to convey is a simple one: we are a nation in the making. Will we make it? Am I certain we’ll get there? No, we cannot say that. Something may go wrong somewhere and we’ll fall apart.

In response to a horrific rape of a 5 year old child, the Delhi high court said ‘something somewhere is wrong‘. If you hired a plumber to clear your shit-congested toilet bowl and he said ‘something is wrong somewhere’, you’d probably want to flush him down the loo too.

‘Something is wrong somewhere’ is the kind of doubt any lay Singaporean may express, and it’s a flaw we knew all along from the moment someone decides to build fountains and presidential suites for executive condos, or sells off a Queenstown 5-room for $1 million. We don’t need to hear this coming from an authority who’s supposed to be finding and fixing the problem. If they can’t, well, then there’s ‘something wrong somewhere’ with the kind of pay they’re getting to do the job.

Yet, there’s one thing that Khaw seems to be dead confident about: That the government loses ‘hundreds of millions’ of dollars just to build HDB flats.  It explains why you never hear reports of HDB making tidy profits these days, it’s like a monk announcing that he won first prize in the lottery. Not so in the past. In 1970, someone calculated that the HDB made an ‘enormous profit’ from rental of flats and shops. In 1982 it was reported that the board made a $7 million windfall off carparks. In 2002, they made reportedly $87 million from carpark operations, half of that from fines.

How HDB manages its finances today remains a mystery, though our ministers would love to brag about how the government is constantly in the red to justify its noble mission of ‘public housing’. I suppose with all this ‘deficit accounting’ to deal with, it’s only fair that HDB gives its staff the occasional treat, like a Dinner and Dance at MBS with Daniel Ong as MC, for example (more proof of that ever happening here). Did the government subsidise THAT as well?