Jingapore plaques removed from MRT stations

From ‘ Welcome to Jingapore mural a wordplay on artist’s name’, 9 Nov 2017, article by Lydia Lam, ST

Welcome To Jingapore, reads an explanatory plaque for a two-part artwork installed at two new stations on the Downtown Line. The line, which was a play on words, drew flak from netizens, with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) receiving feedback that the term “Jingapore” appeared to be a misspelling.

The Art in Transit work by local artist Jing Quek was made up of two collages installed at Tampines West and Tampines East stations, LTA told The Straits Times on Thursday (Nov 9). The pieces feature images of people, places and objects found near those two stations.

“The title ‘Welcome to Jingapore’ is a wordplay on the artist’s name,” said the LTA spokesman. “By combining his name ‘Jing’ and ‘Singapore’, the work was an attempt by the artist to portray Singapore through his eyes.”

The Chinese word “Jing” has several meanings, including scenery and sights.

LTA said it is in discussions with the artist, and the explanatory plaques that accompanied the murals have been temporarily removed. However, the art pieces continue to be displayed at the stations.

Photos of the plaque went viral this week. Facebook user Mark Tan Tk posted a photo of it on Tuesday, writing in Chinese: “Is it real or fake? Why is it Jingapore not Singapore?

The artist himself posted an explanation on Wednesday night, saying it was brought to his attention “that some people raised a fuss about the title of my artwork”.

If Jing Quek had put up ‘Jingapore’ nearer to Christmas, then people are more likely to let it go because ‘Jingle Bells’. But unfortunately some commuters are afflicted by a neurological disorder that prevents them from understanding the concept of puns. If you tell them the classic joke about Billy throwing the clock out of the window to see ‘time fly’, they’d probably give you a blank stare and ask if you’re ‘real or fake’ and demand an explanation for a clock defying the laws of physics. If you represent the nation in a sporting contest and have ‘SIN’ emblazoned on your shorts, they would curse you for tarnishing the country’s reputation.

There are worse forms of wordplay, of course.

11 years ago, STINKAPORE made its appearance in a blog titled ‘Disillusioned‘. Self-explanatory, it was also used in the literal sense by Charlie Chaplin’s half-brother Sydney to describe the city conditions back in the 1930s when the pair paid us a visit.

SINKAPORE is another common variant, usually used to express how the country is going down the drain, with its hapless citizens affectionately nicknamed as ‘Sinkies’. One past Presidential Candidate actually mulled over this in a Facebook post.

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Inevitably, there’s also this – BLINGAPORE  , which, as you can guess, relates to the finer aspects of our glitzy cosmopolitan city, a jewel at the tip of the Asian continent.  Or how about complaining about this site for pets called SingaPAWS. Because it suggests that our country is going to, well, the dogs.

But what’s bewildering about this is LTA actually removing this despite explaining that this is clearly not a typo and that puns exist in this world. Look at fucking My First Skool , a mispelling which some complained as being ‘cruel and nonsensical’. Are LTA doing this just to appease a public already suffering under the ‘sad and embarrassing’ screw ups by SMRT management? Can I complain and get unlimited free rides for a month if I drop a 2 dollar note down the escalator grills? Instead of tongue in cheek artwork, maybe LTA/SMRT would prefer instead to install a ceiling fresco of a contrite CEO Desmond Kuek and team half-kowtowing to everyone to save them time from apologising or making excuses every time the train breaks down.

 

 

 

 

 

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SMRT giving amnesty to flood culprits

From ‘Some SMRT staff own up to lapses during amnesty’, 4 Nov 2017, article by Adrian Lim, ST

Staff from at least one department in SMRT have admitted to lapses in their work, in response to a company call to own up – without penalty – before a wide-scale audit is launched.

The Straits Times understands that the employees are from SMRT’s building and facilities department, which oversees areas such as MRT tunnel ventilation, and flood and fire protection measures at train stations.

It is unclear how many staff have come forward in the “amnesty” exercise that ended yesterday, and which is targeted at quickly plugging gaps in maintenance operations – one of which caused the flooding of an MRT tunnel last month, bringing down train services on a stretch of the North-South Line for about 20 hours.

…PeopleWorldwide Consulting’s managing director David Leong said: “From an HR perspective, it’s very poor people management. The trust between the management and staff is totally lost.

“It doesn’t lead anywhere… Are you going to retain the people who owned up and let them do the same job? Or are you enticing them to come out, to remove them later?”

This amnesty is a witchhunt disguised as a saintly pardon. It’s like the bad guy in movies saying he won’t shoot you if you spill the beans, but lets you suffer a fate worse than death if you do anyway. SMRT’s CEO being a military guy probably explains the strategy behind this snare. It’s like urging the enemy out from the trenches with promises of warm baths and a 3 meals a day as a POW.

In a separate article, interviewed commuters were furious that those responsible would be given a second chance, but this gesture, like extending a greasy hand to someone hanging onto the edge of a cliff, can only mean that one’s career standing in SMRT is effectively over. And I believe those who owned up already know it, whether they end up with a stern warning or not.  Nobody expects a tea party with balloons and hugs of forgiveness.

Staff ferreted out by this so-called amnesty, supposedly without penalty, will be implicitly blacklisted and deprived of further opportunities within the company. The fact that management even needs to twirl a carrot to lure the culprits out from hiding suggests incompetence in governance and a dearth of ownership among workers. So, to quote something Trumpy, this makes ‘both sides’ look really, really shitty.

As the man in charge has said, all the fuck-ups boils down to ‘deep seated cultural issues’. Instead of pulling out all the stops with this fake magnanimity as a diversion from assigning blame, get to the core of the problem and fix it instead of dusting off table scraps.  I mean, that is your job after all, right?

UPDATE: Once the amnesty ended, SMRT embarked on a massive internal audit code- named ‘OPERATION OSPREY’, which sounds fiercer than the kinds of names we have for SAF mobilisation (Mighty Duck?). It was last used in 2001 by CNB to crack down on drug fiends, which gives you some idea of how the bigwigs view underlings who mess up, that they have to conjure an image of swooping talons snatching filthy rats out of their burrows.

13 staff including Vice Presidents from Maintenance were hauled up for disciplinary action, while SMRT maintains its deathly silence over the numbers ‘saved’ after owning up during the amnesty period (in the process exposing their colleagues). Meanwhile, the heads that matter remain firmly attached to their bodies, despite some talk of adjusting their salaries, while others roll.

 

 

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.

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Walking on escalators should not be allowed

From ‘Don’t overburden escalators by walking on them’, 21 Dec 16, ST Forum

(Gan Kok Tiong): Escalators in MRT stations should not be functioning like staircases.

The main issue is that those doing so are overburdening the escalators.

Also, commuters who are right-handed will then be able to hold on to the railings on the right without having to move to the left to make way for those wishing to “walk” on the escalators.

Disallowing people from walking on the escalators will lead to normal usage of the machines, which would help in reducing the frequency of breakdowns.

Perhaps a professor of physics could answer the age-old question of what’s the best way to move people along an escalator. But in the absence of actual escalator studies, we’ll just have to settle for the wisdom of SMRT spokespeople. In 2001, SMRT in fact DISCOURAGED people from keeping to the left, as this would leave the right side underutilised and reducing rider capacity. Walking up an escalator was also deemed a safety hazard, especially when you’re on fast moving rides, though the worst thing anyone could do while on an escalator, whether they’re on the left, right, standing or walking, is to wear goddamn CROCS.

SMRT has changed their tune since. Today MRT signs remind you to keep to the left and allow others to pass. Keeping to one side of an escalator, analogous to responsible driving, remains a hallmark of a civilised society. We unwittingly teach our kids to do it and we growl at aunties for hogging the right lane when we’re in a rush. Unless there’s a drastic shift in commuter behaviour no one would want to stick out on the right side and face the wrath of a marauding escalator-walker. What SMRT needs is a lab, model escalators, and willing subjects to test the hypothesis that walking up and down an escalator on one side will eventually destroy it. But I guess they have other things to worry about, like managing mysterious signal faults for example.

Or, if you want to avoid having to deal with the ethics of escalator riding, have time and energy to spare, and not doing anything for the rest of the day beyond sitting on your arse in front of the office computer – take the stairs.

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.

LTA mobilising SAF soldiers during MRT breakdowns

From ‘Talk of SAF helping out in rail incidents sparks debate’, 22 Aug 15, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

News that soldiers could be roped in to help out during massive train breakdowns has sparked a debate about whether the military should pitch in during such incidents. Many questioned if rail disruptions are a “matter of national security” and whether the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), “a national resource”, should be called upon to help the public transport operators, which are commercial entities. Others, though, felt it was worthwhile tapping the military, which can be mobilised quickly and is “quite dependable”.

The Straits Times reported that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has approached the SAF to explore deploying the men in green to give directions and manage crowds. They will be tapped only during large-scale disruptions.

Currently, personnel from the police, Public Transport Security Command and Singapore Civil Defence Force already help the LTA and public transport operators to manage such incidents.

On the issue of getting soldiers to lend a hand in the case of major disruptions, commuters had a variety of views. Accountant Lee Boon Chye, 29, who takes the train from Ang Mo Kio to work in Raffles Place, said: “While the army has the manpower and resources to get things done, it should not be helping to solve problems of companies that are profit- driven... It is also not a national crisis that requires soldiers. “These companies can hire auxiliary police officers or private security firms.”

…Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said it is “not a bad thing” to involve the SAF for contingency planning, especially for worst-case scenarios. The associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University said: “Train breakdowns have so far resulted in delays for a few hours.

“But a train breakdown could become a crisis if there are other untoward consequences, such as a stampede, civil unrest or if the train breakdown continues for days or weeks… it will then be justifiable for the military to support efforts to manage the crisis.”

The last time the SAF was activated for a major event that had nothing to do with shooting and killing people was LKY’s state funeral, where 10,000 men and women were roped in to make sure the procession went smoothly (No job too big for Ah Boys, 16 May 15, ST). Other festivities which involved the army include the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, the recent SEA games, and of course the annual staple that is the NDP. The military supposedly has the most experience in organising massive groups of people quickly, and besides defending the nation or going overseas for humanitarian relief efforts, it sidelines as the country’s largest logistics organisation. It’s also a dependable source of cheap labour.

Event planning aside, SAF soldiers have been also tasked to patrol airports to beef up security against terrorists, which led some to question whether our boys in green are even qualified to handle hostage situations or urban warfare. There’s an unlikely long-standing relationship between SAF and public transport operators. In 1976, SBS ‘borrowed’ SAF mechanics to repair their buses in the midst of labour shortage. More bizarrely, soldiers were ‘volunteered’ to become guinea pigs in an 1987 experiment where they were subject to a mock breakdown exercise in the middle of a tunnel, squeezed into two cars to mimic peak hour conditions without air-conditioning. What is this, the Third Reich?

So not only does the SAF supply us with human bodies to do ‘sai-kang’, they also provide trial participants for ethically questionable experiments that test the limits of human endurance. Presumably because they’ve been adequately hard-drilled by the war machine to swallow unspeakable torture. Incidentally, both the LTA and SMRT chiefs are former military stalwarts, so no surprise that they probably agreed on this brilliant idea with a top brass handshake. Ah Boys to MRT Ushers, really. Furthermore, shouldn’t stampede control be managed by the riot police? Or we’re all reserving those guys for Little India scuffles?

So if we’re all fine with sacrificing our army pawns to tackle ‘national crises’ in peacetime, why stop at MRT breakdowns where there’s a remote chance of stampedes and ‘civil unrest’? We could apply their operational finesse in other matters that may affect ‘national security’, so that our police officers can focus on other areas like arresting bloggers. Here’s a list for consideration:

  1. McDonald’s Hello Kitty Queues
  2. Primary One Registration
  3. Securing JEM in event of fire/ceiling collapse/flood
  4. Security at K-pop concerts
  5. Crowd control when Kong Hee goes to court
  6. Sentry duty at SMRT depots in case of trespassing vandals
  7. Collection lines for SG50 Commemorative notes
  8. Picking up dead fish hit by mysterious seaborne disease
  9. N95 mask distribution during bad haze conditions
  10. Road marshalling at marathons. Wait, they’re probably already doing that for that Army one.