Asia Pacific Rail was once again successfully organized from 22-23 March 2016, gathering over 1,100 attendees from over 400 organizations and 35 countries. After his exciting presentation on Enhancing Singapore’s Rail System – Moving Beyond Rail Network Expansion, we sat down onsite with Mr. Chua Chong Kheng, Infrastructure and Development, Land Transport Authority (LTA), Singapore to find out his key challenges and future plans for the year ahead.
As the Deputy Chief Executive, Infrastructure and Development, Land Transport Authority, what’s the biggest challenge you face?
The biggest challenge is able to deliver all the infrastructure projects that LTA has been tasked to deliver, including public transport, roads and traffic. For public transport, there is an urgency to catch up with previous under-investment and hence we’re trying to build up the network in a shorter period of time. To give an example, doubling the network from 180km to 360 km by 2030 is a very challenging target. In particular, we are working in a situation where lines are going deeper, making them more difficult to construct. We are working in areas that are coming very close to a lot of people’s houses, which they don’t like. Additionally, we are also facing limited resources in terms of the number of staff contractors who are able to help us on this. But the most challenging of all is commuter expectations both during construction and during operations. During the construction, the stakeholder expectations are to not cause them inconvenience or problems, which is difficult as our works involve mega projects and extensive construction, digging and excavation and that is a real challenge. We also need to make sure that when we are delivering the project, we do it safety and there is no impact to the surrounding environment.
Once the system is constructed, commuters expect it to be perfect from day one, but everyone in the industry knows that every new system goes through a bathtub cycle/curve and things will have to stable down. You can do all the testing offline but when you actually put projects, carry them with live loads, there will always be things that will be different from your normal testing so that’s major challenge for us.
So how do you overcome this?
It is very important that the contractors that we work with are also up to the task. They have to be responsive and be quick to work with us to improve the systems they have implemented, attending to any problems that may crop up along the way, because no system is perfect from the beginning. So the support that will come after the operations begin is very important. One thing that’s mentioned is that it’s not about whether things will happen but the question of after it happens, how quickly and smoothly you are able to recover from the disruption. I think that is key.
While a large part of that is with the operator, we also need our vendors and suppliers to be with us on this very difficult journey. We really need to manage this whole process in order to make public transport something people really love to use in Singapore.
Behind all these, the challenge is the funding because going forward all the assets will be owned by LTA, so we have a big task of making sure that all the assets’ conditions are properly monitored and maintained and when the right time comes, we need to decide whether to replace, refurbish or buy new equipment, which is a whole new ballgame and I see that that is one big area that will grow.
Asset management is not just asset per se, but also the implementing of replacement projects and upgrading projects. This is tough because you are working in a live environment, not a Greenfield but Brownfield project. For brownfield project, we have to ensure that as we do our upgrading and rebuilding, we do not affect the safety, reliability or availability of existing systems that are needed. Because Singapore is just so small, each line is a critical line so none of the lines can afford to be disrupted in anyway during the course of our replacement works which we are starting to do in a big way as a lot of the big systems are due for replacement. That’s a big challenge too.
For major projects, there plans for the extension of downtown line and a few others. So how much investment per kilometer is planned for these projects. Do you have any collaboration opportunities you are looking to have with partners?
We don’t have the exact numbers for the investment per kilometer but in the 2013 masterplan, we planned an estimated SGD 100 billon budget for the different projects. Going forward, looking at the way we do our procurement, we are also reviewing in the long term, with can we afford to have different lines going on so many disparate systems all over or should we be focusing and be realistic that there should only be so many systems available for our network so that in terms of management of technology and people, you don’t have to learn and work on so many different technologies. Plus, you don’t want to be in a situation where have so many spares you have to maintain.
So taking a step back and taking stock, we need to rethink the overall maintenance strategy. Obviously, finding a good and strong partner is something that we are exploring and working out the processes. For example, we are a signatory of the World Trade Organization and therefore there are some rule we have to follow like open procurement. So we need to work within those constraints and yet find some clever way to overcome the long term issues, problems and challenges.
What are some of the technologies/solutions you are seeking to improve operations?
Other than technologies that can improve safety, reliability and more, I am also looking into maintainability, designs that will reduce or optimize the whole lifecycle cost. One thing about lifecycle costs (other than the initial investment cost) is that it involves my ability to monitor the condition and predict what is going to happen before it happens. So it’s about lifecycle management, enhancing maintainability with predictive maintenance, condition monitoring, and systems that can analyze data and eventually help me to manage my assets. It about technologies that can help track with sensors, analyses the data and make it into something sensible for the asset owner to look at and be able to use it for the right decision making on when to replace and when to buy while all link back up to budget. Hence, sustainability is key especially with so many systems and a growing network.
Why did you choose to participate at Asia Pacific Rail?
This is my second year here. 2 year ago I came to share about the LTA Masterplan and last year I was supposed to come but it clashed with my other plans. So I gave my commitment that I will come and support this. I think it is great to come and catch up with old friends and the other key players in the industry.
Did you miss out on this great opportunity to hear from Mr. Chua at Asia Pacific Rail? Don’t miss out on this great opportunity again.