A few minutes with Singapore LTA’s Chua Chong Kheng

Asia Pacific Rail was successfully organised from 21-22 March 2017. This year’s edition was our biggest and best yet, with more than 1,500 attendees from 668 organisation and 38 countries, cementing Asia Pacific Rail’s position as the must-attend annual gathering of APAC rail industry’s leaders and decision-makers.

We had the opportunity to sit down onsite with Chua Chong Kheng, Deputy Chief Executive (Infrastructure & Development), Land Transport Authority, Singapore to find out his outlook on the rail industry in the next few years and the key challenges he’s facing in his role.

1.Can you share with us about your role at Land Transport Authority (LTA)?

I am the Deputy Chief Executive in LTA responsible for all land transport infrastructure development so I take care of the implementation of all infrastructure development projects such as the MRT lines, roads, highways as well as traffic systems. In addition, I am responsible for procurement, safety management and cost management.

2. How do you see the industry developing in the next 5-10 years?

With the advancement of information and electronics, the trend is clearly moving towards greater use of electronic media and platforms to manage operations. For example, in the signalling industry, there’s so much use of advanced electronics. I also see autonomation in the areas of maintenance and asset management where we try to find better, more productive ways of managing assets. In Singapore, we are paying a lot more attention to implementation of condition monitoring technologies. As LTA is the owner and buyer of systems, we need to understand how the system works so that we can take care of it better. In the next few years, at least in Singapore, this will be key in helping us develop stronger capabilities in operating and maintaining our systems.

3. I understand that existing lines in Singapore are being upgraded with the new CBTC system. What challenge do you face in this aspect?

CBTC is becoming one of the standard systems now so the challenge is how do we make sure that the communications system is reliable. It needs to be able to withstand interference so that the safety function of the signalling system is not compromised. It’s about ensuring that the system is reliable, secure and can withstand all sorts of interference.

4. What are some of the new systems or technologies that LTA has implemented or is looking to implement?

In Singapore, as we build new lines and new systems, we take a life cycle perspective – the system shouldn’t be just good in one aspect. Maintainability is very important.

With condition monitoring, we are going to collect a lot of data. In my presentation, I mentioned that we will be building an enterprise rail asset management system. The key thing about this system is data. One source of data is from condition monitoring systems, giving us information about how the trains, signalling, power systems are performing. Data analytics is going to be a big thing, and this is conditional on getting data, not just any data, but good data. For us at the backend, we will be able to convert the data into useful information for planning purposes.

5. What are some of the major projects in the pipeline in Singapore?

We have a lot of projects going on in Singapore, both greenfield and brownfield projects. Greenfield projects are the new lines that we have articulated in our Land Transport Masterplan. Some of these are gradually being implemented. Some of the upcoming projects are Circle Line Stage 6, which is the closing of the Circle Line, NorthEast line extension, Cross Island Line, which is about 50km, and the Jurong Region Line. All these projects are currently scheduled to begin from now and will be completed by around  2030, if everything goes according to plan.

On top of that, we are doing a lot of brownfield projects. There’s equally a lot of money to be spent on them – we’re in the process of upgrading our signalling systems and this is in the final stage now. We have completed the replacement of sleepers, third rail, and very soon we are going to change out the power supply system and we have  called a tender for that. We are also going to call a tender for the replacement of track circuits.

The upgrades are only for the North-South and East-West lines because these are the oldest lines. Eventually we have to work on the North East line and the Circle Line so it will be a cyclical process.

6. What do you think are the key challenges that LTA will face in the next 5-10 years?

The biggest challenge for us is resource. We are in the process of expanding the MRT system and trying to build a robust transport system. To do that, we need good engineers. We got to find ways to get people into the industry, train them and build up our expertise. Due to the large volume of work, we need a lot of good people.

Secondly, as we build new lines, there will come a time when there will be no space to build new lines. The challenge is how do we upgrade the old lines, such that the old lines will become as good as new, or even better. For that to happen, you need good people with E&M background. As we go forward, systems will be communications or electronics-based, so the skillsets in our staff will have to evolve as well.

Thirdly, as we have taken back the role of asset management from the operator, we need to build up all our capabilities in systems and processes in a very quick time and this links back to the resource issue.

In terms of actual challenge on the ground, whether its greenfield or brownfield, there are unique challenges. For brownfield ones, the challenge is how do we find the time to go in and implement the renewal works as the operator is also finding time to go in to maintain the system, hence there will potential conflicts or overlaps in terms of accessing the lines to carry out works. This is the part that we have to manage carefully as we don’t want to compromise train operations as we carry out renewal works.

7. Thank you for your time, Mr. Chua. It’s good to have you back again for Asia Pacific Rail. How did you find the event this year?

Interesting. I find the event bigger than last year and I also see some new exhibitors. For me, one of the benefits is to network with people and seeing old friends. It’s good to use this event to find out the rail development in other countries.

Want to find out the latest updates in the Asia-Pacific rail industry? Join us at Asia Pacific Rail 2018 to meet the rail leaders.

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