What I Learnt From The (Latest) SMRT Fiasco

New Zealand Trip - Flying over Auckland on Air New Zealand NZ622 Airbus A320.

Early Oct, the MRT system in Singapore broke down again. I don’t think it was worse than that massive breakdown more than 6 years back; back then, the system paralysed during evening peak hours and happened a few times in a week.

This time around, the breakdown happened on a Saturday evening, after a heavy rain.

What happened was that the tunnel was flooded at Bishan station and that subsequently caused the whole line to shut down for a few hours. The particular stretch of line was down for almost a full day as engineers and firefighters drained the station of the excess water.

As the (cliched) saying goes, when life throws you lemons, make lemonade. We can’t possibly go through a major MRT breakdown without giving our two cents worth of opinions, right?

Lesson 1: There Is More Than A Tunnel For An Underground Train System

The good guys at Channel News Asia came up with an infographic (that came with their lengthy article giving technical details for those who still read words…) that opened my eyes.

So there is a “storm water pit”, a.k.a a place that IT will stay if IT exists, underneath the tunnel!


Click on the image to access the original article on Channel News Asia

I’d always wondered, when people say that pumps are working to keep underground facilities from being flooded, how the pumps worked; I don’t see any pumps in the station or along the tracks in the tunnel!

Now I know…

So by inference, such installations are all over Singapore, with our extensive networks of underground passages, malls and what-nots. If my imagination is right, our skyscrapers are sitting on a honeycombed-network of water pits, which, come to think of it, is a scary thought…

Lesson 2: People Love To Blame The People At The Top

I get it… I may be young, but I meet my fair share of lousy leaders. Those who flip-flops, those who are temperamental, those who likes to force us to burn bridges… But that does not mean that everything that goes wrong must be the fault of the leaders.

I used to have a colleague who justified her coming to work late and shoddy work to having a bad boss. In her defense, she claimed that she could not be bothered to work hard for a lousy boss. That was an appalling notion to me, because I would do anything for myself. While my boss’ directions/mentoring will affect my output to an extent, it does not mean that I will not do anything within my control to make sure the end product is good.

Working to give our best despite external environment boils down to personal pride in our work and also works to the advantage of our long-term professional development.


Lesson 3: We Should Strive To Look At The Big Picture

In questioning whether the leaders are at fault, we have to ask ourselves, with the extensive network of underground train tunnels, why Bishan?

A system-wide error would have occurred if there is a failure within the leadership. On the other hand, we can only say “maybe” when it comes to questioning if lousy leadership is at fault for a localised fault.

Were the pumps / water pit at the other stations also on the brim of failure due to lapses in maintenance? Questions like this should be asked when we are trying to determine if the case at Bishan was an isolated one, or the warning alarm of a bigger issue.

We all know that within a company, especially one as big as SMRT, is bound to have lousy leaders AND workers. How many of our colleagues would insist on going for their tea breaks (which is not official in many companies I know, btw) instead of working on their work that is falling behind? How many of us have come across colleagues who whined at the huge amount of work they have, when they could have done those work more effectively by leveraging the use of technology (like using shared drives, MS Excel etc)?

How many of us have come across that aforementioned colleague of mine, who has everyone else, but themselves, to blame for their shoddy work?

I think, without a clearer idea of what went on within SMRT (within the maintenance team and the teams that worked closely with them), we definitely can’t blame the leaders for this incident. What we can appreciate, however, is that it is not a simple task to move a city of 6 million efficiently.

I mean… anyone who played Sim City would have known this!


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