After 5 Years as CEO, Desmond Kuek Blames Train Disruptions on “Cultural Issues” and “Human Error”

Speaking a week after the first ever flooding of an MRT station in Singapore, SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek says SMRT needs to iron out “deep-seated cultural issues” and regrets that many major disruptions have been attributed to “human error”.

SMRT has since “re-deployed” its vice-president of maintenance, Ng Tek Poo, following the flooding.

Besides the flooding incident on Saturday (7 Oct) which disrupted North-South Line train services for 21 hours, commuters are irate at the increasing number of train breakdowns and disruptions, made worse by testing of a new signalling system in recent months.

Mr Kuek, a former Chief of Defence Force of the Singapore Armed Forces, was appointed SMRT CEO in 2012.

He was asked to take a S$500,000 pay cut last year, on the back of mounting disruptions involving MRT services operated by SMRT.

He said at a press conference this evening:

“There has been criticism about SMRT’s work culture. Indeed, many of our major disruptions in the past have been attributed, in some part or all, to human error or failure. We regret that this is so.

Much progress has been made with the inculcation of a positive wok culture in the workforce. But there remain some deep-seated cultural issues within the company that has needed more time than anticipated to root out.

But it would be wrong to paint everyone in SMRT with the same brush. 9 in 10 of our people are incredibly committed, professional, and commuter-focused. They’re Singaporeans too, with family members and friends who commute, and they work hard under challenging conditions to deliver the best possible transport service for all our commuters. We have a strong team and good people, and I deeply appreciate their steadfast support and leadership.

We are determined to get there and encouraged by the progress already made. But for the times that we have not been able to catch the falling balls in time, we are sorry for the inconvenience it has caused you and resolve to learn the lessons and do better. Over the past five years, we have made tremendous progress but also some mistakes.

Regardless whether our issues are viewed by others as inherited, structural or cultural – we make no excuses. I take full responsibility for all that has happened under my watch as the overall Group Chief Executive.”


A pump problem on Saturday (7 Oct) caused Bishan MRT station to flood and disrupted the North-South Line train service for 21 hours.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has blamed the flooding squarely on poor maintenance, saying that the flood system is sound.

“The Bishan flooding system was designed for one in a hundred years. So our study, which is still ongoing, is ‘Are you sure that is adequate?’ But for the incident that happened on October 7, it is much more than adequate, nothing to do with these extremes of weathers – it is just poor maintenance.”

Mr Khaw also said that the incident has “pushed back the recovery of public confidence” in the MRT system, which has been plagued by an increasing number of disruptions over the years.



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