35 SMRT trains secretly recalled: HK report

Jul 05, 2016 07.31PM |

by Glenn Ong

THIRTY-FIVE MRT trains have been secretly recalled and shipped back to its China-based maker.

That’s according to a report by independent Hong Kong newswire FactWire, published in the Hong Kong Free Press today (July 5). It said that the consortium, Kawasaki Heavy Industries-CSR Sifang, which was responsible for producing a class of trains used by public transport operator Singapore Mass Rapid Transit Ltd (SMRT), was “secretly shipping defective trains back to mainland China for replacement and repair”.

However, SMRT said in a Facebook post today that only 26 out of the 35 trains have defects:


What is the company behind the trains?

The consortium comprised Japanese company Kawasaki Heavy Industries Rolling Stock Company and Chinese corporation CSR Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Company Ltd. Despite not being the lowest bidder, the consortium was awarded the tender by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) back in May 2009. The first order consisted of 22 trains that cost S$368 million, and SMRT later ordered another 13 trains in 2011.

Kawasaki was “responsible for overseeing the project, designing and manufacturing the train bogies, and buying the major train components”, while CSR Sifang was in charge of “manufacturing other parts of the train car body, assembling the trains, and conducting factory tests”.

A total of 35 C151A class trains were bought, and those that were recalled are the very same ones in question.

The carriages have been shipped back to Qingdao, where they will undergo repairs and reassembly before being shipped back to Singapore for service. According to a report by The Straits Times, also published today, the trains are still under warranty. In response to queries by Channel NewsAsia, SMRT said that the defects were “not safety-critical” and that they will be repaired by 2023.

Problems with the trains have been reported since they commenced service in 2011. Issues with train components, such as cracks in glass panels, a power supply battery that exploded, and defects in structural components began to show up. A former SMRT staff FactWire spoke to also claimed that there were problems with the “propulsion system” and “engine system”. The staff added that while this does not represent a complete failure of the trains, it does mean that their lifespan is “so much shorter, maybe about half”.

FactWire reports that “at least five trains had been replaced since last year”. Now, Kawasaki Heavy Industries is taking over the manufacturing of the aluminium train car body, while CSR Sifang is reassembling the train cars. Upon arrival in Qingdao, the trains will be disassembled and their parts will be fitted onto new train bodies, the report said. The old aluminium frames would have to be discarded.


“How do you know about the project?”

When FactWire contacted SMRT, LTA, and the parent company of CSR Sifang, CRRC Corporation Limited, all declined to comment. Only SMRT has issued a statement on Facebook after reports by FactWire and ST were published.

The Singapore branch of Kawasaki Heavy Industries did respond, and did not deny that the trains had defects and that they were recalled for repairs. They seemed surprised, however, that the information of the recall managed to get out. Ken Nishiyama, the company’s rolling stock manager, twice asked the reporter: “How do you know [about] the project?”

The newswire behind the story, FactWire, went into full swing after a successful crowdfunding campaign last September. Its founder, Mr Ng Hiu-tung, said the campaign exceeded its initial target by HK$1.75 million, raising a total of HK$4.75 million (S$826,000), which was enough to sustain the newswire for 15 months.

According to their report, FactWire had flown a drone equipped with a camera over Jurong Port as the trains were being prepared for shipping:

“At approximately 3am, the two train cars arrived at Jurong Port, located in Singapore’s western industrial area. Using a drone camera, reporters discovered that six train cars had already been placed in one corner of the port. Cranes, derricks, and other large machines believed to be used for lifting trains were situated nearby.”

Regulations in Singapore for drone video recording or photography state that it is not enough to get a permit from the property owner to fly a drone, even in private property. One would typically also need a permit from the CAAS (Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore).

The pilot has to hold a drone licence from CAAS, which is like a driver’s licence and then needs to apply for a permit to shoot video footage. The applicant has to indicate the subject being shot and a general range of the airspace the drone will operate in. The takeoff and landing points must be indicated. A non-refundable application fee of at least $70 must be paid, regardless of whether the application is successful.

Some considerations the authorities might have will be whether the filming will compromise security, in which case it will be passed to Mindef (Ministry of Defence) or ISD (Internal Security Department) for vetting. Such places will typically be listed as “protected areas“.

On the day of the flight, the pilot has to call a number, which is normally the closest RSAF (Republic of Singapore Air Force) base, and inform the Duty Officer of the time and location of the flight and landing.

SMRT did not comment on the report and did not address the use of drones by FactWire.

The Middle Ground has contacted SMRT for comment.


Featured image Singapore Scene by Flickr user alantankenghoe(CC BY 2.0)

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