I also had a laugh when despite Second Solicitor-General Lionel Yee pointing out from the start that the inquiry looking into the December 2011 breakdowns “is not an adversarial proceeding but a fact-finding one”, the lawyers for LTA and SMRT put the blame on each other’s client.
(Leading to a Voice to comment, “Since it has been stated upfront that the proceedings are non-adversarial, why is there a need to hire expensive senior counsel, some at the expense of taxpayers? … SMRT Corp and the Land Transport Authority must have competent senior officials who are capable of assisting the COI with the investigations.”)
I can understand SMRT wanting to evade responsibility for commercial reasons. It could be fined heavily, and made to spend more on maintenance, depriving it of revenue to pay management bonuses and shareholder dividends. But should be so be so aggressive trying to pin the blame on SMRT. Scared of showing LTA was less than competent?
LTA’s lawyer Andrew Yeo, from Allen & Gledhill, took issue with the SMRT’s maintenance regime which could be improved, although it was “comprehensive and satisfactory”.
Citing a report by the transport operator’s internal investigation team, Mr Yeo said: “SMRT’s maintenance expenditure and manpower headcount for the maintenance of trains and trackways has not been increasing in recent years, at the same rate as the increase in kilometres travelled per train,” said Mr Yeo.
According to Mr Yeo, SMRT records showed that there has been a reduction in the number of wheel-profiling works between 2009 and last year even though there has been an increase in incidents of wheel defects over the same period. He also said that SMRT’s maintenance budget had not kept pace with the increasing ridership.
SMRT also “could do better” in terms of record-keeping, especially in the tracking of defects. “That would in turn enable any lapses or deficiencies in maintenance work to be easily detected and rectified,” Mr Yeo added.
Mr Yeo’s comments drew a response from SMRT’s lawyer Cavinder Bull. The Senior Counsel from Drew & Napier asked: “Whose duty is it to do what?”
He pointed out that the infrastructure was technically owned by the LTA. Also, any modifications to the infrastructure “must be submitted to the LTA for their review and approval”, Mr Bull said.
Alluding to findings from a team of experts, Mr Bull said that the SMRT has acted with “appropriate due diligence” in terms of its maintenance and engineering regimes.
Mr Bull added that any wheel defects or third rail gauge variation – which may have contributed to the higher vibrations, which in turn may have contributed to the dislodgement of claws – “did not occur due to a lack of maintenance”.
In fact, he said, the SMRT’s maintenance regime has been more stringent than what is recommended by the manufacturers: The various checks on the third rail are done every three or six months, which is more than the yearly inspection which manufacturers recommended.
Mr Bull also stressed that the dislodgement of the multiple claws which led to the breakdowns was caused by “a rare confluence of factors, none of which individually could have resulted in the incidents”.
Reiterating that it was not the SMRT’s intent “to shirk its responsibilities”, Mr Bull said that after discussions with the LTA, SMRT intends to change all the claws to “fifth generation” ones, which are installed on the Circle Line, as well as the Changi Airport and Boon Lay Extensions. Today article