The Faulty MRT – An Engineer’s View


By: B Goode

I met an old friend of mine for coffee the other day. He is an engineer. A real engineeer. Not the kind who is actually a technician but because of some morale-boosting manpower-massaging HR wizardry, is given the title engineer.

Or someone who calls himself an engineer because he works with engines. It might have helped him to get into a chick’s pants. I know this because I’ve tried it once. But I didn’t get far because that chick had wanted me to take a look at her faulty air-con. I told her that I am not an air-con man. But she said, “But you are an engineer mah…”.

Air-con. Engineer.

Until today I couldn’t see the link. Truth be told, I didn’t see much of her that night either.

Anyway, that engineer friend of mine told me that the amount of electrical wires installed in the MRT system, if laid end-to-end could circle the earth a few times. I think he might be exagerating but you don’t argue with someone whose name printed in his namecard contains more acronyms than all the expressways put together.

And also the fact that he is balding.

With kilometers upon kilometers of electrical wires of different colours, intertwined like a ball of grassnakes on heat, how do they know which wire is for what and goes to where and why? If you think that the wires are all properly labelled and laid out like the MRT map, well think again.

It most probability, they are all laid out like the bunch of wires hidden nicely behind your TV screen on under your computer table. A thousand times worst.

Like this:

electrical wiring

So in order to keep track of that mess, electrical engineers depend on what they called, Line Drawings.

Something like this:

electrical line drawing

That is just one drawing for a small electrical component. Imagine a huge system like the MRT. You will have tons of those. Literally.

There is one problem though. Line drawings must be updated at all times. Even a small change or addition to the electrical component would require the line drawings to be updated. If not, the next technician or engineer will have no idea on what that small little black and red wire that juts harmlessly under the bigger orange cable does.

It’s most probbaly harmless. Let’s cut it.

We apologise for the delay due to an electrical fault…..”

You got my drift.

In a very convulated way (electrical engineers eh?), what that friend of mine was trying to explain was that, the Line Drawings for the MRT system are most probably not updated. In fact, he said that most engineers and technicians if they had a choice, they would not want to update the line drawings because it is tedious.

This is telling because in a recent case, the North-South Line had some electrical fault at the same time when a small fire broke out in Ang Mo Kio station. When asked if the two incidents were connected, the SMRT issued a statement that they were investigating.

Meaning, they didn’t know. If they had an updated line drawing, they would have known almost immediately.

So the question is; How many of the electrical breakdowns were due to things being added or removed by sheer gut feelings alone. Blind because there were no updated Line Drawings to refer to.

How many of those faults could have been prevented if only those responsible for the electrical system were more professional in their work? And that includes the owner of the system itself. The LTA.

So it doesn’t matter who runs the sytem be it the government or private enterprise. The whole system must be cleaned up. Due diligence must be conducted for every changes that are made to the system.

If you think that my friend was exagerating, just go to any MRT station. Have a peek at their electrical room and point to any wire that you see there and ask them, `what’s this wire for?’

Chnaces are, they will not know.

Of course you and me do not have the power to do so, but the LTA surely does!

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