SMRT and SBS Transit have signed a memorandum of understanding with ST Engineering, to collaborate on rail operations and maintenance.

In a move which will see Singapore's two rail operators working formally together for the first time, SMRT and SBS Transit (SBST) signed a collaboration memorandum of understanding with defence and engineering group ST Engineering on Monday (17 June).

The three companies will identify and establish collaborative projects in regards to operations and maintenance At a signing ceremony at the Land Transport Authority's premises in Hampshire Road, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the MOU was one small step in Singapore's strategy to grow our rail industry.

"The MOU will enable SMRT, SBST and ST Engineering to collaborate in the cost-effective development of engineering capabilities for rail operations and maintenance," Mr. Khaw said.

"The aim is to minimise the duplication of resources, and address technology gaps faced by the local industry," the minister added.

The three partners will start working on repairing electronic cards on older trains. Electronic cards control various functions, chiefly communication between train and track equipment. Faulty cards can lead to breakdowns. There are various cards on a system, which are integrated.

"By pooling knowledge and resources in this area, we can diagnose and repair electronic cards more quickly, and reduce service downtime," Mr. Khaw said. Up till now, the two operators worked on fixing their own electronic card issues.

Previously, more complex repairs were at times outsourced to ST Engineering and original equipment manufacturers, which often took time SMRT, for instance, has had an electronic workshop to test and repair electronic cards for several years now. Older and obsolete cards were replaced.

After two massive breakdowns on the North-South Line in 2011, SMRT pledged to accelerate, among other things, its electronic card replacement plan.

Electronic cards were found to be the main cause of signalling glitches, accounting for seven in 10 such faults.

Mr. Khaw said, "We have come a long way since I joined Ministry of Transport in October 2015. The first two years were firefighting, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes we had to handle floods, and once we even had lightning. Now that train services have stabilised, we are able to focus on the longer-term strategic issues."

He said Singapore's aim is to have a good and reliable public transport service which Singaporeans can be proud of, as well as a a sustainable rail industry which offers attractive and stable jobs. Having rail expertise would also create opportunities for Singapore enterprises to seize business deals in the region.

This was attempted by former SMRT Chief Executive Desmond Kuek, who set up Singapore Rail Engineering (SRE) in 2014 to retrofit 66 of SMRT's oldest trains, and in doing so, build up local competence which could be exported. SRE, which refurbished two trains, is now practically defunct.