SINGAPORE – The government is injecting $ 100m to better train railway workers here, alleviating the burden on train operators' costs as the industry seeks to meet 21st Century Singapore's transportation needs.
The Rail Workforce Development Package (RMDP), announced by Transport Minister Kav Bun Van at the Transport Thanksgiving event on Saturday (November 9th), will become a major source of training for MRT and LTT workers in the next five years.
"Operators are not financially healthy at the moment … To avoid such investments, the Government, through the Land Transport Authority (LTA), will co-invest," Mr Cav said in his speech at the event.
"That way, the worker will have the tools to do what is necessary to raise their productivity and do their job better … Ultimately, we want to improve the levels of service for passengers."
For the 12 months to the end of March this year, train losses on SMRT trains reached $ 155m – nearly double that of a year ago – with repair and maintenance costs accounting for 71 percent of rail freight revenue.
The center of the SBS Transit center has also reported losses of $ 125m in the last three years, with its train division as a whole losing tens of millions of dollars.
The LTA said the package was co-developed with the railway operators and the National Union of Transport Workers (NTWU) as a co-ordinated effort to ensure training programs remain relevant to the needs of rail workers.
Among other things, it will enable investments in hardware such as simulators and virtual reality tools.
Some workers are currently given the opportunity to practice what they learned during a limited engineering time – often after midnight, when trains stopped working. The LTA said the simulations would enable them to do so throughout the day, accelerating their pace of learning.
There are also scholarships to attract future industry leaders.
The SGreil Industry Scholarships for ITE programs and higher education institutes will benefit about 400 students and current workers, the government said.
NTWU Executive Secretary Melvin Jong welcomed the move on Saturday's announcement on Facebook, saying the new plan was partly a result of the union's insistence on investing more manpower training resources.
"We recognize that railway operators face a (significant) challenge of balancing heavy investment for maintenance with manpower training," he said. "(But) a world-class public transport system requires a world-class public transport force."
Mr Jong, who is also an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRE, said the union would ensure it had money for experienced workers to empower them with the professional skills they already have informally and for younger rail workers to build their careers.
"We hope that these coordinated efforts will ensure that our rail workforce remains one of the most professional in the industry regionally and beyond," he added.
The rail industry's focus comes as planned on expanding the rail network from 130km to 360km over the next decade, even as stakeholders focus on upgrading aging equipment to make sure the current lines continue to be secure and effective.
Three rail lines – Thomson-East Coast Line, Jurong Regional Line and Cross Island – are already underway.
On Saturday, both railway operators SBS Transit and SMRT welcomed the government's move.
Mr Feng Siak Qian, chief operating officer of SBS Transit, said his company had already identified seven new areas to focus on, including robotics and automation applications.
He noted that 1,500 workers at SBS Transit through 16 job roles will receive new training as a result of the package. "This will enable our people to be ready for the future to tackle new technological challenges ahead," he said.
SMRT Trains chief executive Li Ling Wing called the plan a "big booster" for his workers.
"The railway industry is an exciting place to be … it is important for our railway staff to constantly upgrade their skills and knowledge to be an important part of this growing industry," Mr Lee said.
The event's transport workers emphasized the importance of training to improve their skills and enhance their careers.
Mr Mohamad Ayrul Nizam Sunin, 38, was promoted to Deputy Manager of Engineering Maintenance at Bukit Punjang LRT after attending a course in Electrical Engineering.
“The training worked for me because I was promoted after the program ended. The package is definitely for me to grow in the company, "he said.
Mr John Hahn, who switched from mechanical to electrical engineering this year, said the simulations would make his electrical training less physical.
"We had to get into the tunnels between midnight and 4am during engineering classes," the 28-year-old said.
In his speech, Mr Kaw said the Traffic Appreciation Day was inaugurated in 2017, when "there was a lot of public transport disaster" and "morale was a little low".
"Public transport employees have made a lot of sacrifices. When most people sleep, they work. This event reminds everyone to be gracious and grateful, "he added.