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'He even designed the graphs': Khaw Boon Wan shares the 'good lesson' he learnt from PM Lee on fixing MRT breakdown issue

'He even designed the graphs': Khaw Boon Wan shares the 'good lesson' he learnt from PM Lee on fixing MRT breakdown issue
Khaw Boon Wan, PM Lee Hsien Loong and DPM Lawrence Wong at an Istana press conference on April 16, 2022.

In his May Day Rally speech this week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that Singapore once experienced frequent train breakdowns but that rail reliability has since improved significantly.

He attributed it to the efforts of SMRT and Land Transport Authority engineers, as well as employees of the National Transport Workers’ Union.

But what most people do not know is that PM Lee himself was very much involved in helping to resolve the issue, former transport minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed in an interview with Petir, the People's Action Party digital newsletter.

Khaw, who entered politics in 2001 and retired in 2020, took up the transport portfolio after the General Election in 2015 — amid persistent problems with the MRT system that became a hot-button issue leading up to the polls.

The government was on a quest to improve the reliability of the rail system.

Khaw, 71, who is now the chairman of SPH Media Trust, recalled that PM Lee took a personal interest, even in the engineering details of the rail network.

"He advised me to extract the key metrics from the vast amount of maintenance data and present them graphically," Khaw added.

"He even designed the graphs for us so that they could dynamically show the impact of our efforts, whether we were making progress or not, week by week, rather than quarterly as in the past."

Khaw was known during his political career as Mr Fix-It for taking on challenging portfolios. He has also helmed the Ministry of Health and Ministry of National Development before.

He said he learnt a "good lesson" from PM Lee on applying data analytics and data visualisaton in railway maintenance.

"[Dealing with these challenges, I learnt from PM Lee to] focus on the strategic objective, work out options, attend to implementation details, measure progress, track them closely and share the progress openly with Singaporeans," he added.

By the time Khaw retired, the rail system has improved substantially. 

PM Lee, who is set to hand over leadership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on May 15, acknowledged the progress in his May Day Rally speech.

"We know that nowadays, our trains are as reliable as, or better than, most other MRT systems in the world. Surveys rank it amongst the best."

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