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A career in the rail industry puts you on the right track

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore’s 200km system of more than 130 stations across six MRT lines spanning the island, had a daily ridership of more than three million.

Today, commuting habits have changed. Many people now work or attend classes from home, and international travel has been put on hold. These shifts are a stark reminder of the unprecedented challenges and disruptions to Singapore’s transport industry.

To meet these challenges, the SGRail Industry Scholarships hope to attract future leaders who can envision, build and shape the future of the rail sector. The scholarships, which were announced last year, provide exposure to a diverse range of careers, in which scholarship holders play key roles in shaping best practices.

Scholarship holders will also meet like-minded individuals who are passionate about innovation in the engineering and railway fields, such as Mr Vishal Ganesan, 27, an SMRT manager who is now part of the Thomson Line Permanent Way Project team, which i s “responsible for ensuring the trackwork assets are taken over in a maintainable and operable condition from the various contractors involved”.

Mr Vishal joined SMRT right after graduating, drawn by the rail operator’s vision to ensure that for eight in 10 Singapore households, an MRT station would be located only a 10-minute walk away.

During an internship in the rail industry, he realised that the seemingly simple goal was an ambitious target. The challenge of being able to work on such massive projects held his fascination throughout his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore.

“Naturally, upon g raduation, I wanted to join the industry and SMRT’s engineering management associate programme accepted me. There has been no looking back since,” he proudly says.

In the more than five years that Mr Vishal has worked with SMRT, he has been given a wide range of opportunities, such as greenfield projects for new construction, and brownfield projects, from renewing existing lines to maintenance engineering. He has also worked on the three major lines that SMRT operates — North-South and East-West Lines, Circle Line, and Thomson-East Coast Line.

Ms Kellen, 35, a rolling stock engineer at SBS Transit (SBST), calls the rail sector “a career for life”. Two years ago, she left the payments industry to explore a new professional path in the rail industry, despite not having prior experience.

She says the switch has been immensely rewarding. She is currently working on SBST’s major mid-life refurbishment project, which involves replacing worn-out components. Her job scope includes monitoring project milestones, timelines and their deliverables, and communicating with internal and external stakeholders.

The work is not always a smooth ride, but it is an opportunity she relishes as it has given her “a sense of accomplishment”, she says.

As Singapore’s rail industry speedily transforms and progresses, Mr Vishal believes the field is not just for engineers. Instead, “it’s a really big puzzle and we need people o f various backgrounds to complete the puzzle”.

And he is hopeful of the sector’s future, even in a world reeling from a devastating pandemic. He says: “It is a ‘sunrise industry’ — one that sets ambitious plans, has a well-crafted road map, and is well and truly on its way to achieving those goals.”