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Driving Singapore forward: She’s leading the way to better commutes
Wan Fang Land Transport Authority scholar
LTA scholar and industry expert Wan Fang says working for the statutory board felt like a calling. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

From digitalisation to replacing ageing MRT trains with newer ones, this LTA scholar has been improving our daily commutes in multiple ways for the past decade

If you have enjoyed the new trains on the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) on Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), one of the people you can thank is Ms Wan Fang. She is a senior manager in the Rolling Stock Projects department of the Land Transport Authority (LTA). 

“The division takes care of all our trains in Singapore from cradle to grave,” explains the 33-year-old. “We design, manufacture and test the fleet before the trains get put into service. During their life span, we analyse performance and manage upgrades until the end of their service life.”

Manufactured in Changchun, China, the new trains are more spacious and have larger windows, ergonomic perch seats and colourful electronic display systems to provide commuters with a more enjoyable ride.

Ms Wan has been involved in many of LTA’s large railway projects over the past 10 years, including leading the ongoing renewal of trains that run on the NSEWL. “We’re replacing the first three generations of trains that have run on these lines for the last 30 years. This involves overseeing the manufacturing and testing of the new trains,” she explains.

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She has also taken on various other job scopes, including assisting in the upcoming Singapore Rail Test Centre’s design and supporting LTA’s digitalisation efforts to streamline the rail sector’s work processes, an urgent task given Singapore’s ageing workforce.

In 2019, she also took part in developing the $100 million Rail Manpower Development Package, which spans a new scholarship and in-service sponsorship programme, among other initiatives. 

“It is my goal to grow the public transport network in Singapore towards a more sustainable future, and to groom younger engineers to contribute to transformation efforts within the industry, creating a more advanced and robust system for future generations,” she says.

Looking back at her decade-long career at LTA, she is convinced she made the right move in applying for the LTA Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship (Full-term). She earned an electrical engineering degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and a Master of Science in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University.

“Singapore’s public transport system played a very big role in my life when I was growing up, so I am glad to be given an opportunity to give back,” she says.

A natural calling

When she was only seven years old, she took public buses and trains to and from school by herself while her parents were at work. This lasted all the way until she was in junior college, before she left for her studies overseas. During those long journeys, she would sometimes catch up on homework she could not finish the night before, and at other times, people-watch while listening to music on her CD player. 

“Sometimes, when I forgot to bring enough cash for the tickets, kind uncles or aunties would offer to top up the fare for me. That’s something that I will never forget,” she says. Today, Ms Wan continues to take public transport daily as it helps her avoid peak-hour traffic while giving her some me-time. 

“There is a sense of satisfaction when you know that you have helped to build a public transport network that touches so many people’s lives every day.”

Ms Wan Fang, recipient of the LTA Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship (Full-term)

While mulling over scholarships for university, the one offered by LTA, specifically its development of Singapore’s public transport network, felt like a calling to her. She also appreciated that its career options run the gamut from specialised and technical roles to ones that offer more breadth.

“I felt that I was somewhere in between, so railway project management has been a good fit for me. I enjoy working with people, and I also wanted to deliver something tangible, like our new trains,” she says. 

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, she became more independent and honed her engineering skills. “I still apply a lot of the fundamentals that I learnt in school – about circuit diagrams, forces and torque, antenna theory, and more – in my day-to-day work, especially during technical design reviews and when I troubleshoot issues during testing,” she notes.

Improving transport, touching lives

LTA places a lot of emphasis on having a strong technical foundation as well as continually building expertise. However, Ms Wan adds that the agency encourages camaraderie and teamwork too. “No matter which project I work on, the people matter,” she says.

“At LTA, I am supported by motivated and capable engineers who work tirelessly day and night to ensure that our trains are well tested before they are introduced into service,” she explains. Some of them are stationed off-site at factories for months, and many help in train-testing works during off-peak hours to avoid disturbing people’s daily commutes. 

“We continue to explore ways to improve our public transport user experience,” she says. 

Even though her bond ended in 2018, she chose to stay with LTA. “There is a sense of satisfaction when you know that you have helped to build a public transport network that touches people’s lives every day, or when you hear a passing remark from friends and family about how nice the new trains are,” she says. 

“These are things that make what I do feel meaningful.”

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