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Shaping S’pore’s key projects from Tuas Port to RTS Link
Mr Lim Chu Rui is currently seconded to the Ministry of Transport, where he dives deep into policy formulation. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

A civil engineer by training, this MPA scholar is developing a wider range of skills in policy, planning and even communications

Growing up, Mr Lim Chu Rui was captivated by megastructures like bridges and underground tunnels that are built across large bodies of water. This was why he majored in civil engineering and took up a mid-term scholarship with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

While the agency might not appear to be an obvious choice for an aspiring civil engineer who dreamt of building megastructures, Mr Lim found out that MPA is not just the driving force behind Singapore’s port and maritime development, but also the authority behind reclamation works for key projects, such as the Tuas Port.

“MPA reused large-scale recyclable materials such as dredged seabed materials and land-excavated materials to reclaim the land used to build Tuas Port,” explains the 29-year-old.

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When MPA started offering mid-term scholarships towards the end of his first year at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2016, Mr Lim jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the agency responsible for shaping Singapore as a global maritime hub and advancing Singapore’s strategic maritime interests.

His professors spoke highly of MPA’s innovative engineering work, which reaffirmed his decision to apply for the scholarship.

“The scholarship is a gateway to your first job,” he says. “I wanted my first job to capitalise on my strengths and align with my interests.”

A new wave of innovation

Mr Lim’s dream of building megastructures materialised much sooner than he had expected. While in his third year at university, the MPA scholar was given the opportunity to work on an engineering project at the Tuas Port.

He continued to work there after joining MPA in 2019, contributing to the design of the port’s operations.

“As part of a team, I looked at how to design the Port Operations Control Centre to be more environmentally and ergonomically-friendly and to become a vibrant workplace for vessel traffic officers and watch managers,” says Mr Lim, who had studied how to incorporate sustainability in the design of built environments in school.

Just as he thought he had his dream role as a civil engineer figured out, MPA opened his eyes to the much wider ecosystem that contributes to the success of mega-engineering projects.

“The scholarship is a gateway to your first job. I wanted my first job to capitalise on my strengths and align with my interests.”

Mr Lim Chu Rui, recipient of the MPA Mid-Term Scholarship

In the first three years of his career, he learnt how extensive the work of a civil engineer can be. Beyond applying technical knowledge, he also had to coordinate work with stakeholders from other divisions and collaborate with consultants on plans and designs, opening his eyes to the wider ecosystem that underpins the success of mega-engineering projects.

Decarbonisation, for example, is one area where MPA is working with local and international agencies to address climate change challenges and meet net-zero emission targets. The successful world’s first ship-to-containership methanol bunkering operation in Port of Singapore last year was part of the larger Singapore’s National Hydrogen Strategy that he has worked on.

To encourage maritime companies to embrace sustainability, he has worked with both shipping trade associations and non-profit organisations to conduct courses on carbon accounting, monitoring and management as a way to curtail their emissions footprint.

“I am trained as an engineer but was given many opportunities and exposure to sustainability, policy, planning and even communications work,” he adds.

The “soft” skills needed in these new areas may seem to be a stretch from what he was trained for, yet to his surprise, Mr Lim discovered how interconnected and critical they are for a civil engineer working in the public service.

“Engineers use scientific knowledge and apply practical principles in problem-solving. I have always valued the training I receive as an engineer. Today, major infrastructural projects and related policies do not happen in a vacuum. Many are designed and delivered by analysing them, taking them apart, exploring what we can do to solve them, and sometimes even experimenting imaginative solutions,” he says.

In August 2022, he became the special assistant to MPA’s chief executive (CE).

“I helped the CE handle various and diverse portfolios, including his engagements with international organisations, ports and authorities, unions, academia and private sectors,” says Mr Lim.

The one-year stint was “a rewarding and humbling experience” that showed him how diverse work can be at MPA and in the public service sector.

Unlocking opportunities

As part of MPA’s career development for officers, he was seconded in 2023 to the Ministry of Transport (MOT), the parent ministry of MPA.

He is currently part of a team that oversees domestic and cross-border rail.

“Many policy issues involve engineering, science or technology so this job still plays to my strengths,” he says.

Apart from examining policies in rail reliability, manpower and operations, he was also part of the communications working group for a commemorative ceremony held last month for the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link project. The ceremony was graced by Prime Ministers from both countries.

Mr Lim is able to quickly grasp and understand the challenges faced by engineers at the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the lead agency for the Singapore side of the RTS Link. They had to ensure that rock blasting to build the Singapore terminus does not cause building damage to the adjacent Thomson-East Coast Line Woodlands North Station, or affect the train services.

“I appreciate what the LTA engineers face, and it is important to demystify the large volume of information and distil them into clear effective messages that the general public can understand,” he says.

Mr Lim is grateful to MPA for giving him many opportunities to develop a range of skills beyond the engineering discipline.

“My experiences with MPA made me realise I have so much more to learn to be a good engineer and public officer in order to contribute on all fronts.”

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