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LTA or public transport services: Scholarship gives engineer freedom to pick career path
SGRail Industry Scholarship recipient Leow Jian Chong
SGRail Industry scholar Leow Jian Chong wrote the computer code for a dashboard during his first internship at SBS Transit, which is still being used today. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

This SGRail Industry Scholarship recipient discovers an exciting, diverse and promising future working on Singapore’s world-class transit system

It is the middle of the night. The trains have stopped running and the sound of the ventilation fan reminds Mr Leow Jian Chong he is deep underground in the rail tunnel. 

The tunnel is lit with service lighting, which reveals the high walls of the literally cavernous tunnel. Rail workers shine torches to check for cracks and leakages on the concrete surfaces. 

This is the beginning of the night shift, where the rail crew uses the limited hours to maintain Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system.

Mr Leow, a 22-year-old engineering student from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), is among them. He is a recipient of the SGRail Industry Scholarship and was attached to SBS Transit Ltd’s Downtown Line (DTL) as part of his internship. For his eight-week attachment, he was with the Permanent Way (P-Way) maintenance team which oversees track maintenance. 

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“I am very grateful to be given this perspective,” he says. “It is not easy to accommodate this experience because there is a very tight window of a few hours to do night maintenance work.” 

The importance of such “night work”, as the practitioners call it, cannot be underestimated. Comprising engineers and technicians, the crew checks for any issues such as water seepage, electrical faults and track damage. 

Without regular inspection and maintenance, the risk of equipment failure and service disruptions become acute. The crew carries out regular inspection and maintenance, looking out for issues such as equipment wear-and-tear. 

Mr Leow is impressed by the professionalism and tenacity of the staff doing night work. Working on a tight timeline, with long tunnels and many sectors to check, the crew often scales the two-storey-high tunnels with scaffolding to properly inspect wall-mounted equipment. 

Maintenance is one important part of the process ensuring Singapore’s rail network runs efficiently. 

Various departments oversee different aspects of the rail system: Permanent Way is responsible for tracks, Rolling Stock for trains, Power for moving trains, Signalling for controlling  trains’ routes, speeds and frequency.

“With so many different departments, there are many opportunities for me to hone my engineering skills and expertise,” notes Mr Leow.  

As Singapore moves towards a car-lite society, the rail network is set to grow – up to 360km of train tracks by the 2030s, with eight MRT lines, including the new Jurong Region Line and Cross Island Line. 

A growing rail sector also means greater demand for talent and technology. Mr Leow exemplifies the kind of talent the sector is looking for. 

In a previous traineeship with DTL Signalling that spanned four and a half months, Mr Leow used his coding skills to create a dashboard to help engineers investigate train faults, monitor trends and pre-emptively conduct maintenance to prevent faults more efficiently. 

“I’m glad to be part of the team to improve the rail efficiency, and up till now, the team is still using my dashboard,” he says. 

“For someone who is still at university, it is rewarding to know that people find my work useful and that I can make a tangible impact.”

Developing diverse engineering expertise

Mr Leow’s main priority when considering an engineering career is whether he would be able to continuously learn and grow on the job. Being a rail engineer, he reasons, is one of the best ways to develop his engineering skills. 

“In Singapore, the extensive public transport infrastructure opens up numerous  opportunities for me to engage in practical engineering work and tackle complex problem-solving,” he says.

From a young age, Mr Leow knew that he wanted to become an engineer. To him, engineering involves “breaking down the issue, identifying root cause, ensuring precise problem-targeting and adopting a systemic approach to finding the solution”.

Initially, he was worried that joining the rail industry would mean the start of an engineering career that is too specialised and niche, making it difficult for him to switch to another role in the future. 

“Public transport is a vast infrastructure in Singapore. That translates into opportunities for me to practise engineering work and solve problems.”

Mr Leow Jian Chong, recipient of the SGRail Industry Scholarship

However, his fears have been allayed. There are many opportunities for individuals to explore, and the transferable and versatile skills that he has picked up can be applied to many career paths within the public transportation sector. 

As an SGRail Industry scholar, he has the opportunity to work with either public transport operators like SBS Transit Ltd and SMRT Corporation Ltd, or the governing agency Land Transport Authority.

“Not many scholarships offer this opportunity to gain insights from both operator and regulatory perspectives,” says Mr Leow, who will join the industry upon his graduation from NTU in 2027. 

For students still undecided on which scholarship to go for, he has one piece of advice: “Choose an organisation that can give you opportunities from the start, expose you to diverse experiences and offer you the resources to support your journey.”

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