Setting up the point care team in SMRT Corporation Ltd’s rail system in 2016 stands out as the most difficult yet the most rewarding part of Mr Brandon Kuah’s career.
Today, this team is one of the most vital in the rail network, overseeing the maintenance of the “points” and “point machines” that guide Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains onto alternative routes, or allowing two rail lines to merge together.
Currently comprising over 60 highly trained personnel, the point care team constantly monitors the condition of the points across hundreds of kilometres of track. This includes several quick response units stationed at all major depots, ready to respond quickly to and address issues such as track obstructions, wear and tear, and power supply loss.
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Mr Kuah was tasked to set up the team when he was only four years into his career at SMRT. There were only three team members, himself included. He was from SMRT’s Engineering and Management Associate Programme, which focuses on developing leadership and functional skills for a rail industry career.
Point maintenance requires expertise in two major departments in rail transport: signalling and permanent way.
In layman’s terms, signalling is to trains what traffic lights are to cars, regulating the flow of “traffic” on each section of track.
Meanwhile, permanent way – also known as trackworks – deals with the physical properties of the railway tracks themselves, like rails and sleepers.
Being new to this area, Mr Kuah and his colleagues had to write the playbook from scratch: Finding the right personnel and drafting entirely new processes, systems and workflows.
“It was such a valuable learning opportunity and also put my capabilities to the test,” he says. He adds that this leadership role allowed him to make decisions which directly influenced the reliability of the point machines.
This was the main reason he chose a rail career with SMRT: To be able to see the tangible impact of his hard work and grow his skill sets as a rail engineer.
“As someone who takes the train every day, a career in public transport is very meaningful,” he says. “It is fulfilling to see the results of your work being enjoyed by many people.”
Now 36, Mr Kuah has since left the point care team in the hands of one of his successors as he continues his journey with SMRT.
From his beginnings in trackworks and signalling, his portfolio has since expanded to include project management, operations, planning and asset management.
When he first started working at SMRT, he never imagined that his responsibilities would expand to cover so many different areas within public transportation.
However, he soon learnt that building a career in transit requires him to constantly step outside of his comfort zone. Even his very first posting to trackworks was unexpected.
“I’m an electrical engineer by training, so I thought I would be posted to something related to that,” he recalls. “But trackworks is a mechanical engineering or civil engineering job.”
In hindsight, Mr Kuah now sees the value of being placed in different departments within SMRT.
His various roles have given him a more comprehensive idea of the scope of the network’s operations, not to mention the entire public transport industry. Every new stint grants him new perspective and adds to his ever-growing knowledge and skills base.
This exposure has also proven to be useful in his current role as director of signal and communications maintenance on the North-South and East-West Lines. Here, he oversees and manages the daily maintenance, operations and business processes for signal and communication matters on the line.
“As a director, my job is also about process and people development. I am dedicated to equipping our team with the necessary skills for their current positions while also preparing them for future career advancements in the industry, especially as they take on greater responsibilities,” he says.
As new technologies emerge and Singapore’s rail network expands rapidly, the public transport industry is presenting unprecedented and exciting opportunities that extend beyond traditional engineering roles.
The Singapore Rail (SGRail) Industry Scholarship provides an avenue for those with a passion for trains, engineering, technology and transport to be part of the talent pipeline and contribute to the evolving rail industry.
Awarded and managed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the scholarship offers individuals a well-rounded experience as an engineer in both the public and private sectors. Through a structural developmental programme that includes various postings to both LTA and the public transport operators (SBS Transit Ltd or SMRT Corporation Ltd), the SGRail Industry scholars will hone deep rail engineering domain knowledge in areas such as rolling stock, signalling, power, permanent way, communications and control systems.
“The industry is constantly evolving,” observes Mr Kuah.
He adds that the responsibilities not only involve rail expansion but also upgrading and replacing ageing infrastructure.
“Aside from working under the guidance of experienced professionals and leveraging innovative technologies, SGRail scholars will have the opportunity to broaden their skill sets beyond mechanical and electrical engineering, delving into areas such as digitalisation, data analytics and artificial intelligence,” he says.
“The SGRail scholars will have the potential to shape the future of public transportation. It is a journey that empowers you not just to make an impact but to leave a lasting mark on Singapore’s transit systems.”