No idea is too small at public transport operator SMRT Trains (SMRT). Even new staff have the same opportunities as veterans to make a real impact.
This was what executive engineer Haiqal Anwar experienced within the first two months of joining the Rolling Stock division at SMRT in July 2022. Though fresh from school, he was able to apply what he learnt and contribute to improving a key safety invention for trains.
With the help of computer-aided drawing and 3D printing tools, the 25-year-old worked with his teammates from the Preventive Maintenance unit to come up with a second iteration of a safety tool which is used to unlatch the train’s Current Collector Device (CCD) carbon shoe. The CCD works by transferring electricity from the power line to the train.
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The first version has already been implemented while the second version that Mr Haiqal had a hand in designing is in its prototype stage.
With the proposed tweaks, his iteration will enhance operational efficiency.
“I am glad to have had the opportunity to take part in this development and apply the knowledge that I had acquired in school such as Mechanics of Materials to help improve the design,” he says. “Our mentors and supervisors are supportive of us. They empower us to make incremental changes to workflow processes for efficiency’s sake.”
Singapore aims to expand its rail network to around 360km by 2030. This will be longer than what major cities such as Tokyo or Hong Kong currently have.
Today, about three million people in Singapore take the train every day. Mr Haiqal is now with the Preventive Maintenance team of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) that connects commuters between the north, central and eastern parts of Singapore.
Among other things, Mr Haiqal’s job responsibilities include improving Work Instructions (WI) – quick reference pictorial guides – so that ground maintenance crew can complete their jobs with more clarity and efficiency.
These WIs cover the checking of headlights, wheels and air-conditioning system to the annual gear oil change – which keeps the train’s gears lubricated so it can move smoothly – and replacement of the CCD carbon shoe when necessary.
Developing his expertise
Working alongside the ground maintenance crew, he collects their feedback and revises the WIs with clearer and more detailed steps, adding diagrams and photos where needed, and improving workflows.
Mr Haiqal studied aeronautical engineering at polytechnic. However, his fascination with the train system continued to grow over time, especially during the daily commute from his home in Tampines to Singapore Polytechnic in Dover. It him to apply for the mid-term Singapore Rail (SGRail) Industry Scholarship in 2020 and pivot to mechanical engineering for his bachelor’s at Nanyang Technological University.
“My intrigue and passion for the rail industry grew over the years,” he says.
“I thought to myself: How can we, the next generation of engineers, enhance the rail transport system for even smoother journeys?”
His passion deepened through a three-month summer internship with SMRT in 2021. Then, he was attached to the Rolling Stock Engineering department that serviced the North-South and East-West Lines. He visited the train depot and was exposed to other departments such as signalling, power systems and track maintenance.
He joined SMRT full time after graduation in July 2022.
Right now, Mr Haiqal is laser-focused on amassing practical hands-on experience to achieve his goal of becoming a chartered engineer in the next five to seven years. Having this formal recognition in the field of railway engineering will give him an edge in his career.
“Since secondary school, I have always been interested in understanding how mechanical systems work and how different sub-systems interact with each other,” he says.
Being on the Technical Specialist track means he can fully focus on delving into the various components of the train system, such as the propulsion system that moves the train and the air-powered braking system. It also means that he will be on the ground and have a deep understanding of the entire train system.
The SGRail Industry Scholarship also gave him the chance to work in both the public and private sectors of the rail industry. As part of the programme, Mr Haiqal will be seconded to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) for two years.
“Engineering is an exciting field as there are many opportunities for us to innovate and enhance existing processes,” he says.
“With the SGRail Industry Scholarship, you have the opportunity to gain perspectives from the transport regulator, and also contribute to a public transport operator – like me at SMRT – where you can play a part in establishing a world-class transportation service that is safe, reliable and customer-centric.”