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Rail industry veteran shares insights on new tech tools and opportunities in the sector
By Mary Wu
Industry veteran Lee Yam Lim has been involved with numerous developments at SBS Transit, including the start-up of both the North East Line and Downtown Line. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

SGRail scholars can help make our rail network safer and more efficient through data and innovations, he says

Even after having worked in the same industry for over two decades, Mr Lee Yam Lim still has fire in his belly.

The 52-year-old engineer says what keeps him going is a strong sense of mission to ensure that rail lines are safe and reliable for commuters who take more than five million rides a day.

With a bachelor’s degree in computer technology, Mr Lee is a registered chartered engineer in railway engineering accredited by the Institute of Engineers in Singapore. He was appointed head of rail engineering for the Downtown Line (DTL) at SBS Transit in October 2019, and as of May 2022, also took the helm as head of the DTL. He joined the company in 1999. 

“Thanks to the quick evolution of technology, I have personally seen system improvements to the lines that we manage. We are now one of the best public transit systems in the world, but we must continue to improve,” notes Mr Lee.

Since the first Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations opened in 1987, Singapore’s rail network has expanded and recorded many firsts. For instance, the North East Line – which was built using the latest technology and engineering techniques of its time – was the world’s first fully automated underground MRT line when it launched in 2003.

Another notable engineering feat was the temporary diversion of the Singapore River during construction to facilitate the linking of the Fort Canning and Chinatown stations as part of the DTL, which reaches out to residential areas such as Bukit Panjang, Bukit Timah, MacPherson and Bedok Reservoir.

Early detection

Compared with the early days, Mr Lee says rail engineers and workers now have more advanced tools at their disposal. However, staying curious while prioritising safety and reliability for commuters remain important.

“Curiosity keeps your mind going. When you stay curious, you will want to know more and learn more,” he says. “You also need to know what your objective is. You must be prepared to work nights, get your hands dirty because we need to go into the tunnel environment, and step up when you need to.” 

Mr Lee likens the maintenance of the rail network to taking care of one’s body; staying healthy is an ongoing process. That is where technology can help with predictive maintenance and condition monitoring. 

Citing the example of a new battery monitoring system that automatically captures and uploads data into a file, he says staff can easily extract and analyse the data to detect early signs of deterioration in battery cells, as compared with manual testing previously.

There are also applications of data analytics in the sector these days. These include monitoring water pump activity in underground tunnels; accurately identifying the type of regular train maintenance that needs to be done; and optimising energy consumption of trains using sensors. 

Embracing new ideas

Mr Lee is encouraged by the new generation of rail engineers he is mentoring. Among them are bright young minds who are on the Singapore Rail (SGRail) Industry Scholarship

“I like their initiative, their interest to learn, their curiosity and their ability to find solutions,” he says. 

He is inspired by the ideas they bring to the table to explore new ways whereby the safety and efficiency of the rail industry can be improved.

He shares that dedicated and talented engineers are required to support our extensive system and the expansion of our transport network with new rail lines, and with SGRail Industry Scholarship, SGRail scholars will be able to participate in the ongoing infrastructure projects.

In terms of career development, SGRail scholars are on an accelerated career path and can request a rotation to different departments. There are also secondment opportunities with LTA.

“When the SGRail scholars join us in this industry, they should know that it is more than just a career. This is a family with whom you work and develop yourself,” says Mr Lee.

Accelerate your growth
The SGRail Industry Scholarship offers an excellent opportunity for scholars to take the first
step in your journey to build and shape the future of the rail industry. As SGRail Industry scholars, you will be exposed to projects in the Land Transport Authority, and SBS Transit Ltd or SMRT Corporation Ltd through a structured developmental programme.

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