SMRT engineer Brandon Chew tells Andy Chen he wants to make an impact on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line

As an engineer at SMRT, on top of what must be a challenging job, you probably get a lot of questions from people you meet about the train system here, don’t you?

It is natural that most of them will start asking me about the breakdowns. I will explain to them the situation and how our staff are working hard behind the scenes daily to ensure smooth operations and further boost the trains’ reliability. Most of them are satisfied with my explanation of the technical challenges.

Are you a dedicated train-spotter who had wanted all your life to work in the train system?

Actually, I studied aerospace engineering at Nanyang Technological University. But when I joined SMRT in 2016 as an engineering and management associate, I wanted the chance to be part of a new MRT line. So when SMRT won the contract to operate the TEL and I was given the opportunity to be part of the team, I was very delighted.

Now I am part of the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) signalling projects team, which looks into the Computer-Based Interlocking (CBI) section of the system, which ensures the safety of the railway.

It would give me a great sense of achievement to be involved in a project from the start to completion in 2019, when the TEL is scheduled to open in stages.

So one does not need to study railway engineering to be an engineer in SMRT?

Having studied aerospace engineering provided me with foundational knowledge in engineering, even though it is not quite related to my current role in the signalling department. In collaboration with the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, SMRT supports the learning and development of railway engineers through the SMRT Train Engineer Professionalisation (STEP) programme. This gives engineers like myself structured grounding in railway engineering and leadership fundamentals.

The learning curve is steep, but I am glad to be learning new things about the train system every day. The trains’ signalling system is very complex, and it took me a while to learn and understand how it works and the logic behind it. Initially, I was unfamiliar with all the terms that were used; along the way, I just got better. Everything started to make sense eventually.

What do you like best about the job?

The job has exceeded the expectations I had when I first joined the company — it is not as boring as I had thought it would be.

Engineering can be a little boring when you are studying it, so I thought that working as an engineer would be similar. But working is not like study- ing, especially at SMRT, where we solve real-world problems, draw up plans, and have face-to-face interactions with many different parties.

I feel I can make an impact on how the TEL will actually be like when it is up and running. I can see concrete results of my work. It is not just theory. If the project phase, which is what I am doing now, is not done properly, it will affect the future operations and maintenance of the line.

Many of us working on the TEL are motivated to do our jobs because we are part of a project that has a nation-wide impact and will improve the lives of millions of commuters.

Do you find yourself paying extra attention to trains and stations whenever you commute after joining SMRT as an engineer?

Yes. When I was in Tokyo and Taipei on holiday, I took note of their trains, metro staff, stations, and how they were different from Singapore. I was quite impressed with the efficiency in Japan. There was a brief delay when I was at one station and the staff moved very quickly to resolve the problem.

Subconsciously, I have been paying more attention to trains whenever I am commuting. My girlfriend pointed this out to me.

Could you name us three things you love about Singapore’s train system?

Cleanliness, efficiency, and frequency, especially when compared to the trains in some cities in Europe, where I was travelling when I was an exchange student in Poland. The service quality of the staff in Singapore is excellent, too.

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