Vincent Tan (SMRT)

A personal dialogue with
Mr. Vincent TAN
Senior Vice President, Engineering & Projects, SMRT Trains Ltd
SMRT Corporation Ltd.



  1. Could you tell us your experience working in the field of public transport? How many years of total experience you had in the field? Your current job and some previous job background?
    [Mr. Tan] “I joined the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation in 1985 during the construction of the MRT system, and novated to SMRT Trains Ltd when passenger service commenced in 1987.  Having seen through the startup of the first MRT network in Singapore, I rose through the ranks to head Rail Operations Division, and subsequently the Projects and Maintenance Division.  Currently, I am responsible for the Rail Operations and Corporate Services Group, which also includes the Health, Safety, Security & Environment; Procurement & Logistics; and Infocomm & Organisation Excellence Departments. I am a board member of Bus-Plus Services and SMRT Light Rail.”
  2. What makes you believe in public transport? What role you see in “Public Transport” and its link to the society, to environment, and to the economy? From a city/country point of view, what is the most critical factor that helps/refrains the development of public transport?
    [Mr. Tan] “Singapore is an island state of just over 700 square kilometres with a population 5.4 million.  With limited land for road space, it is just not feasible for too many residents to own private cars.  Being highly urbanised, it works well for various public transport modes.  In particular, the mass rapid transit system forms the main backbone in providing mobility to the population, bringing them to work, to school, and to places of leisure.  Singapore has benefited from a highly coordinated urban planning process, which ensures land use and development goes hand in hand with public transport infrastructure development.”
  3. UITP practices the belief of “Grow with Public Transport”. How does it relate to your current role? How relevant is that to the business strategy of your organisation?
    [Mr. Tan] “When the MRT commenced operations in 1987, the population of Singapore was 2.7 million.  Standing now at 5.4 million, the population has doubled.  Likewise, the MRT network has expanded from an initial 67 kilometres and two lines, to about 180 km and five lines, three times the original distance covered.  The Government is looking at doubling this to 360 kilometres by 2030.  Singapore’s rail network has grown and will continue to grow. SMRT Trains is poised to bid for the concession to operate the new lines, leveraging on its many years of local operational, engineering and maintenance experience.”
  4. During your many years of work in the field of public transport, what had been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? What are the learning other organisations can learn to make the development of public transport better?
    [Mr. Tan] “After enjoying relatively smooth operations for 25 years, SMRT encountered two major disruptions in quick succession in December 2011.  These incidents pointed to the inadequacies in our incident management, and were a timely wake-up call to the condition of our ageing assets.  As the public inquiry into the incidents was proceeding, we reviewed and revamped our response procedures, and took measures to accelerate the renewal and upgrade of assets and infrastructure.  We initiated many programmes and initiatives, working closely with the regulator and minimising the impact to day-to-day operations.”  
  5. UITP is an association connecting all in the sector – authority, operator, industry supplier, academic and institute. How do you use UITP to help grow your idea and ambition in the development of public transport?
    [Mr. Tan] “Our Chairman of the Board and our CEO have made it a point to attend the biannual UITP World Congress and Expo since 2005 to stay connected with international partners, and keep abreast of the latest offerings in transport technology and innovation.  We are also involved in many of the working groups and programmes of UITP. Through the networks established, there are always exchanges and open sharing of best practices, challenges and solutions besides technology watch.”
  6. What would be the one phrase you give as a piece of advice to those young talents who want to devote their energy in the public transport sector?
    [Mr. Tan]The reward of a career in public transport lies in the knowledge that you have provided mobility to people and that you are part of an essential service to millions who ride your network every day.  You make a difference to their lives.  You help your company achieves its vision, and in the case of SMRT, it’s “Moving People, Enhancing Lives.”


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