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    Oct 17, 2016

    Drive to hire more rail engineers

    SINGAPORE is short of almost 1,000 rail engineers, as it strives to improve service standards while rapidly expanding the rail network.

    Public transport operators SMRT and SBS Transit, together with the Land Transport Authority, have been stepping up efforts to make the job more attractive - including higher salaries, better training and more opportunities for promotion.

    Still, many Singaporeans are put off from joining the profession, said the operators.

    The manpower shortage has had some impact on operations, they acknowledged.

    Rail reliability has been a grouse since December 2011 when two breakdowns on the North-South line left tens of thousands of commuters stranded.

    More recently, a two-hour breakdown on the North-South and East-West lines during the evening peak period in July last year affected more than 200,000 commuters.

    This is even as the MRT network here is slated to double by 2030, with 360km of tracks criss-crossing the island.

    There is also the High Speed Rail project linking Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, which is expected to be ready by 2026.

    "Globally, there's a railway engineer crunch," said SMRT human resources vice-president Madelene Lee, adding though that SMRT has managed to double its number of rail engineers since 2011 to more than 400, of whom 95 per cent are Singaporeans and permanent residents.

    But it still needs about 700 more over the next three years for maintenance of its operations, which currently include the North-South, East-West and Circle MRT lines, in addition to the Bukit Panjang LRT.

    Its competitor SBS Transit hopes to hire 100 more engineers and technicians over the next year to work on its North-East and Downtown MRT lines, as well as the Sengkang and Punggol LRT lines.

    The LTA website listed more than 80 rail engineering-related positions, with a quarter of those vacancies (26) related to the High Speed Rail project.

    Earlier this year, SMRT announced a slew of initiatives aimed at improving services and increasing staff strength.

    These include a pay raise of at least 5 per cent for rail maintenance line managers, and tying a greater percentage of bonuses to how smoothly trains run.

    However, many factors still deter jobseekers from joining the profession. As maintenance work on train lines here is conducted only after the lines end operations for the day, this means late hours for engineers.

    More lucrative pay also attracts engineers elsewhere.

    The median gross salary for engineering graduates from universities here ranges between $3,200 and $3,700 monthly.

    This, however, pales in comparison to more lucrative sectors such as banking, to which many engineers often switch to midway in their careers.

    There, they can expect to be paid at least 30 per cent more.