26 defective Chinese-made metro trains have been shipped back to their manufacturer by metro operator SMRT in Singapore. The move is a blow to China’s focus on winning foreign contracts for its rapidly expanding rail industry. The story was broken by Hong Kong press agency, FactWire who first reported the trains were being secretly transported back to their factory in Qingdao and in true 2016-style the details unfolded over social media. Hairline cracks were found in the SMRT trains manufactured by CSR Qingdao Sifang Locomotive, a subsidiary of China’s main state-owned rolling stock company CRRC in late 2013.
The question of the delay between discovery and the return is now one of the key points of discussion. The story has developed over the past month and has put Hong Kong's recent huge rolling stock order with CSR Sifang under the spotlight and cast a sharper focus on Chinese rail growth, particular overseas.
The first group of 35 six cars, 26 of whom have now been recalled, first entered service in 2011, with a rollout of the rest across the following three years. Kawasaki Heavy Industries oversaw the project and design while CSR Qingdao Sifang handled the manufacturing and testing of the rolling stock. It was the first joint venture between these two companies in the international market.
Following the first FactWire feature on 5th July the news went viral around Asia and made a focus of the fact that this withdrawl of the trains had been kept secret, with the trains moved on trucks at 3am with police escorts.
In a responding statement made on the SMRT Facebook Page, the transit agency confirmed that; “Our engineers discovered that 26 of the 35 trains delivered by the manufacturer had cracks in the structure connecting the car body and the bogie after they were delivered in 2013. Since then, we have been working closely with the LTA and the manufacturer to rectify the issue. The defective trains, which are still under warranty, will be repaired by the manufacturer.”
This announcement was followed by the Singapore Land Transport Authority, also on Facebook who added; “The Land Transport Authority has been working closely with train manufacturer, Kawasaki Heavy Industries & CSR Sifang, on defects that were found on trains purchased under C151A. These defects, found on the train body are not safety-critical and do not affect the train’s systems or performance. The train manufacturer will be required to make good the defects as part of their warranty.”
The Singapore Ministry of Transport also released a statement on their Facebook reiterating the above facts and describing the cracks as “superficial” and “like those that show up on the walls of a new house.” They also confirmed that the rectification work will be completed in 2019.
The Financial Times reports a quote from CSR Sifang in response to the recall: “We are deeply saddened by this incident,” adding that the defect had been traced back to an aluminium alloy used during the manufacturing process. “This defect didn’t pose a safety risk and the vehicles can continue to operate,” the company added. “After discussions with our client, we took the initiative to offer depot repair for the defective vehicles.”
The recriminations of these manufacturing problems are now also being felt in Hong Kong where its own MTR Corporation has been criticised by some lawmakers for awarding a HK$6 billion contract for 93 new trains to the Chinese CRRC whilst knowing about the recall in Singapore. MTR has not taken delivery of any of the new trains from the Chinese manufacturer yet.
However, NeoDemocrat lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai has been highly critical of MTR in the South China Morning Post; “There is a big cover-up. Why did the MTR Corp still insist on allowing the mainland firm to be a bidder when it already knew about the faulty train problems? The circumstances are really unusual. It needs to give the public a detailed account,” he said.
This story is unlkely to go away anytime soon, the Today newspaper in Singapore makes the point that when MTR Corporation ordered their trains they were from material imported from Japan, different to those that were shipped to the SMRT. The editorial also urged the Transport Ministry to conduct a review of the entire public transport system, especially the MRT system, and defer the intention to take over the train operators’ hardware.
Editor's comment: As regularly covered in SmartRail World the huge Chinese state-owned rolling stock manufacturers have been aggressively pushing into markets in Europe, North America and the rest of Asia. They've experienced success with this. However, this unfolding story is likely to reinforce the concerns that some in the rail industry have expressed over the quality levels of Chinese manufacturing. Chinese bids for contracts are typically much lower than those from other bidders and these Singapore developments will ensure an extra focus on Chinese project delivery over the next few years.
Sim Wee Meng, Senior Group Director Rail, Land Transport Authority Singapore is a confirmed speaker at SmartRail Asia in Bangkok, 1st - 2nd December 2016, book your FREE ticket today for all the latest projects, contracts and solutions.
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