​Speech by NTU President Professor Subra Suresh at the Official Opening of the SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Lab

Published on: 29-Aug-2018

Welcome Address By

Professor Subra Suresh
President, Nanyang Technological University

Official Opening Ceremony of the 
SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory

Reality Theatre, Research Techno Plaza
50 Nanyang Drive, Singapore 637553
Nanyang Technological University
Wednesday, 29 August 2018, 11.00am

Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance and Chairman of NRF,

Mr Seah Moon Ming, Chairman of SMRT Corporation,

Ms Yong Ying-I, Permanent Secretary for National Research Development, Prime Minister's Office,

Professor Low Teck Seng, Chief Executive Officer, NRF,

Mr Neo Kian Hong, Group Chief Executive Officer, SMRT Corporation,


Ladies and Gentlemen, 

A very warm welcome to this official opening of the SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory, which was actually established two years ago.

The corp lab focuses on smart urban rail technologies, which engages with key aspects of engineering including maintenance, advanced end-user satisfaction, comfort and safety, and to advance the innovative rail technologies for society.

This joint lab addresses one of the key factors faced by all modern societies like Singapore – transportation, an important contributing factor to urban and environmental sustainability, quality of life, traffic congestion, productivity and many more. We are not just talking about airplanes, cars or buses, but trains and rail networks which form the backbone of a modern competitive economy.

With almost 5.7 million people living in a very small land area, an efficient rail system is crucial in ensuring a liveable and sustainable environment in a society. As our population continues to increase, we will face new transportation challenges, which will require new technologies and methods to resolve or mitigate many challenges that people face. Many other urbanised cities worldwide and particularly in Asia are rapidly developing their rail infrastructure to overcome public transportation challenges. 

NTU’s partnership with SMRT established two years ago outlines our mission to take public transportation to the next level by creating a strong pipeline of innovative rail technologies through rigorous research, development and deployment. The SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory provides a common platform where NTU researchers and SMRT engineers can work together to push the boundaries of rail technologies. I am pleased to know that the SMRT-NTU team have already embarked on 13 research projects with four of them ready for field trials. At least one of the innovations is already being tested in a train since June this year.

In other corporate labs, where we call research projects as part one or part two, since this is a rail corporate lab with SMRT, we call them track one and track two. So track one focuses on eliminating problems before they occur, while track two focuses on enhancing reliability of existing rail assets. In track one, here are some research activities where every attempt is made to deploy them as quickly as possible to benefit the public. 

Advanced accelerometers for vibration monitoring, which ensures commuters have a comfortable ride, 3D printed sensors for health monitoring of mechanical power transmissions, improved fault identification of train door response, automated wheel and axle defects inspection, non-contact RF induction technology for the third rail inspection, and thermo-acoustic sensing for track and joint inspections. So in the area of re-manufacturing of worn assets, we have issues like wear characterisation, brake failure analysis, and stress and vibration prediction. The technology has moved to such an extent that I think it is very important for an advanced system like SMRT to deploy the latest in technologies.

Some of the projects involve the development of innovative sensors, which aim to improve rail resiliency while others will enhance and streamline operations and maintenance processes. For example, special condition-monitoring systems that can detect early signs of faults will allow potential issues to be addressed quickly and accurately. Another example is the development of systems, which uses precision assessment methods and enhanced analytical tools. This will not only improve key rail components’ durability and longevity, but also ensure that they operate at optimum levels.

The lab will also develop core competencies and nurture engineering specialists to tackle future national transportation challenges and develop innovative transportation solutions that can be used globally. As a university, it is our mission to groom future talents for academia, government and industry, and this objective is part and parcel of a corporate lab. It will create an interdisciplinary platform, training over 100 undergraduates, 35 graduate students and 60 researchers, across a broad range of specialisations.

NTU, a leader in transportation research and innovation

NTU is no stranger to test-bedding the latest technologies as our beautiful campus is a hotbed of cutting-edge innovations. Under the NTU Smart Campus initiative, the university aims to be a model for other communities in Singapore and beyond by demonstrating how advanced tech-enabled solutions can help improve everyday life in a sustainable manner. From artificial intelligence, to autonomous mini-buses and ultra-fast charging electric vehicles, NTU is playing a leading role in transportation research excellence and innovation. 

All this is made possible through our strong ties with leading industry and government partners such as SMRT, Volvo, BMW and BlueSG, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, to name a few. We take pride in our industry connections as it ensures that our research remains relevant and helps to resolve problems faced by industry and society. Of course, many of these joint ventures are possible because of the strong support of Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF), which continues to encourage public-private R&D partnerships between universities and leading companies. 

I wish the new SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate lab every success in their journey to develop advanced technologies that will benefit the end-user, and pave the way towards enhanced rail efficiency and reliability that all Singaporeans can look forward to.

In closing, I also want to emphasise that NTU is not only a technological university; it is a comprehensive research university that takes research innovations to market as quickly as possible. In fact our College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences is the second largest college at NTU. So given the importance of arts, humanities and social sciences, as President of NTU, I will not be doing my job if I just focus on technology. 

Rail travel and railways have played an important role in creating wisdom, proverb, poetry, and art around the world. There are many common sayings: in the US, the driver of a train is called an engineer, where we in Singapore take it as a compliment. There is a common proverb which says that you can't tell which way the train went by looking at the tracks. This shows that what appears to be what is true may not necessarily be so. If you missed an opportunity in life, there is another saying that goes: The train has left the station. These are all common sayings which are not about trains themselves.

There are also mystery novels about trains: Murder on the Orient Express, and many more. Let me just close with a poem, that imparts a lot of wisdom based on trains. There is a famous poet who is a polymath, a Danish mathematician, and is also a popular designer, who wrote poetry and played a very active role in the resistance movement in Denmark during the Nazi occupation in Europe. The late Piet Hein, wrote short poems which the Danes call, Grooks. He energised the country especially during political times through his poems which not only looked beautiful, but gave a lot of wisdom and by reading deeply into it, the poems offered symbolism. So I would like to finish my speech with this Grook, written by the late Piet Hein:

It ought to be plain, how little you gain
By getting excited and vexed
You will always be late for the previous train
and always on time for the next.

Thank you.

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