With our first-rate infrastructure and interconnected public transport system, it is easy to see why many have lauded Singapore as one of the easiest countries to travel around in. This is due in large part to LTA's visionary work in planning, operating, and maintaining Singapore's land transport infrastructure and systems.
One noteworthy feature of Singapore's transport network is our cohesive Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), which connects commuters to every corner of our country via numerous operating lines. The newest addition to our MRT – the Downtown Line (DTL) – aims to make travelling even more convenient along Singapore's central, north-western and eastern regions.
We recently had the chance to speak to Project Engineer Thomas Shawn Christopher Laight, one of the key people involved in the DTL's final phases of development. The LTA scholar recounts his experiences en route to LTA and how the organisation has helped pave the way for an energising career. He also shares about his dynamic job scope and how you can follow in his footsteps!
On The Right Track
Shawn's academic journey is rather different from that of other scholars. His success story began in ITE College, where he undertook a Nitec in Mechanical Technology. Following that, he enrolled into Singapore Polytechnic to pursue a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. Determined to stay on the engineering path, Shawn took to the BrightSparks portal and found the LTA Scholarship.
After being conferred the LTA Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship in 2011, Shawn jetted off to University of Sydney to pursue an Engineering (Mechanical) degree. With LTA's continued support, Shawn then went on to join a Master's programme in Railway Systems Engineering and Integration in University of Birmingham.
On his unique route, Shawn says, "I didn't go through a typical route, but the long way meant that I actually started learning from the ground up. I had plenty of hands-on experience in ITE College, where I spent most of my time working with equipment. On the other hand, my tertiary and undergraduate education featured a mix of hands-on work and component level theory. Then, it was through my postgraduate programme that I gradually gained system level knowledge. The true advantage of my journey is that today, I am able to see things in a complete picture."
Paving The Road To Success
Funding one's undergraduate and postgraduate education is part of how LTA extends its support to scholars. For Shawn, his education abroad had expanded his world view and provided him with newfound insights. He had the opportunity to visit a town called Wirksworth in the north of Birmingham, where he and his course mates were tasked to build a railway track. "We physically carried and assembled the parts, like how people did in the old days! We also visited several train depots to learn about the different challenges and considerations when building railways. Such experiences instilled in me an international perspective of railways beyond the local context," shares Shawn.
Another way that LTA supports and grooms its scholars is through internships. Shawn had the opportunity to undergo five internships in a span of several years. His first internship had been with the Human Resource department, where he worked on refining the scholarship process and explored ways to attract more scholars. Thereafter, he was attached to Rolling Stock, where he was involved in the testing and commissioning of the DTL1 trains.
His next internship with Rail Services saw him observing the different aspects of MRT stations, including air ventilation and fire detection. Returning to Rolling Stock for his fourth internship, Shawn then rounded up his internship experience by learning about train control in the Railway Signalling department.
Thomas Shawn Christopher Laight
LTA Overseas Undergraduate Scholar
Powering Your Journey
Today, Shawn is a full-fledged Project Engineer in the Rolling Stock department, where he is spearheading the development of the DTL3 trains. "We've been conducting plenty of train testing in a bid to rectify teething issues. Ultimately, we want to ensure safe, reliable and efficient trains for the public," says Shawn.
With the New Rail Financing Framework, LTA is now charged with continuously building up, replacing and upgrading all operating assets. Shawn explains, "As we own the assets, we want to make sure that everything is good and up to standard. Seeing the MRT's vital role in the everyday lives of Singaporeans, it's important for us to keep improving our train systems. To do this, we gather plenty of feedback from train operators about any difficulties they face. Every day is a learning experience for us!"
Adding to the dynamism of his job, Shawn will soon travel to Qingdao, China for two months to oversee the manufacturing process of the new Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL). The TEL aims to connect residents in the east and those situated along areas such as Tanjong Rhu, Siglap, Marine Parade, Upper East Coast and Bedok South, to the heart of the city. He shares, "We always have a team of LTA officers stationed in the country where our trains are being built. Instead of surrendering the process to the manufacturers, we supervise them and provide our input to ensure that the trains adhere to LTA's standards."
Working Through Challenges
Train disruptions have caused quite a stir amongst commuters in recent years, and LTA has inevitably faced considerable pressure to address these issues. To this end, LTA officers work tirelessly to ensure that trains can operate smoothly and efficiently. "The only time to do repair and maintenance works is from 1 to 4am. Some LTA officers have even done signalling works every night of the week.
"Other countries like Australia or the UK might have the flexibility to close a railway line for weeks or months, but we don't have that luxury. We are definitely working within our constraints and doing the best we can," says Shawn earnestly.
If you are keen on experiencing the challenges and rewards of a career in LTA, Shawn looks forward to welcoming you on board! He imparts some sage advice, saying, "Just be yourself during the scholarship interviews. At my first interview, I turned up in sneakers, jeans and a shirt, while everyone else was donned in formal attire. Being true to myself has gotten me to where I am today. On top of that, LTA values innovative thinkers who are not afraid of expressing their ideas and amplifying the voice of the people. As civil servants, we should work with the interests of the public at heart."