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Inferior composite wood used for 188,000 sleepers of Singapore’s MRT train which can hardly withstand the crushing weight of trains and result in train derailment

Was inferior composite wood used for MRT sleepers?

August 5th, 2013 |  Author: Editorial

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On 14 May 2013, ST reported that SMRT and LTA will accelerate a programme to replace timber sleepers on the ageing North-South and East-West lines to improve the resilience of the rail network in Singapore (‘LTA, SMRT to accelerate sleeper replacement on North-South and East-West lines‘). It said that SMRT aims to replace all 188,000 timber sleepers on the North-South Line by 2015, and on the East-West Line by 2016. On Saturday (3 Aug), SPH’s bilingual news and entertainment portal (www.omy.sg) published an interesting article [Link] claiming the timber sleepers have been discovered to be made of sub-standard wood. The article claims to have heard from an insider in the wood industry. It seems that some company has bought or otherwise acquired the old MRT timber sleepers (i.e. the timber sleepers that are to be gradually replaced by 2015 in the case of the North-South Line and 2016 in the case of the East-West Line). The company wants to cut these timber sleepers into smaller pieces to manufacture other products. As the sleepers used for the Malaysian railway line can last for decades with no decay, the company quite fairly assumed the sleepers used for our MRT network to be of similar quality. However the company was shocked when it cut the sleepers. They found that they are not made of hard wood at all. They are in fact made of composite wood. Furthermore, the wood has decayed. Apparently the company is not so much concerned about the loss of their investment in the “timber” sleepers as they are that such inferior wood has been used as sleepers for Singapore’s rail network. The lousy sleepers made of composite wood can hardly withstand the crushing weight of trains. If enough sleepers disintegrated, the rail would sink. That would split the track and signals would be interrupted. Train derailment might result. Maintenance staff replacing the wooden sleepers on the train tracks near Clementi MRT station. Rail operator SMRT and rail authority LTA will accelerate a programme to replace so-called timber sleepers on the ageing North-South and East-West lines to improve the resilience of the rail network. (ST Photo)

The article posed a number of questions to LTA:

1. Does the Govt know about this? Is it the reason SMRT and LTA want to change the sleepers?

2. Who purchased the inferior sleepers?

3. Was this the cause of the intermittent signal interruption problems in the MRT network in the past?

4. Was the slowing of our trains due to the realisation that the tracks are lined with inferior sleepers?

5. Is it a misunderstanding? In other words, are there in fact no problems at all with the sleepers? Read more of this post

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The Finances of Serious Illness; For people facing a grim diagnosis, finances are often the last thing they want to talk about. But they shouldn’t be

August 4, 2013, 4:55 p.m. ET

FUNDAMENTALS OF INVESTING

The Finances of Serious Illness

For people facing a grim diagnosis, finances are often the last thing they want to talk about. But they shouldn’t be.

LISA WARD

It’s the news no one wants to hear: a diagnosis of a dire, possibly fatal, disease. As questions about life and death naturally overshadow everything else, financial planners and advisers say, it’s common for people in this situation to let their finances fall to the wayside. Nevertheless, they say, coming up with a financial plan, which may involve making changes to your investment portfolio, is crucial to achieving the best possible outcome for patients and their families. Here are some pointers from advisers on how to handle the financial impact of a serious illness. Read more of this post

Monogamy’s Boost to Human Evolution; Fossil records suggest that by sticking around and protecting and feeding their offspring, early men paved the way for the growth of the human brain

August 2, 2013

Monogamy’s Boost to Human Evolution

By CARL ZIMMER

“Monogamy is a problem,” said Dieter Lukas of the University of Cambridge in a telephone news conference this week. As Dr. Lukas explained to reporters, he and other biologists consider monogamy an evolutionary puzzle. In 9 percent of all mammal species, males and females will share a common territory for more than one breeding season, and in some cases bond for life. This is a problem — a scientific one — because male mammals could theoretically have more offspring by giving up on monogamy and mating with lots of females. In a new study, Dr. Lukas and his colleague Tim Clutton-Brock suggest that monogamy evolves when females spread out, making it hard for a male to travel around and fend off competing males. Read more of this post

How to Teach Your Children About Investing; Have them invest in companies they understand

August 1, 2013, 10:42 a.m. ET

How to Teach Your Children About Investing

Money pros tell how they introduced financial concepts to their own kids

APARNA NARAYANAN

Financial advisers spend lots of time explaining investing principles like diversification, compounding and dollar-cost averaging to clients. But how do they explain these investing fundamentals to a more personal audience—their kids, and at what ages? When money matters become part of the dinner-table conversation, raising investment-savvy kids can be as simple and painless as filing a 1040EZ. Here are some tips from financial professionals to parents on how to teach their children about investing. Read more of this post

Stop ‘Branding’ and Improve English’s Reputation

Stop ‘Branding’ and Improve English’s Reputation

By Alex Marshall  Aug 2, 2013

In 16th-century England, Thomas Gresham formulated what is now known as Gresham’s law, which stipulates that bad money drives out good. Paper money tends to circulate more freely than silver, and silver more freely than gold, because people hoard whatever type of money is seen as best. It’s why we spend those torn dollar bills first. I have no problem with this. It might even be a good thing, because it expands the money supply and credit. But I do have a problem when a similar dynamic takes over language, as bad, bureaucratic, bulky and bothersome words drive out simple, short, clear and good ones. Read more of this post

A bond-fund manager who retired last year wanted to leave before the difficult bear market for bonds that she sees ahead

August 4, 2013, 4:55 p.m. ET

Bond Manager Wanted Out Before the Bear Arrives

MICHAEL A. POLLOCK

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Margaret Weinblatt and her husband traveled to China last year.

For successful financial professionals, the toughest decision sometimes is when to quit. The bond-market outlook made the choice easier for Margaret “Didi” Weinblatt, who retired in 2012 after a dozen years as a bond-fund manager at San Antonio-based USAA Investments. Ms. Weinblatt fears that fixed-income investors generally now face a very difficult bear market in bonds as the Federal Reserve eventually pares back its economic stimulus. “Your fund might do well relative to other funds, but when the bond market goes down, all funds could go down,” she says. “That can be very stressful for a fund manager.” Ms. Weinblatt, who is 69, worked in funds management for nearly three decades. At USAA, she managed the $4 billion-plus USAA Income fund and the $500 million USAA Government Securities fund. The funds rank, respectively, in the top quarter and top third of their Morningstar Inc. MORN +0.60% categories for the past decade—performances that she says resulted from “being careful to not take on too much risk.” The Income fund’s only stumble during her tenure was a negative 5% return in 2008. Read more of this post

Dying out? China’s young shun family firms, giving first-generation owners fewer exit options

Dying out? China’s young shun family firms

Wed, Jul 31 2013

By Lavinia Mo

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Dai Yintao, 21, is the only son of the millionaire owner of Chinese real estate, pharmaceutical and mining companies. He has no interest in taking over his father’s business, opting instead to work on a building site in Guiyang in Guizhou province, arriving each day in a Porsche. “I work here because I don’t want to take money from my father,” Dai says. “Freedom means everything.” As China’s first-generation entrepreneurs hit retirement age, more than 3 million private businesses will have to deal with succession issues in the next 3-8 years, according to data from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. This is not unique to China, of course, but it poses particular risks in a country where there are few professional managers, and families are reluctant to hire outsiders anyway for fear they will take control of the business. Domestic acquisitions and private equity involvement are also rare, giving first-generation owners fewer exit options. Read more of this post

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