SMRT ‘very sorry’ for MRT breakdown

Disruption, which hit 127,000 commuters, caused by a section of misaligned third rail that supplies power

THE five-hour disruption on the North-South MRT Line on Thursday started with four trains stopping in the tunnel, leaving 127,000 commuters stranded – 4,000 of whom were stuck in stuffy carriages.

SMRT Corp president and CEO Saw Phaik Hwa apologised for the lapse at a media briefing yesterday.

‘Many commuters are unhappy at the moment. There is nothing more to say except that we are very sorry,’ she said. ‘We apologise for the considerable inconvenience, especially to those who were uncomfortable in the stranded trains.’

The disruption started at 6.47pm and was caused by a 40-metre section of misaligned third rail between Dhoby Ghaut and City Hall MRT stations.

The third rail, which supplies power, damaged the collector shoes of the four north-bound trains and caused them to stall – two at Dhoby Ghaut station, one before Orchard station and one at Braddell station.

SMRT immediately despatched its engineers who took an hour to rectify the fault, said SMRT Trains executive vice-president Khoo Hean Siang.

The service could have been restored by 9pm, but Ms Saw said that to ensure safety was not compromised SMRT staff had walked from one station to another to inspect the third rail.

The train services resumed at 11.40pm. Stations from Marina Bay to Bishan were affected by the breakdown.

Three of the stalled trains were eventually pushed out, while the passengers of the train at Dhoby Ghaut had to be evacuated on foot, but not after enduring stifling conditions with only ventilation but no air-conditioning.

When asked why commuters had been left onboard, SMRT said it preferred to get the train moving again in such a situation.

‘As far as possible, we try not to detrain passengers and try to move the train to the nearest station,’ said Goh Chee Kong, SMRT Corp’s senior vice-president of communications and services.

Ms Saw said the cause of the misalignment was still being investigated but ruled out ageing infrastructure because the listed company undertakes strict routine maintenance and regular overhauls.

‘We can’t ascertain why it happened because it’s never happened before,’ she said.

SMRT said a confluence of factors complicated ‘a complex situation’. There was the peak-hour congestion as well as the severity of the problem.

Although 300 off-duty staff were activated to help deal with the crisis, and 87 buses deployed as part of a bus bridging service, SMRT has been hit by a deluge of brickbats from the public for its response to the breakdown and a lack of communication to commuters.

In response, it said it was difficult to gauge exactly how much information was relevant or accurate, and that the train operators and station staff had to balance communication with system reset work.

Ms Saw reserved comment when asked whether she or senior management would take responsibility for this episode and recent disruptions by resigning, although she did say she would consider it if necessary.

Thursday’s train disruption came one day after an early-morning breakdown on the Circle Line.

In October, the North-South Line and East-West Line were also affected by faults on two occasions, with the latter occurring during the evening peak period.

SMRT is the bigger of Singapore’s two rail operators. It runs the North-South and East-West MRT Lines, as well as the recently fully opened Circle Line with a total network of about 126km, compared with SBS Transit’s 40km.

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