19,000 stranded by SMRT third train delay on 20 Jan 2014

SINGAPORE – About 19,000 passengers were affected when train services on the North-South Line were disrupted for more than an hour during the morning rush hour yesterday -€” the third delay to hit transport operator SMRT in less than a week.

The latest incident, which began at about 8.10am due to a train fault and ended around 9.46am, caused scores of commuters to be late for classes and work. A group of passengers had to wait inside a train that stalled 500m from Ang Mo Kio MRT Station for more than 30 minutes before they could eventually disembark.

SMRT also had to close most of the fare gates at Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Yio Chu Kang MRT stations to prevent more commuters from pouring into the stations and crowding the already packed platforms.

Yesterday’s disruption followed a 46-minute delay at the Bukit Panjang LRT line on Sunday, and delays on Jan 16 and 11 which lasted about 2.5 and 1.5 hours on the East-West Line and North-South Line respectively.

Speaking at a press conference to explain yesterday’s incident, SMRT President and Chief Executive Desmond Kuek said the recent breakdowns were unrelated, but they remained a serious concern.

SMRT staff and engineers have been working hard to reduce such incidents, he said, noting that train withdrawals are down from 3.3 per 100,000km last year to around 2.2 now. “We are targeting to bring down the withdrawal rate even further this year, to possibly below two per 100,000km,” he said.

The latest breakdown came four days after the Public Transport Council (PTC) announced a 3.2 per cent fare hike from April 6 for public train and bus services. When asked how SMRT would justify the hikes in view of the breakdowns, Mr Kuek said SMRT had applied for the fare hikes due to rising costs of maintaining a safe and reliable transport system.

Calling the timing of the breakdowns “most unfortunate”, he said the decision to raise fares was made by the PTC in view of fare affordability for commuters and operational costs needed to keep the system reliable and safe.

The Land Transport Authority said an investigation will be conducted. “Given the inconvenience to commuters, the LTA has directed SMRT to provide a full report on the incident, including the recovery measures carried out, and an assessment on what more could be done to help commuters adjust their travel plans,” it added.

The disruption began when a signal fault occurred at about 8.10am, said SMRT Vice-President of rail operations Alvin Kek. The fault activated the automatic train protection and service brakes, causing a southbound train to stall about 500m from Ang Mo Kio station.

A train behind the stalled one, which had left Yio Chu Kang MRT Station before the incident, pushed the affected train to Ang Mo Kio MRT Station so passengers could alight.

About 1,800 commuters alighted from the stalled and working trains at 8.54am and 9.13am respectively. Some commuters boarded the free bus and shuttle services that had started at 8.30am, while others took another train to continue their journey.

Ms Daisy Tan was among those on the affected train when it stalled abruptly after leaving Yio Chu Kang MRT Station.

“People were pressing the emergency button,”€ the 42-year-old said, describing the conditions in the train as “€œvery hot and stuffy”€ as the air-conditioning had stopped.

She also recalled there was a jerk when the second train made contact with the stalled train and began pushing it slowly. Although she did not see anyone fall, she felt a warning announcement should have been made before the two trains made contact.

Postgraduate student Tay Xiong Sheng was half an hour late for his class due to the delay. He had boarded the train at Woodlands, but took the shuttle bus after he heard SMRT announcing the service delays.

The 28-year-old felt directions to the shuttle buses could be made clearer as fellow commuters felt lost when looking for these alternate forms of transport.

He said: “€œThe coordination wasn’€™t very good. We were walking in loops to find the shuttle bus.”

It was unforunate the incident happen just one week after the PTC announced the transport cost will be increased by at least 3% for commuters.

Maybe we should really think about nationalising the transport network in Singapore.

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