EX CEO defends SMRT’s maintenance regime at COI

Chua Yini

Train operator SMRT had wanted to conduct further checks after the first major train disruption on 15 December last year, but had instead resumed services at the prompting of the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

This was what former SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa said, when she testified at the public inquiry into the train breakdowns

She added, however, that she was unaware if the intention to stop services for more checks was communicated to the LTA.

Taking the stand on the 18th day of the public inquiry, Saw revealed she was at a company awards ceremony when the breakdown occurred. She stayed back while the senior management left and updated her on further developments.

According to Saw, she was informed that the situation “was under control” at about 9pm and the sagging third rail had also been secured.

Just half an hour later, she received a call from Mr Khoo Hean Siang, the executive vice-president of trains, who advised her to rest the train system as it would be “better to do a more complete check”. 

Despite that, SMRT resumed train services at about 11.40pm at LTA’s request. However, Saw admitted that she was not aware if Khoo’s concern had been relayed to the regulator as she was not in direct contact with LTA.

“I can only say that the communication given to me was that we were instructed by LTA that we should start service as soon as possible,” said Saw, who was on the stand for close to five hours.

During this time, she also told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) that there were no maintenance issues with SMRT’s trains; that the train parts are “upgraded continuously” and “changed in accordance to the time of wear and tear” on a regular basis.

“If there is any need to upgrade, anything in the system, it would have been,” she added.

Saw also listed reasons for the spike in train faults.

First, she revealed that the newly-installed platform screen doors did not always work in sync with the signaling system and faults were caused due to delays or misalignments.

New trains were a source of bugs, she said.

In addition, the signaling system was under significant stress due to the high frequency of trains and wet rails caused by rainy weather.

The COI also referred to an incident during the 15 December breakdown, where passengers were stranded in a train without lighting and ventilation after the emergency battery expired before its 45-minute limit.

It also questioned Saw about the time SMRT took to evacuate passengers from the train, which added up to more than one hour.

In response, Saw said that the evacuation took so long as the decision to “de-train” passengers from the tunnel was a last-resort decision, after they failed to transport the faulty train to another station.

“The processes in place, protocols in place were necessary,” she said.

Meanwhile, SMRT was hit by another delay during the morning peak hours on Thursday. A train fault on the East-West Line between Joo Koon and Jurong East stations at about 8.30am caused passengers to be delayed by up to 30 minutes.