Ex-SMRT engineer jailed 4 weeks over accident which killed two trainees

Former SMRT employee Lim Say Heng (in white). Yahoo News Singapore file photo

A former SMRT Trains officer that led a team onto the train tracks near Pasir Ris station, resulting in the death of two trainees who were killed in a train collision in March 2016, was jailed four weeks on Monday (12 March).

SMRT Trains assistant engineer Lim Say Heng, 48, pleaded guilty to one charge of causing the deaths of the trainees on 22 March 2016 through a negligent act by failing to ensure that the necessary safety measures were in place and prevent the collision.

Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 25, and Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, died when a train slammed into them as they were heading to the fault, some 190 metres from the Pasir Ris station platform.

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said that there was no denying that the “0/0” protocol, which prevents trains from freely entering the tracks during track inspection, was a “critical safety protocol” that was the “last line of defence”. Lim’s failure to impose it was the “most direct” cause of the fatal accident, he added.

Lim, who worked in the Signal department of SMRT Trains, had been employed by SMRT since 1999. He had led inspection teams on train tracks on numerous occasions and acted as the person-in-charge since 2003. After investigations into the accident, he was dismissed by the train operator.

He now works as a technician with a manufacturing firm to support his two schooling children and wife, who is employed as an operator.

The trainees were part of the team of 15 SMRT employees who were deployed to inspect a fault detected on the track between Pasir Ris station and Tampines station on the East-West MRT line on the day of the accident.

Lim failed to communicate clearly with two technical officers on the activation of the “0/0” code before leading the team onto the tracks during operating hours.

When one of the technical officers radioed the team to warn them of an approaching train, no acknowledgement was given to the officer.

The technical officer then shouted at the team to get off the track and Lim managed to jump off. But the two trainees, who were immediately behind Lim, could not react in time before the train hit them.

The train driver, who only spotted the team just before the collision, was unable to stop the train in time despite applying the emergency brakes.

The prosecution sought a jail term of at least four weeks for Lim.

Deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Anandan Bala said that Lim’s “negligence and dereliction of duty” led  to the death of the two trainees.

“None of this would have happened if (Lim) had done what he was supposed to do – take the simple step of checking that the (0/0) code was imposed prior to accessing the track,” said the DPP.

Lim’s lawyer, Lee May Ling, sought a fine of $10,000 for her client.

Lee said that even though Lim was the person in charge, he was not alone in failing to follow safety protocols.

“In an environment where the employees had to organise themselves to come up with ‘ad-hoc’
procedures for the sake of their own safety, there is a very real possibility of confusion, miscommunication and human error,” she said.

Lee said that Lim had the “mistaken belief” that safety protocols were in place and did not check whether there were safety arrangements in place before he stepped onto the tracks.

The lawyer also added that Lim’s annual final “safety” appraisals were fully met or exceeded between 2006 and 2013.

An SMRT Trains director, 41-year-old Teo Wee Kiat, was fined $55,000 for safety lapses in September last year while SMRT was fined $400,000 in February last year breaching the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

For causing death by a negligent act, Lim could have been jailed up to 2 years.

Related stories:

SMRT director fined $55,000 over death of two trainees on MRT track

SMRT Trains and two men charged over fatal track accident

SMRT fined $400,000 for safety lapses in Pasir Ris fatal accident