by Nicholas Yong and Wan Ting Koh
Despite many commuters being caught unawares of the disrupted train services on Sunday (10 December), the first of two planned full-day closures of 19 MRT stations kicked off with few issues.
At Jurong East MRT station, a heavily used intersection of the East-West and North-South Lines, a steady stream of commuters approached crowd marshals and SMRT staff for help. Many of them appeared to be foreign workers and seemed confused as to why the station was closed.
One such person was domestic helper Jessie Liwag, 43. Poring over a flyer with information on the shuttle bus services made available in lieu of train operations, she told Yahoo News Singapore that she was meeting three friends and planned to go to Ang Mo Kio Station in the afternoon.
“My friend told me about the shutdown last night when she found out I’m coming to Jurong East. Most of the time, I take the MRT, I don’t take the bus often,” said Liwag.
From 8 December till the end of 2017, 17 East-West Line (EWL) stations, from Tiong Bahru to Tuas Link, and two North-South Line (NSL) stations – Bukit Batok and Bukit Gombak – will close at 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and open at 8am on Saturdays and Sundays.
These stretches will also be fully closed on 10 and 17 December, which both fall on a Sunday. During the affected hours, shuttle buses will be provided along affected stations.
The full-day station closures are meant to allow SMRT engineers more time for track-side maintenance and renewal works, as well as to facilitate re-signalling operations on the EWL.
Large crowds cleared quickly
The first night of reduced service hours went off smoothly on Friday. On Sunday morning, crowds built up at the shuttle pick-up points but were also quickly cleared out, with at least two buses waiting at any one time.
Four shuttle bus services – heading towards Joo Koon, Outram Park, Tuas Link and Choa Chu Kang – were offered at Jurong East station, spread over four pick-up points located some distance from one another so as to avoid congestion.
According to media reports, over 400 staff and crowd marshals had been deployed in shifts to assist commuters. Signs were also put up in multiple locations to direct commuters to the shuttle bus pick-up points.
One common gripe among commuters Yahoo News Singapore spoke to was the increased travel time caused by having to take the shuttle buses instead of the trains. For instance, the bus ride from Jurong East to Outram Park took about an hour as opposed to the usual 30-minute train journey.
“The four stops took half an hour, when it usually takes about 15 minutes by train,” said administrator Cherry Chia, 29, who boarded a shuttle bus to Jurong East from Choa Chu Kang.
“Normally if I go to Queenstown I take 45 minutes from Choa Chu Kang,” said Chia. “(Today) is a bit more troublesome because I have to change shuttles. I was taken by surprise by the closures but I can find the shuttles quite easily.”
Logistics worker Alif Rashid, 33, and his colleague Syazwan, 22, were also caught off-guard by the shutdown, and only found out about it when they arrived at Jurong East station that morning. Instead of their usual 30-minute train ride to their workplace at Marina Bay Sands, the duo planned to take the Service 97 bus – which meant a journey of up to an hour.
Rashid explained that the pair wanted to avoid taking the shuttle bus to work as taking it would mean having to change buses.
“I will be reaching work much later than usual, so I will have to wake up earlier (in future). We are just hoping that after all this, the train service will be much better. If it’s the same, then I don’t know what to do,” added Syazwan.