Joo Koon train collision: Could train driver have stopped in 10 seconds?

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Alvin Kek, SMRT Trains’ senior vice-president for rail operations (NSEWL) explains the timeline of events leading up to the Joo Koon train collision on 15 November. Also picture are Chua Chong Keng (left), LTA’s deputy chief executive officer, and Ngien Hoon Ping, LTA’s chief executive. (PHOTO: Nicholas Yong / Yahoo News Singapore)

The driver of an MRT train that collided with a stationary train at Joo Koon station did not have sufficient time to “react and respond”, and the incident was not down to human error, said top officials from rail operator SMRT and the Land Transport Authority on Tuesday (21 November).

With 36 metres separating the two trains at Joo Koon station, the driver had just 10 seconds to react when his train began accelerating at a speed of 18kmh towards the stationary train.

“We assess that within these 10 seconds, it would be very difficult and challenging for the train captain to understand what is happening,” said Alvin Kek, SMRT senior vice-president for rail operations (NSEWL). He was speaking at a joint SMRT-Land Transport Authority (LTA) press conference on Tuesday that addressed the latest findings surrounding last week’s train collision at Joo Koon MRT station.

Kek added that the stationary train was in “manual” mode, which meant that its driver needed time to move the train off, while the second train was in “auto” mode. The train drivers are also taught that there is always a protective “bubble” around the trains – a feature that ensures that trains keep a safe distance from one another.

LTA chief Ngian Hoon Ping added that the incident was a result of “two unrelated and not probable incidents happening at the same time”.

The first train had already encountered an “abnormal condition” that disabled its first protective bubble from the time it left Ulu Pandan Depot to make its westbound journey. Later, when it passed an incompatible trackside device at Clementi, the train’s second protective bubble was also disabled.

“What Thales had not anticipated was that (the second bubble) then became disabled because of that incomplete modification at a specific point in Clementi,” said Ngian.

At the same press conference, French conglomerate Thales, the signalling system’s supplier, apologised for its part in the incident.

Asked if Thales had run a new signalling system alongside a legacy system in other countries, Patrick Bauchart, vice-president and global project manager for the NSEW project, said that this was a “very usual” means of assessing the robustness of its system.

“This is the first time we have faced such a situation (of protective bubbles dropping),” Bauchart added.

When asked if LTA would be taking legal action against Thales or seeking compensation, given that it was the second rail incident involving the company since June, Ngian would only say that the agency had taken note of the incidents and that an investigation is underway.

A “very large” team from Thales has also been flown in from Canada and France to help with assessing the new signalling system.

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