MRT tunnel flooding: Quarterly maintenance of anti-flood system not done for almost a year

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
A water pump at he Bishan storm water sump pit, part of an anti-flood system. (PHOTO: Land Transport Authority)

UPDATE: The Land Transport Authority has responded to SMRT’s preliminary findings on the anti-flood system at Bishan MRT 

Preliminary investigations into the causes of the massive North-South Line (NSL) disruption in early October have revealed that quarterly maintenance works for the anti-flood system at Bishan MRT were not properly conducted.

While the maintenance records for the works – which were due in December 2016, March 2017 and June 2017 – were signed off and submitted, no track access approvals were issued for the dates to allow the works to be done. These findings were revealed in an SMRT statement issued on Tuesday (31 October) evening.

“Further pump records for the same dates show that the pumps were not activated on the stated maintenance dates, which would have been required as part of the maintenance procedure had the work been actually done,” said the statement, referring to the pumps meant to clear excess water so as to prevent the train tunnels from flooding.

The manager and staff responsible for the maintenance of the Bishan anti-flood system have been suspended and are assisting in investigations, said SMRT, adding that it will be “working with the Union to ensure due process is followed”.

“SMRT has zero tolerance for failures in supervision and diligence over maintenance tasks. We do not condone any acts of dishonesty and dereliction of responsibility, whether by management or staff. All who are accountable will be disciplined sternly, regardless of rank and position,” said Seah Moon Ming, chairman of SMRT Corp and SMRT Trains.

In response to the SMRT’s statement, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that it was “deeply concerned” by the train operator’s findings and will independently evaluate them.

“LTA is carrying out a full investigation into the incident and will make its recommendation on the penalties to the LTA Board in due time,” LTA said, according to a report by Channel NewsAsia.

As the regulator, LTA said it “views breaches of all rail operating licences seriously”, adding that it will boost checks on SMRT’s maintenance audit and inspection regime.

At a joint SMRT-LTA press conference on 16 October, reporters were told that the Bishan system was last inspected in June, and had been due for an inspection on 18 September. This was pushed to 12 October, as the maintenance team said they could not get a slot for track access.

SMRT’s top management apologised for the 7 October disruption, which affected some 250,000 commuters, and pledged to do better. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also  lambasted the SMRT personnel in charge of anti-flooding measures at Bishan MRT, saying that they had “failed us”.

In the statement on Tuesday, SMRT said its investigation team will be completing and submitting its full report soon.

In seeking to correct “weak links”, it will implement a series of measures including engaging third-party experts to step up the inspection and maintenance of critical systems along with “intensifying training to establish a higher work responsibility and excellent culture within frontline peer groups”.

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