Public anger mounts over train disruptions

Faris Mokhtar

In the aftermath of the breakdown of train services on the North-South line on peak hour Thursday night, commuters are still fuming over SMRT's handling of the situation.

Many passengers were left trapped in train carriages, prompting some to smash one of the cabin windows with a fire extinguisher to allow proper ventilation.

Members of the public lamented the lack of clear explanations given for the breakdown – which SMRT later attributed to a “power rail problem”.

In a comment, Yahoo! user Sengguan said, "Total failure of MRT system. I thought they have conducted drill(s) for such incident?"

Some users criticised how staff managed the passengers.

"SMRT's staffs' priority is to get the people out of the stuffy train as fast as possible; their concern should not be whether people are taking photos or not. Also when it is so obvious that train doors need to be opened for ventilation it should override the concern for so-called safety under normal circumstances. When will SMRT train their staff to get their priorities right?" Yahoo! user Richard G asked.

Plunged into total darkness, evacuated passengers relied on mobile phones as a light source to guide them through the tunnel onto the next station.

And even then, commuters remain stranded, trying furiously to hop onto already crammed buses while others valiantly tried to hail taxis.

In its updated statement on Friday, SMRT explained that the disruption was caused by a damaged third rail between Dhoby Ghaut and City Hall MRT stations. The faulty rail in turn damaged the collector shoes of four trains which caused them to stall.

It noted that its engineers were dispatched on site and repaired the fault by 9.52pm followed by a full inspection. Train services meanwhile resumed at 11.40pm.

The transport operator said that passengers who were unable to complete their journeys can file for refunds at the passenger service centre in any of the stations.

However, its lack of preparedness prompted commuters to question whether SMRT has any contingency plans up its sleeve, with the incident possibly being the worst train breakdown the country has seen.

Meanwhile, comments from readers flooded Yahoo! Singapore’s Facebook page to discuss the incident.

One reader, Nic Blessed, commented that the incident showed an underlying problem, the lack of public information on the transport operator’s contingency plans.

“I think (the) public deserve to know the various contingency plans if trains in tunnel caught fire, if terrorism strikes, if commuters faced blackout again in tunnels,” he said.

Another Facebook user, Fatin Farhana said, “The only mistake was that SMRT wasn’t prepared about faulty train. (It) focused more on terrorism but when train blackout and commuters started complaining, staff are actually angry and claim that it’s not their fault the train was faulty.”

Echoing the sentiments above, Gilbert Chua Yang Kai said, “The threat of unpreparedness is real and we may need to re-think our way of handling such situations.”

This was the second train disruptions in as recent days. Earlier on Wednesday morning, a total of 1,400 commuters on the Circle Line were affected by delays in train services due to a communication network problem.

In its press statement then, SMRT said train services were first disrupted at 6am due to a fault on the Circle Line between Marymount and One North MRT stations which is heading towards Harbourfront. Train services partially resumed by 6.40am and were only fully functional at 11.45am.

The recent train disruptions led to some calls for SMRT and its top honchos to be held more accountable for such incidents.