Signalling system supplier Thales apologises for Joo Koon train collision

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Chua Chong Kheng (left), LTA’s deputy chief executive officer; Ngien Hoon Ping, LTA’s chief executive; and MIllar Crawford, executive vice president for ground transportation systems at Thales (PHOTO: Nicholas Yong / Yahoo News Singapore)

Thales, the French conglomerate supplying the new signalling system for the North-South and East-West MRT lines, has taken “full responsibility” for its part in last Wednesday’s (15 November) train collision at Joo Koon station that injured 38 people.

“I want to take the opportunity to apologise to the commuters whose travel, as a result of this accident, was disrupted. But more important than that, (to) the commuters who were injured in this accidents I want to give my full wishes for a final and speedy recovery,” said Millar Crawford, Thales’ executive vice-president for ground transportation systems, on Tuesday (21 November).

All but one of the passengers have since been discharged from hospital, with one remaining under observation for neck and back pains.

The accident took place when a software glitch unexpectedly disabled a safety feature on the train that was hit as it passed a trackside device at Clementi. The train, which stopped to detrain passengers at Joo Koon station, was later hit by another train behind it as the latter had misread the size of the first train due to the disabling of the aforementioned feature.

Train services between the Joo Koon and Gul Circle stations were suspended as of Monday amid further checks on the new signalling system that is currently in place along the Tuas West Extension.

Crawford, who was speaking at a joint SMRT-Land Transport Authority (LTA) press conference on Tuesday, added that Thales is fully cooperating with the other latter organisations in a “deep and meaningful” examination of the event and is taking on “full responsibility” for its part in the accident.

Last Wednesday, LTA deputy chief executive officer Chua Chong Kheng had suggested that Thales would bear the blame for the signalling issues that led to the collision.

“We are looking to Thales in terms of the solution, and also to convince SMRT and (LTA) that the system is safe… We will work as a team but, primarily, the responsibility for the signalling safety is with the supplier,” said Chua.

Keeping things separate

According to Crawford, the “unexpected condition” which led to the Joo Koon collision was a result of the interface between the legacy signalling system and the new Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC) system that Thales is working to implement along the East-West Line (EWL).

Currently, the EWL operates on the older signalling system between Pasir Ris and Joo Koon stations, while the Tuas West Extension (TWE) – running from Gul Circle to Tuas Link – runs on the new CBTC system.

As of 16 November, the signalling system of the TWE has been “completely separated” from that of the EWL in order to reduce complications from operatiing two different signalling systems concurrently on an extended line, said LTA chief executive Ngien Hoon Ping.

“This separation will continue until the EWL re-signalling works are completed next year. No trains with passengers will move between these two segments,” he said. This means that commuters travelling westwards through Joo Koon station will need to take a bridging bus service between Joo Koon and Gul Circle stations before continuing on their train journey.

Speaking at a doorstop interview after the press conference, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the separation was a “good decision” that would help ensure a “clean system” until the re-signalling works are completed.

“When we launched Tuas West Extension, we intended for it to be a seamless service. All the way from Pasir Ris to Tuas Link. On hindsight of course this introduced a lot of complications, because you have two stretches, each running on different signalling systems,” he said, adding that this also created a “challenging situation” for Thales.

“But still, Thales could have done better. They have acknowledged their mistake, they have apologised,” said Khaw.

Asked if the government would be seeking any compensation from Thales, Khaw said there could be some “contractual obligations” but would leave the matter in the LTA’s hands.

“Inevitably, (public) confidence will be shattered by events like this. What happened, happened so we just have to get it over with and regain the public’s confidence, which means it’s back to same old job: we have to raise reliability.

“As I told Singaporeans before, this is a multi-year effort. I gave myself four years, we are halfway through. If it weren’t for this incident, as well as the flooding incident, we were actually making good progress… but the re-signalling does add complications to all this,” said the minister.

Related stories:

Software glitch in signalling system led to Joo Koon train collision

38 injured as SMRT trains collide at Joo Koon MRT Station