SMRT apologises after massive three-hour train breakdown

Passengers crowd outside the Dhoby Ghaut MRT entrance to the North-South Line after security officers had blocked the escalator following a massive breakdown during the evening rush hour Tuesday (Photo: Cassandra Wee)

Train operator SMRT has apologised after a massive train disruption during the evening rush hour Tuesday (8 July) shut down the North-South and East-West Lines for over three hours.

In a press conference late Wednesday morning, SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek apologised to commuters and those who were affected by Tuesday’s train breakdown. CEO of the Land Transport Authority, Chew Men Long, said that staff have been working overnight to establish the cause of the incident and assured that such checks would continue.

However, SMRT managing director of trains Lee Ling Wee said that the train operator is still “not 100 per cent sure” of the root cause of the matter.

SMRT said on Facebook at 10:33am Wednesday morning that trains on the affected lines are running “on normal weekday schedule at full speed and normal peak-hour headway”.

Free bus and train services offered to commuters ceased at 12pm Wednesday, given that operations are back at normal.

“We are continuing to run full train services on the North South East West line with caution and are investigating further into the cause of the power tripping,” said SMRT.

“We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused by the disruption.”

The apology comes on the heels of one of the worst train breakdowns in Singapore and the first affecting both the North-South and East-West lines, the two oldest lines in the MRT system.

At around 7:15pm Tuesday evening, SMRT suspended both lines after receiving multiple reports of power trips from 6pm onwards. In a statement, the operator said engineers had initially succeeded in solving this but “the frequency and impact of power trips intensified”.

According to SMRT, the East-West Line came back up at around 9:20pm, with the North-South Line resuming service at 10:35pm. Many commuters were left inconvenienced from the train breakdown.

IT professional John White said to Yahoo Singapore that he boarded the train at 7pm Tuesday at Tanjong Pagar station and was headed for Orchard. After switching lines at Raffles Place interchange, his train did not move away from the station.

It was only after two announcements were made five minutes apart from each other that the train had stopped as there was another train ahead, that an announcement was made at around 7:25pm that the train service was suspended due to technical difficulties.

Irate customers were seen jostling for buses at the bus stops adjacent to the affected train stations. At the bus stop outside Velocity Square in Novena, Yahoo Singapore spotted many people queuing for buses and taxis.

Madam Phua was on an affected train in Raffles Place and said that commuters in the train had only decided to leave when the lights in the train were beginning to be turned off. The train had docked at the platform at that time.

Another affected passenger in her early 50s, who declined to be named, had waited for a taxi at the Plaza Singapura taxi stand for close to an hour and said she was “frustrated” at the incident, insisting that SMRT has to take steps to rectify the matter.

“I don’t know how long more I have to wait here,” the passenger said. She had wanted to travel to Admiralty and decided to forgo rushing for the free bus service made available to affected passengers.

A statement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said “preliminary investigations found a faulty train which could have caused the power to trip; arcing was observed on the underside of this train”.

This power surge caused the activation of protective relays on affected lines, leading to a power shutdown. In reply to comments on LTA’s Facebook page asking for more information, the page said, “We’ve narrowed down the possible causes of the problem, and we’re in the midst of rectifying the faults discovered. Do allow us more time to ascertain the situation definitively.”