SMRT to review procedures, investigate outage: CEO

Faris Mokhtar

SMRT chief executive officer Saw Phaik Hwa said she would personally look into ensuring there would be no repeat of the massive train disruption on Thursday evening that left thousands of passengers stranded.

In a press briefing on Friday afternoon, Saw apologized to commuters and acknowledged that more could have been done to manage the outage better.

“As the CEO of SMRT, I want to personally offer our sincere apologies to the commuters, and we will conduct a full investigation and share our findings with the public when it’s ready,” Saw said, adding that lessons from the incident would be noted and no effort would be spared to make sure such chaos arising from the outage would not happen again.

“I personally feel it’s very important and will personally look into improving our incident management plan procedures, especially in the areas of giving timely and better information as well as crowd management in both our stations and in the trains,” she said.

An estimated 127,000 commuters were affected by the breakdown on Thursday that saw parts of the North-South line closed during the peak-hour traffic due to a fault on a power rail.

Many of the passengers took to social media sites to complain about the lack of communication and poor handling of the situation by SMRT. At least one woman fainted and some passengers broke a train window for air.

Yet to identify main cause of disruption

The publicly-listed transport operator has yet to pin-point exactly the cause of the latest service disruption, the second in as many days, but pointed out two plausible reasons.

SMRT’s vice-president of rail operations Lui Wai Meng explained the breakdown could have been caused by the misalignment between current collector shoes – equipment that carries electricity – and the third rail near the Dhoby Gaut station.

The third rail supplies electricity that is then carried by the current collector shoes for the trains to function. Each side of the train is equipped with 12 current collector shoes.

Initial investigations showed some of the current collector shoes on the right side of the trains were missing and that about 40-metres of third rail were dislodged from the hangers between City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut stations, he said.

“Is it caused by the current collector shoes that ripped off the third rail or the misalignment of the third rail which ripped off the current collector shoes,” he said, adding that investigations are still ongoing to determine the exact cause.

Due to the fault, the services of four trains heading north from Marina Bay to Bishan were disrupted. While the first three affected trains which stalled near Braddell and Orchard MRT stations were pulled to nearby stations as they were relatively within close distance.

Meanwhile, SMRT staff evacuated commuters out of the train which stalled near Dhoby Ghaut and guided them to the station, officials recounted.

Lui said that 42 staff were sent down to repair the damaged third rail while 60 of its staff went to check on the alignment of the current collector shoes of the four trains.

Routine inspection conducted

On whether SMRT conducts routine inspection of its rail components and trains, Lui highlighted the alignment of the third rail is checked at least once a week while the alignment of the current collector shoes are checked every three weeks – the latest being last Sunday.

When queried about complaints that some of the train carriages were in darkness, senior vice-president for communications Goh Chee Kong said that when a train breaks down or the power is cut to facilitate detrainment, emergency lighting and ventilation is turned on.

However, he said that the ventilation is not air-condition and lasts up to 45 minutes, though as the train cabins were crowded commuters might not have felt it.

“But we do understand some commuters complained it was very dark, so we are investigating to find out what happened,” said Goh.

SMRT said that its standard operating procedures to evacuate passengers also kicked in immediately although it acknowledged there were gaps in communicating with passengers.

Goh said that around 300 staff who were not working at that time were activated to assist with crowd management but said that information management could be improved. He and the company’s top executives, including the CEO, also headed down to oversee the situation, he said.

SMRT takes full responsibility

When asked about calls for her to step down, Saw said customers have the right to make judgments, and she would consider resigning if it is necessary but would reserve her opinion on the issue for the time being.

Public anger continues to mount over disruption in train services. The latest incident comes two days after the Circle Line service was delayed by up to 40 minutes.

While declining to reveal the company’s exact losses suffered, Saw emphasised that the standard operating procedures are also revised annually and after every incident to see where they can improve on. The latest review was conducted 3 to 4 months ago, she added.

She also underscored the importance in ensuring safety of its passengers and maintenance of its vehicles and operation system.

“We have to take responsibility and we are truly sorry about this. I am very, very sorry about this because I understand how difficult it is for a custome to instead of take half an hour or 45 minutes to go home to be stuck there for a few hours,” she said.