MRT breakdowns debated in Parliament

I was one of the 127,000 commuters affected by the MRT breakdown on the night of 15 December 2011. After waiting for more than seven minutes to take the northbound train home, I decided to go up to station control to find out what was going on.

I was one of the 127,000 commuters affected by the MRT breakdown on Thursday night. I arrived at City Hall station at about 7pm, after knocking off from my work at Raffles City Tower, and found a huge crowd assembling on the station platform. After waiting for more than seven minutes to take the northbound train home, I realised that the LCD display on the platform was stuck at “Train arriving in 4 minutes”. I decided to go up to station control to find out what was going on.
A small crowd had gathered around the station master, who told us that train service from Marina Bay to Orchard (later Braddell) had stopped and it was going to be “a long, long time” before service would be restored.
I discovered later from the news that I had missed—by mere minutes—being on one of the four trains that got stuck on the northbound train. I ended up taking a big detour to Jurong East station and then north to my home in Sembawang. It took me three times longer than normal to reach home.
My experience was a mere inconvenience. But for the 4,000 passengers who were stuck for over an hour in the four packed trains with no lights, air conditioning or proper ventilation, it must have been a thoroughly traumatic experience. A photo circulating the Internet of a smashed train door window—an attempt by commuters to get some air to breathe—paints a vivid picture of how serious this train breakdown was. At least two commuters were hospitalised because of this incident.
While we only hear of train breakdowns in the news when there are massive disruptions like this, regular commuters will attest that there are many more “track faults” and slowdowns than are reported in the news.
In the 10 years that I have been taking trains daily along the North-South line to work, I have never experienced such poor quality of service as I do nowadays. Apart from massively overcrowded trains, every few days I would find myself in a stalled train in between stations, with a pre-recorded announcement repeating over and over again in the four official languages: “This train will be delayed because of a track fault. We are working on restoring the service soon. We apologise for the inconvenience caused.”
Oftentimes, the air conditioning is not working properly, and the vents are blowing out warm air onto a crowd of commuters packed like sardines. I have lost count of how many times I have written to SMRT to inform them of a broken down air conditioner.

I was one of the 127,000 commuters affected by the MRT breakdown on the night of 15 December 2011. I arrived at City Hall station at about 7pm, after knocking off from my work at Raffles City Tower, and found a huge crowd assembling on the station platform. After waiting for more than seven minutes to take the northbound train home, I decided to go up to station control to find out what was going on.

The station master told me that train service from Marina Bay to Braddell had stopped and it was going to be “a long, long time” before service would be restored. I discovered later from the news that I had missed—by mere minutes—getting on one of the four trains that got stuck on the northbound train. I ended up taking a big detour to Jurong East station and then north to my home in the north. It took me almost three times longer than normal to reach home.

My experience was a mere inconvenience. But for the 4,000 passengers who were stuck for over an hour in the four packed trains with no lights, air conditioning or proper ventilation, it must have been a thoroughly traumatic experience. At least two commuters were hospitalised because of this incident. One passenger had to break the train window just to get in some ventilation.

While we only hear of train breakdowns in the news when there are massive disruptions like this, regular commuters like myself will attest that there are many more “track faults” and slowdowns than are reported in the news.

This was confirmed today in Parliament by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew during his Ministerial Statement on the MRT disruptions and the subsequent questioning by MPs. He said that in 2007, there were 213 service disruptions lasting more than 5 minutes, and this figure had increased to 271 in 2011.

In response, I asked the Minister why the Committee of Inquiry (COI) that he convened was only looking into the incidents on the 15th and 17th of December, and not the 269 other incidents that occurred in 2011.

My WP colleague, Mr Yaw Shin Leong (MP for Hougang), asked why our MRT train windows do not have emergency ventilation panes built in, like in the Hong Kong MTR. He asked if LTA intended to require this feature for future train deliveries.

Mr Low Thia Khiang, Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Muhd Faisal Abdul Manap (MPs for Aljunied GRC) also posed questions to the Minister during the hour-and-a-half question time following his Ministerial Statement.

I will publish the Minister’s replies once the official Parliament transcript is released next week.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

2 thoughts on “MRT breakdowns debated in Parliament”

  1. Yaw Shin Leong posed good question, to have built-in vent panes. I have a better suggestion. Place a Hammer at convenient locations so passengers can readily “break glass in emergency.” Good idea, hoh? Hammer should be yellow colour so can be easily seen in the dark.

  2. Agreed, it is a good suggestion. SMRT should have an evacuation plan written and to train their staffs on how to react when there is breakdown. All the operators should be trained to react and manage any form of situation and informing the passenagers on what to do or orgainse them. But again have to ask why do the train breakdown? What is the reason and the finding? Why there is no safety and investigation regulatory or standard within SMRT? There should be regulatory where SMRT has to submit a report on the finding of failure and their action within a limited period prior to incident. Not limited to reviewing the compliants and future improvement. This should have been the governing body to legalise any public services.

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