Train breakdowns in Singapore cause for concern

by Sumita Sreedharan

SINGAPORE – As three separate investigations into the train breakdowns last month get underway, some steps have already been taken to ensure that the operators and agencies are “better prepared” in case of another major disruption.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew told Parliament yesterday that these measures will improve public communication, bus bridging services and coordination between the relevant bodies.

To address the lack of information for affected commuters during disruptions, the SMRT Operations Control Centre (OCC) will broadcast directly to passengers on stalled trains. “This will provide those most affected by a disruption with more timely and accurate updates,” Mr Lui said in his ministerial statement.

He added that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is also working with the operators on having emergency announcements in languages other than English.

Noting that SMRT had set up a Twitter account after the first disruption on Dec 15, Mr Lui said that the LTA and the operators are also exploring the use of “mass SMS broadcasts to alert commuters to service disruptions”. Detrainment procedures have also been made quicker, he said.

The LTA has also reviewed SMRT and SBS Transit’s bus bridging plans, including improving the signage for evacuation routes and bus bridging points. Instructions for bus drivers of bridging services have also been relooked and an officer will be deployed to every bus convoy whose drivers may be unfamiliar with the route.

According to Mr Lui, the LTA is also working with the operators “to improve contingency plans … including a more integrated and holistic approach to incident management and service recovery”. For example, the LTA is working with the SMRT to allow commuters to travel free on its bus services that serve affected train stations. This arrangement is being explored with both operators “so that affected commuters can continue their journeys on either operators’ bus services for free, regardless of which line is disrupted”, said Mr Lui.

Coordination among operators and public agencies has also been enhanced: Communications protocol has been “streamlined” so that LTA, the police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) “can be alerted more quickly, if assistance is required”. The authorities are also “reviewing and refining response protocols and emergency procedures with the operators”, said Mr Lui.

In response to a suggestion by Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah for more bus services to run parallel to the MRT lines, Mr Lui said the use of these services – there are currently two – has been “disappointing”. Mr Lui noted that on the day of the second disruption, affected commuters turned to the train services immediately after they were restored, instead of taking the parallel bus services which were provided free.

Mr Lui added: “Based on the two services we run today, it really has pretty low ridership and have not been successful.”