The Great Rail Meltdown: 2011 vs 2015

Jul 08, 2015 08.00PM |

by Abraham Lee

IN December 2011, Singapore experienced the worst train service disruptions in SMRT’s history. Yesterday’s disruption smashed the record set in 2011 by affecting more sections of the MRT line and thousands more commuters. Here’s a break down of the breakdowns, then and now.

 Dec 15, 2011Dec 17, 2011Jul 7, 2015
Time at which train service disrupted:6:47 pm6:44 am6:52 pm
Stations experiencing service disruption:Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Bishan station were affected.Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Toa Payoh station were
Services in both directions between Marina Bay station and Yew Tee station and, Redhill station and Changi Airport/ Pasir Ris station.
Number of commuters affected:127,00094,000250,000
How quickly service resumed:South-bound service from Toa Payoh station to Raffles Place
station resumed at 8.30 pm. Full service on the North-South Line resumed at 11.40 pm, about five hours after service was disrupted.
Partial north-bound service from Raffles Place station to Jurong East Station resumed at 8.29 am. Full train service on the North-South Line resumed at 1.53
pm, about five hours after service was disrupted.
Services on the East-West Line and the North-South Line resumed at 9.20 pm and 10.35 pm respectively, albeit at degraded service levels and reduced speeds, about 3.5 hours after initial disruption.
Cause of service disruption:Power failure due to a damaged third rail, which supplies power to the trains.Power failure due to misalignment between the trains and the power rail.

The later published COI report cited shortcomings in SMRT's maintenance regime and checks.
A power trip along the North-South line caused the entire network to shut down.

SMRT cited damaged insulation of two power cables along the North-South line, a faulty relay system at Kranji’s power substation, and a water leak close to the third-rail insulator at Tanjong Pagar station as possible causes of the power trip.

It was not clear which of these (if any) caused the power trip, at the time of publication.

The G commissioned a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to examine the sequence of events that led to the December 2011 disruptions, establish the causes and any other contributory factors, and to recommend ways to manage and minimise future such cases. The COI was also required to submit a report of its proceedings, findings and recommendations to Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

The COI summarised the immediate cause of the two incidents as: “…damage to their Current Collector Device (CCD) “shoes” due to sagging of the “third rail” which supplies electrical power to the trains. During both incidents, sections of the third rail sagged after multiple “claws” which hold up the third rail above the trackbed, were dislodged. With their CCDs damaged, the trains were unable to draw electricity from the third rail to power their propulsion and other systems such as cabin lighting and air-conditioning.”

It wanted the LTA and Public Transport Operators to undertake a holistic review of standard operating procedures so that stranded passengers would be able to get off their trains more quickly. The COI offered recommendations on engineering and maintenance issues, and incident management.

For example, SMRT was to examine the viability of using mass SMS alerts to provide updates more quickly during a disruption. Alternative bus services were slated to be increased to cope with passenger volumes while the option of providing free bus services for those at affected train stations should be explored. Also, agencies such as the LTA, the Police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, were to be alerted more quickly in future such crises. Transport Minister Lui promised that he will continue to improve and rebuild confidence in the MRT system.

Yesterday, traffic police could be seen directing traffic.

SMRT updated commuters on the train disruptions via Twitter and Facebook, at 7:16 pm and 7:39 pm respectively.

Free bus services were also provided. However, some of the free shuttle buses did not appear and miscommunication led to much confusion and chaos at bus stops.

SMRT was fined the maximum financial penalty of $2 million by the LTA for the December 2011 train service disruptions. In February last year, Parliament approved an amended Rapid Transit Systems Bill, increasing the maximum financial penalty from $1 million for every rail incident to 10 per cent of the train operator’s annual fare revenue.

Minister Lui was at Ang Mo Kio station observing train operations this morning. While there, he told reporters: “I don’t think another COI (Committee of Inquiry) is necessary. LTA and SMRT must focus on finding the root of the problem”.

The hope then is that LTA and SMRT will tell all, even without a COI, to cool commuter outrage. The more bloodthirsty will also be looking at how the LTA will act against SMRT, for deflating commuters’ hopes of better rail reliability, which it had boasted of at its own annual general meeting only yesterday.



Featured image by Daniel Yap.

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