June 29, 2017

Authors Posts by Abraham Lee

Abraham Lee

Abraham Lee

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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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Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
An MRT passenger quietly grads some shut eye while waiting for the train to depart.

by Abraham Lee

MRT trains along the North-South and East-West lines ground to a halt yesterday evening at around 7:00pm due to a power surge that tripped the system. Chaos ensued as thousands of commuters found themselves stranded in trains or at stations, unable to go back home. The power failure along the two SMRT lines also affected those in other parts of Singapore as extra buses flooded onto the roads to pick up the slack from the grounded trains. Amid the mayhem however, Minister Chan Chun Sing called on all those affected to “pull together”.

There were those who offered to give rides…

…or refreshments to those stranded.

It was also heartening to see stories of gratitude, that gave a silver-lining to a difficult situation…

It took me more than an HOUR to return home and this is the behind story.😌 Today, MRT (metro) in Singapore had a problem (power shortage) so EVERYONE was trying to grab a taxi. I was around Chinatown and since there was no taxi, I decided to take any bus to Orchard first. (Yes! I took a bus alone! LOL) I asked some random guy at the bus stop bout the route and he was so NICE and HELPFUL. Afterwards, I went on the bus and asked the driver/uncle how much the fare was, and surprisingly, he just asked me to get in and sit, and I didn't have to pay. I don't care whether it is right or wrong for him to do so, but my heart felt so WARM. It is NOT about the money but his action. This uncle knew the situation about transportation shortage and was trying to help fix the situation. Isn't this just so PLEASANT? After exploring the city alone, I really feel that Singaporeans are so NICE and FRIENDLY and I like how they really think for their society/country. I was totally IMPRESSED. And this is definitely why Singapore is so strong n successful as one. Anyway, so I reached the taxi stand in Orchard and waited with other people. Thought it was a long wait, I actually had a good time chatting with some people there.😁 I am glad I extended my flight (was supposed to leave today) because I saw a different side of this beautiful country. Singaporeans should be proud of your own country.😉 Happy SG50! Viva Singapore!❤️ #Xander #Singapore #exploring #alone #bus #taxi #busstop #taxistand #homesweethome #tiredbutworth #eyeopening #impressed #SGsoShiok

A photo posted by Alexander Lee Eusebio (@xander0729) on

…and that we could turn the worst of situations into one that we could have a good laugh at.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget the tireless SMRT staff toiling away through the night to fix the problem and to ensure that commuters get home safely.

There were also others who expressed their gratitude for getting to work on time this morning…

and the free for train rides for those exiting stations on the North-South and East-West lines…


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by Abraham Lee

What is it about a train service breakdown that makes people so upset? Is it because they believed assurances that public transport is first class? Or because they realised that buying and maintaining a car had become too costly? Or maybe a combination of both – they’ve ditched their cars for public transport because the system is supposed to get better even as cars get more expensive?

It could well be the timing of the breakdown that adds to the temperature. Just when people are done with work and looking forward to getting home, the train slows down, stalls and they have to, to use an ugly term, “detrain”.

Facebook comment
A comment on The Middle Ground’s video upload on Facebook from a commuter who had been stuck on an affected train.

Besides being in a human jam with bodies reeking after a full day of work, you get conflicting instructions on whether the bus rides are really free as the train operator announced. And you argue with the bus driver who wants you to “tap! tap!”

You did think for a moment about switching trains until you realise that this wasn’t a breakdown involving trips along a few stations. The North South East West lines were all down, which means there’s no point going to any of the 50 stations that line the routes to board a train. This is a real rail meltdown.

A screen at Buona Vista MRT station displaying the stations affected by the disruption (Photo by Daniel Yap).
A screen at Buona Vista MRT station displaying the stations affected by the disruption (Photo by Daniel Yap).

You start asking yourself if this is too familiar a story. Was it that long ago when a Commission of Inquiry was held to investigate the two breakdowns in December 2011? But this is far worse. At that time, only NS line was affected. An estimated 127,000 commuters were affected by the service disruption on Dec 15. Two days later, about 94,000 commuters had to go through the same thing.

The breakdowns in 2011 were caused by defective fasteners which resulted in a sagging Third Rail, which carried the power for the trains. The sagging Third Rail eventually caused damage to the Current Collector Devices on the trains and caused trains to lose power. The damaged Third Rail eventually collapsed onto the track bed, preventing the further passage of any trains and shutting down the line.

The damaged fasteners were first temporarily held in place with cable ties before being completely replaced. A Committee of Inquiry found design and maintenance lapses on SMRT’s part.

There was some fallout of course. SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa resigned and Mr Desmond Kuek, former Lieutenant-General and Chief of Defence Force of the SAF stepped in, bringing along with him a whole lot of mates from the SAF. There were some train delays but SMRT put up a much better record of service.

Investments were made to replace the rail sleepers on the aging North-South and East-West lines, overhaul older trains, upgrade the train signalling system and step up the maintenance regime, even as new lines were being opened up across the island.

Then, today happened.

At around 7:00 pm, the first signs that the trains were creaking along the pioneer generation lines were these.

When the trains came to the halt, commuters were told that it was due to a traction power fault.

The SMRT made a series of announcements…


The Land Transport Authority, with its motto “we keep the world moving” weighed in as well at 8:42pm.


The LTA announced that train service was disrupted “due to a power fault” and that their preliminary investigations indicated that “the incident was caused by a power trip” although it is not clear how this could take out two lines.

In the meantime, all was chaos especially at interchanges as swarms of workers had to find alternative ways to get home.


Some Muslims did not make it home to break fast.

On social media, pictures and irate posts were being shared. Some recalled the news a few weeks ago of the CEO who was paid more than $2.25 million last year, double what he made when he first joined the rail operator in October 2012.

Earlier today, SMRT held its annual general meeting to discuss it prospects.

It must have been glad that the meeting took place before the breakdown, which ranks as the worst to have happened in its history. The breakdown provided much fodder for wags on social media. Mr Brown weighed in with #ThingsIDidWhenMRTWasDown while satirical sites suggested that the breakdown was a way for SMRT to celebrate SG50. The more enterprising Singaporeans got into the act offering…Uber services…while the kinder ones offered free rides.


Three hours later, SMRT restored reduced-speed service to the East-West line, and the North-South line was also restored at reduced speeds an hour after that, at about 11pm. As train services will cease for the night as usual for inspections, it is unclear if services in the morning will also be at reduced speeds, or if there will still be free bus services in the morning.

Did you get stuck too? Tell us about it.


Featured photo by Daniel Yap.

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Mumford & Sons featured on Apple Music's website (Image screen capture from http://www.apple.com/music/discover/).

by Abraham Lee

A lot has been said about Apple Music, the company’s latest development and attempt to enter the music streaming services industry. While Taylor Swift has indeed put Apple Music on everybody’s Facebook news feeds and Twitter feeds, perhaps her recently resolved fracas and all the fanfare surrounding it has distracted everyone from what Apple Music will actually be offering – besides Tay Tay’s latest album of course. Here’s the lowdown on what’s in store for you.

Apple Music will be launching tonight at 11pm, Singapore time, with the release of iOS 8.4. Users can then start streaming the Beats 1 radio broadcast, created and put together by Zane Lowe and his hand-picked team of DJs, later at midnight.

Apple Music will not be selling songs or albums, unlike the iTunes store, and instead will run on a subscription basis, charging customers USD$9.99 (about SGD$13.50) per month. This means that you no longer have to pay USD$1.29 for an individual song on iTunes and can play all 30 million songs in Apple’s database for a flat rate. Users will get to try Apple Music in a three-month free trial, after which the service will auto-renew itself unless you opt out.

Apple Music will support all PC, Mac, Apple Watch and iOS devices that can run at least iOS 8 while a version for Android devices will be launched in the third quarter of this year. iPhone users can download Apple Music by downloading the iOS 8.4 update.

What’s so great about Apple Music?

1. Special Features

Apple Music is touted to help users listen to the best music at any time of the day with its live radio station, Beats 1, which will feature appearances by celebrities like Elton John and Pharrell, and interviews with stars like Eminem. The service will also feature Connect, a social feed through which artists can share exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and videos, and engage their fans directly.

2. A More Integrated Apple Experience

Apple has tried very hard to make the transition to Apple Music a smooth one by consolidating your music collection into one place via your Apple ID. The service will upload tracks from a user’s library that aren’t available in the Apple Music catalog, to an iCloud account. This will allow users to stream music from any device, minimising the need to use scarce phone space. Also, users will be able to store up to 25,000 songs in iCloud, even as Apple plans to raise this limit to to 100,000 in the third quarter.

Besides the Single membership, you can also subscribe for the Family membership which allows up to six people to enjoy the services for USD$14.99 (about SGD$20.20) per month. Set up iCloud Family Sharing on your iOS device or Mac, invite family members to join and you’re ready to go. This feature will also be part of the three-month free trial.

3. Exclusive Releases

Apple has lined up exclusive deals like being the first site to stream Taylor Swift’s album, 1989, along with Dr Dre’s album, The Chronic, Pharrell’s latest track, Freedom, and more.

4. Personalised music selections

Apple has previously struggled with the algorithmic limitations of iTunes Radio, which may be why Apple Music will be curated by humans. This feature, derived from the Beats Music service which Apple bought over in 2014, will better help discover the music you want to hear. The initial set up will have you choose at least three overarching genres, allowing the service to find music according to your tastes and adapt accordingly as your preferences evolve.

How does Apple Music compare with its competitors?

1. Free Services

Like Pandora, Apple Music offers a live station, Beats 1, and artist and genre-specific online radio stations for free. Streaming under the limited-time free option won’t have ads but rather announcements from sponsors at regular intervals, to minimise interruption. Other services like Google Play Music and Rdio also have free tiers with online radio channels as opposed to on-demand streaming. However, while Spotify’s free service runs ads, it remains the most comprehensive of the free services as it allows desktop users to play songs on demand and mobile users to curate playlists, to be enjoyed in random order.

2. Social Media Integration

Spotify retains pole position in social media integration as it allows for collaborative playlists and tight integration with Facebook. Apple has yet to mention collaborative playlists but has allowed you to create playlists and save them for offline listening or share them on Facebook, Twitter or Messages.

3. Sound Quality

Apple Music will stream at a maximum bitrate of 256kbps, falling short of the industry average of 320kbps offered by Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal and Rdio. This means that the sound quality from Apple Music will be slightly lower than that of its competitors. If you’re a casual listener, you might not notice the difference. You can use songs bought from iTunes as a gauge as it also offers songs at 256kbps.

So what’s the bottom-line?

Apple Music doesn’t seem to be bringing anything new to the table. Artists are already sharing their behind the scenes activity and connecting with their fans on established social media like Facebook and Twitter. Taylor Swift has hinted that her latest album won’t be exclusive to Apple Music and will be available on other sites sooner or later. Apple may want to hype up its exclusive deals but the music scene is greater than Dr Dre and Pharrell. You’re not likely to miss out on anything. And personalised music selection has been offered by incumbents Pandora and Jango for years. If Apple Music is going to impress, it better be smart enough to adapt quickly and predict what users would like to hear before they even hear it.

Compared to its main competitor, Spotify, Apple Music has a long way to go. Spotify is more comprehensive and allows you to curate playlists collaboratively. It also offers songs at a higher bitrate which can be noticed by the more serious audiophiles. You’d think that a company that prides itself in constant innovation would at least have caught up to what Spotify offers.

It appears that Apple Music’s main draw is giving Apple users a place to consolidate their music into one place, which can then be accessed from any device, via their iCloud accounts. And that’s about it. It seems like Apple is trying to sell us its brand instead of a great music streaming service.

In any case, it probably won’t hurt to enjoy your three-month free trial before coming to your own conclusions. Remember to opt-out of the auto-subscription if you aren’t won over.


Featured photo from apple.com

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Wiki Commons - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoot#/media/File:Scoot_Boeing777-200_9V-OTD_RJAA.JPG

by Abraham Lee

A post is being shared online from a woman believed to be a Scoot stewardess complaining that Singaporeans only know how to complain. It’s also reported in MyPaper and AsiaOne but not in any of the broadsheets as yet.

The post read: “Looking at the news of Scoot’s delayed flight. Eh, you wanna die in plane crash or you wanna get delayed? The navigation system had problems eh. You come operate the plane la.”

To someone who commented on her post, the woman suggested that passengers should lower their expectations when taking budget airlines. If you want premium service, “Take SQ plane lor,” she wrote.

Sure, the remarks were ill-conceived – she probably wouldn’t have said the same things to the passengers’ faces. And yes, her arguments were terrible.

But I’m on her side. If she is indeed a Scoot stewardess and someone working on the delayed flight, she was probably also tired, worn out and out of patience when she ranted on Facebook. I’ve been there and I believe most people have too.

People might complain about their own tight schedules, that they have children with them and that their flight was delayed six times. But come on, going by these complaints you’d think the flight attendant could have decided when the flight was leaving. She couldn’t.

I think we should cut our service staff some slack. Stewardesses have tight schedules as well – in fact their work is all about keeping to schedules. For passengers with children, yes travelling with them is hard – but flight attendants have to take care of hundreds of passengers. (And sometimes the grown-ups act like children too). Flight delays are incredibly frustrating but letting loose your anger at the service staff seems misdirected and quite harsh.

It’s interesting how we know the risks of taking budget flights but when the flight gets delayed, we act as if it’s totally unexpected. You really get what you pay for.

If you want better service, better compensation and better assurance that your plans won’t screw up, I’m with the Scoot stewardess: Take SQ plane lor.

Meanwhile, our publisher Daniel Yap thinks budget airlines should suck it up because that’s what they signed up for.


Featured photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons by user Cp9asngf 

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Album cover of The Quests' 1967 EP, 'Go Go ReQuests' (Image screen capture from YouTube).

By Abraham Lee

Lead guitarist of The Quests, Mr Reggie Verghese, died on June 17, 2015 of heart failure at age 67. He will be missed. Which is why we’re assembling a little throwback playlist of The Quests for you. We hope it brings back good memories – fun times, an old flame or perhaps just a memory of the sort of music your parents loved to listen to.

The Quests were arguably the most successful Singapore band of the 1960s. Schoolmates Jap Chong, Raymond Leong, Henry Chua and Lim Wee Guan from Queenstown Secondary Technical School formed The Quests in 1961. The band recorded hits like “Shanty”, “Don’t Play That Song”, “Jesamine” and “Mr Rainbow” and was among the first few groups to sing in English, Mandarin and Malay. Mr Reggie Verghese, then part of ‘The Checkmates’, replaced Mr Raymond Leong in 1963 when Mr Leong decided to pursue his career in engineering. He was then 17.

At the height of its popularity in the mid-60s, The Quests played at dance halls, night clubs and on television shows such as Dendang Ria and Pop Inn. In 1964, the group signed a recording contract with EMI, which released its first original songs, ‘Shanty’ and ‘Gallopin’. The group’s popularity had, by then, gone beyond Singapore and they started touring neighbouring Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

In 1965, Mr Verghese left the band to focus on his studies but was later persuaded to return. After enjoying a successful regular gig in Hong Kong in 1968, The Quests returned to Singapore the following year where they played regularly at Kelong Niteclub. The band officially disbanded in 1970 after which the members followed their own paths. Mr Verghese worked at EMI as a music producer and set up a sound studio called Boogie Productions. The band last reunited in 2013, in celebration of My Queenstown’s 60th anniversary as Singapore’s first satellite estate.

The Middle Ground extends its condolences to the family of Mr Verghese.


Featured image is a screenshot from YouTube.

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