Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Train disruptions under new Minister of Transport

Update 1 Sep 2016: Singapore’s transport system grinding to a halt

Under mounting pressure over transport inefficiencies and lack of transparency, former army general Chew Men Leong resigned from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on August 6. His 22-month-long tenure as CEO was the shortest in the history of Singapore’s civil service.

“[In the coming months] I will be making a change of career over to the private sector,” commented Chew Men Leong on his decision, but it is believed that his departure from LTA had been sped up by frequent MRT failures and public dissatisfaction with increasing fares.

The failing system - Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has undergone a rapid urbanisation. The island city-state’s total area measures only 274 square miles and it is currently inhabited by 5,7 million people, making it one of the most densely populated territories in the world.

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Circle Line Slump Enters 5th Day: Experts Warn of Possible Total Shutdown

In what appears to be a landmark disruption, the Circle Line’s slump in train service has continued into its fifth day.

SMRT says the problem lies in a fault with the signaling system and its technicians are working to fix it.

Since Monday morning, trains on the 5-year-old line have had to apply emergency braking several times a day as they intermittently lose signalling communication with the tracks.

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SMRT switch off mobile network in attempt to fix 5-day train breakdown

Still clueless about the problem of intermittent signalling issues, SMRT switched off the mobile network in four stations for two hours in an attempt to fix the 5-day old train breakdown issue. SMRT suspect that third-party signal may be the cause of the signalling issue and hence decided to turn off the mobile network at Kent Ridge, Haw Par Villa, Pasir Panjang and Labrador Park between 7pm to 9pm yesterday (Sep 3).

The Circle Line saw trains travelling as slow as 18km/h for 5 days straight as SMRT lack the expertise to fix the issue. Travelling time for a usual 15 minutes ride extend to over 40 minutes, with stations severely overcrowded.

No alternative transport is provided and fare charges remain as usual. Over the period, Singaporean commuters lodged barrage of complains over the lack of responsibility and accountability by SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in handling the train breakdown. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan disappeared into hiding and passed the ball over to his LTA officials and SMRT personnel to handle the outrage.

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Delays expected as signalling issues plague Circle Line for 4th straight day

Commuters were told to expect delays as signalling problems continued to plague the Circle Line for the 4th day in a row, according to a news release issued by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT early on Thursday (Sep 1).

Commuters should factor in extra travel time to get to their appointments on time, the release said.

"We have narrowed the problem to signal interference, causing intermittent loss of signal between trains & stations," LTA & SMRT said, adding that they are working with a team of experts from train manufacturer Alstom to resolve the issue.

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4 days in a row as Mystery deepens over Circle Line

18km/h – this is how slow the Circle Line trains are going right now on manual mode. Commuters on Singapore’s Circle Line are yet frustrated again by SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA)’s incompetency to fix the train speed.

Despite blaming the problem solely on the signalling system, SMRT and LTA said they were still unable to pinpoint the problem and are now seeking assistance from its France-based manufacturer, Alstom.

According to state media, the trains started seeing intermittent losses of connection between the train transceivers 4 days ago when SMRT upgraded the signalling system software. SMRT has since rolled back the new upgrade and installed the old software, but the problem persists. State media calls the problem “a mystery” while LTA and SMRT remain clueless and unable to deliver a response.

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Circle Line may be plagued by disruptions 4 days in a row

SMRT said that the problem is caused by “signal interference, causing intermittent loss of signal between trains and stations.”

It further added: “We are working round the clock to restore service levels. However, as the CCL runs underground, trackside checks and physical interventions can only take place after operating hours although backend system checks are being conducted throughout daylight hours.”

SMRT’s Vice-President of Corporate Information and Communications Patrick Nathan said yesterday (31 Aug) that initial investigations showed “possible signal interference in tunnels, causing loss of signal between the trains and stations” – which its engineers had yet to confirm – and that SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) are working with Alstom to rectify the fault “as quickly as possible.”

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Power fault caused NSL train breakdown: LTA
The situation at Yishun MRT station during the breakdown. Photo: Twitter/@kickino

Preliminary investigations into the breakdown that occurred this morning (Nov 25) on the North South Line (NSL) have indicated that a traction power fault was behind it.

Early investigations indicate a power breaker located at Ang Mo Kio MRT station was damaged, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a media statement. But the exact cause of the incident is under investigation, it noted.

In light of the GCE A-level examinations taking place today, LTA said the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) was also informed of the arrangements and candidates were given the assurance that they would not be penalised for being late and be given the full duration for the examination.

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Traction power fault caused 2-hour train service disruption on Wednesday morning: LTA
Commuter situation outside Bishan MRT station at 8am.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

A traction power fault caused train service at several stations on the North-South Line to be disrupted for more than two hours on Wednesday (Nov 25) during the morning rush hour.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a statement that preliminary investigations had revealed a power breaker located at Ang Mo Kio station was damaged.

The disruption, which affected the service between Yishun and Bishan stations, was first announced by rail operator SMRT at 5.54am.

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Of rail breakdowns and the right words

Since Mr Khaw Boon Wan took over the Transport portfolio, MRT breakdowns have not gone away. They still happen but on a smaller scale than before, with the latest taking place last Monday during the morning rush hours.

But somehow, the angst that greets each breakdown seems to have moderated. The previous mood of resignation is slowly giving way to hope.

Why this transformation? As a practitioner of crisis communication, I sense this hope emanates from the utterances and writings of the Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure. He gives people a sense that the troublesome railway system is finally in the hands of someone determined to get to the bottom of the mess.

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Two-hour NEL breakdown hits 41,000 commuters
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said disruptions tarnish Singapore’s reputation and the authorities are redoubling efforts to improve train reliability. Photo: Channel NewsAsia

A trip-up during the testing of a new train on the North East Line led to about 41,000 commuters getting off to a slow start on the week — in the middle of exam season — with services down for some two hours.

The disruption is the sixth major one to hit the line this year, including one in September caused by a signalling glitch that left 35,000 commuters stranded during the morning rush hour.

SBS Transit (SBST), which operates the 12-year-old NEL, said the disruption today was caused by a new train undergoing testing snapping the contact wire of the overhead catenary system power supply line — which transmits electricity to trains — as it was moving back to the NEL depot.

related: Commuters caught in post-breakdown snarl despite alerts

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Testing of new train caused a power fault that led to 2-hour disruption on North-East line
Train services on the North East Line on both directions were disrupted on Monday morning (Oct 26) due to a power fault. Scene at Kovan station at 8.30am. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

A two-hour train disruption on the North-East Line (NEL) on Monday morning was caused by a new train undergoing testing, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said.

Preliminary investigations by LTA found that a new train undergoing testing had damaged the NEL's overhead catenary system as it was being withdrawn to the depot.

The  catenary system is the power supply system installed on the ceiling of the train tunnel.

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Train service on North East Line disrupted for 2 hours due to power fault

Train service was disrupted along the North East Line for nearly two hours on Monday (Oct 26) - from the start of service to the beginning of the morning peak - due to a power fault, said SBS Transit.

The transport operator first made the announcement on its Twitter account at 5.23am, saying that no trains were running between Punggol and Harbourfront stations in both directions. The first train on a weekday starts from Sengkang at 5.37am. At 7.21am, SBS Transit said service had resumed in both directions between Punggol and Harbourfront stations, although it told commuters to expect additional travelling time of up to 20 minutes.

Free bus rides and shuttle bus service were made available at designated stops along the line. Both SBS Transit and SMRT later said that free bus rides had been extended islandwide to all bus services. The free bus services ceased at 9.30am when normal train service resumed, LTA said.

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Power fault disrupts MRT North-East Line, free buses extended islandwide

A new train being tested caused a power fault on the MRT North-East Line on Monday, disrupting service for nearly two hours. Commuters were told to factor in additional travel time even after services were restored.

LTA said in a Facebook post that investigations showed that a new train being tested damaged the overhead power system installed on the ceiling of the train tunnel while it was "withdrawing to the depot".

The train operator, SBS Transit, first tweeted at 5.23am that services were down, and that free bus rides and shuttle services were being provided at designated bus stops along the train line.

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Delay on North-South line due to train fault at Braddell station
Commuters queueing up at the control station at Braddell MRT station after services on the North-South line were delayed by a train fault.ST PHOTO: BRIDGET TAN

A train fault at Braddell MRT station on Wednesday evening (Oct 28) slowed down the service on the North-South line.

The disruption lasted for more than an hour.

In a tweet at 7.17pm, SMRT said to expect 25 minutes travelling time betweeen Marina Bay and Ang Mo Kio stations.

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MRT breakdown: North-South, East-West lines down for hours
Scene at Boon Lay MRT following a train disruption on July 7, 2015. Photo: Oii Boon Keong

In what could potentially be the worst MRT breakdown to date, services on the North-South and East-West Lines came to a complete halt for several hours during evening rush hour today (July 7).

This is the first time services on both lines were affected at the same time. A power fault had affected trains along the North-South and East-West Lines at 7.15pm, said SMRT in a statement. “This led to a system-wide disruption along the entire line.”

Partial service was restored at 9.20pm, with the resumption of train services, albeit at a slower speed, on the East-West Line from Pasir Ris to Joo Koon MRT stations. Train service continued to be unavailable on the North-South Line for another hour, with SMRT updating later that services on the line resumed at 10.35pm, at a slower speed.

related: Transport Minister calls for probe into cause of train disruption

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MRT breakdown leads to spelling breakdown as ‘Tampines’ becomes ‘Tampenis’

Spell it like how it sounds they said, it will be fun, they said.

Or it could be a Freudian slip.

To the guy at the keyboard: Take a power nap and let your colleague cover you for 10 minutes.

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Train service on East-West Line suspended for 20 minutes due to track fault
A display screen in Braddell MRT station announcing that train service on the East-West Line between Pasir Ris and Tampines stations had been halted. ST PHOTO: CHITRA KUMAR

Train service on the East-West Line between Pasir Ris and Tampines MRT stations was halted for nearly 20 minutes on Wednesday (Oct 28) afternoon due to a track fault.

In a tweet at 2.54pm, rail operator SMRT said service in either direction would be unavailable for 20 minutes. Free bus services were activated.

SMRT said in an update at 3.10pm that train service had resumed, with trains travelling at a slower speed.

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Ex-SMRT engineer speaks out about the frequent breakdowns
Commuters affected by SMRT breakdown on 7 July (Photo by twitter@applesncrack)

Singapore’s Mass Raid Transit (MRT) network experienced its largest disruption on 7 July 2015, with the total breakdown of the East West and North South Lines, lasting over three and a half hours. An estimated 250,000 commuters were inconvenienced by the breakdown, which happened during the evening rush hour.

Since its inception in 1987, the Singapore MRT system, a project spearheaded by former President Ong Teng Cheong, has served commuters well, providing an affordable and efficient mode of transportation for everyone.

However, in recent years, breakdowns from the MRT system have been growing in frequency, even for the lines that have only been in service for a few years. Many of the breakdowns would not have been reported if not for social media.

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Commuters caught in post-breakdown snarl despite alerts
Train services were disrupted along the North East Line for two hours on Oct 26, 2015. Photo: Channel NewsAsia

The North East Line breakdown added to the Monday morning blues of tens of thousands of workers, who found their travel time nearly doubled in some cases, while students sitting for their A- and O-level exams, already dealing with pre-exam jitters, scrambled to get to their exam venues on time.

About 41,000 commuters’ journeys were affected today (Oct 26) as a result of the breakdown, which was caused by a power fault.

Mr Sean Yeo, 33, an executive, left the house after services had resumed, and had seen the disruption notification on the Mytransport mobile application, still found himself in a post-breakdown snarl.

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No amount of service recovery can ever be satisfactory: Khaw, on train breakdowns

When there is a major train disruption, like the one on 7 July this year, “we must not pretend that we can have a comprehensive recovery plan and a happy outcome in such situations.”

That was what Transport Minister, Khaw Boon Wan, said in a post on the Ministry of Transport blogsite on Saturday, 24 October.

“Our recent emergency exercise, simulating a very severe train disruption which impacted all stations across the East-West Line, was useful to test our ability to mobilise additional bridging buses and to raise awareness,” Mr Khaw said. “But realistically, we know that for a train disruption of that scale (as experienced on 7 July), no amount of service recovery can ever be satisfactory.”

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Rail failures: Kampung spirit can help
Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure & Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan (right) on the train with (foreground left to right) chief executive of LTA Mr Chew Men Leong and SMRT's director of Station Operations Mr Siu Yow Wee at a ground deployment exercise to test incident management plans in the event of a large scale train service disruption.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

No recovery plan, however comprehensive, can adequately deal with the chaos that immediately follows a very severe train disruption - the only solution is preventing such disruptions in the first place.

Having said that, service staff in train stations could be roped in to help deal with the fall-out in the critical first hour of less severe incidents, wrote Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday in his blog. "Even if it is simply to help guide the commuters to the right bus stop or to the right queue, it will be a great help to reduce confusion amongst commuters," he wrote.

His comments come in the wake of an unprecedented rail failure on July 7 that crippled the North-South and East-West lines, affecting more than 400,000 passengers. Operator SMRT was fined a record $5.4 million for the incident, which arose because of inadequate maintenance.

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Humour: MRT breakdowns no enough, so they faked one
Mr Khaw Boon Wan (far right) taking the train to observe the MRT ground deployment exercise

Has he quit yet?

It has been 17 long days since Mr Khaw Boon Wan was sworn in as the new Minister of Transport on Oct 1.

Wasn't there a power fault disrupting train service for half an hour on the North-East Line (NEL) on Tuesday?

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Train stalled? It may be balloon's fault

Did you know that your shiny, metallic helium balloons could disrupt MRT train services?

It is no laughing matter if your Minion or Minnie Mouse balloon flies up and away, and posters have recently been put up at stations on the North East Line (NEL) to remind commuters to hold on tightly to their balloons.

In the poster, train operator SBS Transit explains: "If (the balloons) get caught in the overhead power lines, they can cause a power trip and bring train services to a halt."

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The Cowboy Minister of Transport

The Transport Ministry had caused the casualty of two ministers in the past and is regarded by any incoming incumbent as a hazardous occupation. So PM Lee Hsien Loong was presented with a knotty problem in selecting a new Transport Minister. Quite understandably no courageous candidate would stick his neck out by volunteering. It so happened PM Lee had a sudden hunch that the post was tailored for the flamboyant Khaw Boon Wan who he regarded as a trouble-shooter. It also fitted into the flamboyant character of Khaw who saw this as a golden opportunity to flaunt his so-called extraordinary prowess.

Khaw was obviously tickled pink by the plethora of publicity surrounding his appointment. He was portrayed as a potential omnipotent rehabilitator of the notoriously inefficient rail system. He regaled the public with his knowledge of the mystique of the rail network and on how he thought its maintenance should be pursued. He spoke as if he was an expert on the intricacies of the construction engineering of the rail system. H would put his engineers whom he described as "rat-catchers" to make a comprehensive detection of any potential flaws in the maintenance of the technical construction.

He appointed Mr. Tan Gee Paw, Chairman of PUB, as an advisor to the MRT as his so-called unique invaluable experiences in water supply maintenance are thought to be very apt and most useful in solving the rail maintenance problem. Mr. Tan appeared to be the person who coined the word "rat-catcher" to describe the engineers, who may not be amused. Khaw said maintenance is not sexy which may not be comprehensible to the public.

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Large-scale train disruptions are not the only problem on MOT's plate

Apart from managing Singapore's ageing rail lines, the Ministry of Transport also needs to zoom in on Singapore's slowing aviation and marine sectors, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a blog post today.

Minister Khaw particularly highlighted the slowing passenger growth at Changi Airport in recent years, while competing airports have continued to grow.

"The aviation industry accounts directly for about 6% of our economy and more than 160,000 jobs. It also enhances Singapore’s proposition as a business and financial centre. We have to help it get back on the path of growth," he said.

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Transport ministry more than just trains: Khaw

While problems with train disruptions remain at the forefront, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said his ministry has to also focus on other sectors of transport. Pointing in particular to aviation and maritime, he stressed the importance of these sectors and how they could impact on “hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans”.

“Their jobs and their families depend on these sectors. And there are strong headwinds and turbulence ahead,” said Mr Khaw.

In a blog post this morning (Nov 9), Mr Khaw noted that the aviation industry accounts directly for about 6 per cent of the economy and more than 160,000 jobs. “But passenger traffic growth at Changi Airport has slowed down in the last two years, even as some of our competitors continue to grow. We have to help it get back on the path of growth,” he said.

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The case for nationalization of Singapore’s train network

A monopoly arises when a dominant company assume control of any important services that is irreplaceable. It is an undisputed fact that SMRT with its provision of train services is a monopoly.

Both basic economic theory and common sense tell us that monopolies would choose to abuse their advantageous economic position to maximize their profits especially in the absence of alternative choice.

For the majority of working adults in the CBD area, commuting via the train is a must.

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Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, had some harsh words for the state of Singapore's public transportation system yesterday, speaking as a panelist at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum today.

According to Mahbubani, the privatization of the transport system had gone "too far" and that the system should be nationalized by the government instead of being run by private operators.

In criticizing the current state of affairs, Mahbubani also chided the government and warned it not to be "a prisoner of old economic ideas", and have the "political courage" to rethink the idea that privatization is necessarily always good for the economy.

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All The Problems That Led To Train Breakdowns In Singapore (Since 2011)
These are the numerous problems behind our trains

Singapore’s trains have come under intense scrutiny in ever since the Great Train Breakdown of 2011. The repeated breakdowns and disruptions, once evoking anger, are now met with resignation from Singaporeans.

But has anyone wondered what causes the breakdowns of these trains?

We at MustShareNews have. And we’ve compiled a list of the reasons behind each train breakdown starting from 2011.

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SMRT flooding incident: Maintenance team signed off on work that was not done; staff suspended
A malfunction in the water pumping system at Bishan MRT station caused rainwater to collect in the MRT tunnel, resulting in train service disruption on Oct 7 & 8. FOTO: ST READER

Preliminary investigations by train operator SMRT have found that a maintenance team in charge of a pump system, which eventually failed and caused a massive 20-hr disruption, signed off on work that they had not done.

The manager & staff responsible for the maintenance of the Bishan pump system have been suspended & are assisting in investigations, said SMRT in a statement on Tuesday (Oct 31) evening.

Records for quarterly maintenance works for December 2016, as well as in March & June this year were submitted but investigations found that track access approvals were not issued for these dates.

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MRT tunnel flooding: Pump maintenance work not carried out on 3 occasions

Maintenance works for the Bishan portal sump pump system were not properly carried out since December last year, SMRT investigations into a train tunnel flooding incident have found.

Preliminary investigations show that quarterly maintenance works for Dec 2016, March & June this year were not conducted as prescribed in SMRT's manual, the train operator said in a news release on Tuesday (Oct 31).

Maintenance records were duly signed off & submitted. However, SMRT's investigation showed that there were no track access approvals issued for preventive maintenance of the Bishan portal sump pumps for the maintenance dates.

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