Sunday, 29 April 2012

MRT breakdown COI: Day 10

Commuters waited 2 hours for shuttle buses
Some buses went to wrong bus stop and some skipped stations
By Maria Almenoar & Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

WHEN the train service broke down last December, some commuters waited for almost two hours before the first of the free shuttle buses arrived.

Even then, it was far from smooth sailing. Some buses went to the wrong bus stop while others skipped stations.

The bus bridging service to ferry commuters during MRT disruptions came under the spotlight yesterday, when four service operations managers gave their accounts of what happened on Dec 15.

It was Day 10 of the public inquiry into the train disruptions on Dec 15 and 17 that affected more than 220,000 commuters on the North-South Line.

The Committee of Inquiry (COI) heard that some vehicles from the SMRT bus division were nowhere in sight for almost two hours despite station staff being told by the Operations Control Centre (OCC) that they had been activated.

Mr Anbazagan Manickam, 49, a service operations manager recalled for duty at Bishan station, said that at one point, almost 700 people were waiting at the bus stop.

People were spilling onto the bus bays and, at times, onto the road. Police officers and SMRT staff had to direct them back onto the pavement.

He added that when the first bus arrived, it came in a convoy of 10.

His counterpart at Novena station, Mr Chia Pen Chuen, 52, faced a similarly disorganised situation.

He said the buses initially drove past his station.

The swelling crowd spilled onto the bus bay and filled the spaces outside restaurants along the street.

He called for more shuttle buses while urging commuters to take the southbound line which had resumed operations an hour and 45 minutes after the breakdown.

The buses finally arrived at the Novena bus bridging point after 9pm, about two hours after the first train broke down.

Mr Chia told Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye, who heads the three-man COI, that the station staff did not have direct contact with SMRT's bus operations division. They went through deputy director of station operations Teo Wee Kiat to inform the bus operations division that the buses were late.

Mr Lee Wan Seng, also a service operations manager, was asked by Judge Tan if it would be useful for them to have direct contact with the division.

Mr Lee, 56, said: 'In this case, with so many stations involved, I think if everyone calls the person in charge, it might be quite messy.'

At Orchard station, three to four buses at one point were waiting at the wrong bus stop, said service operations manager Tan Pheng Foong, 51.

He directed a colleague to tell the bus drivers to stay put while he took commuters to the buses.

The committee asked the service operations managers if they knew what caused the delay in bus arrivals. The managers replied that bus operations were under the purview of the bus division.

Train service controller Yong Pui Ng, 56, tasked with taking charge of disseminating information on Dec 15, said the Urgent Messaging System broke down when he was sending his third message.

The system allows the control centre to send messages to computers at the train stations.

In the past two weeks, the issue of staff training at SMRT has been raised.

And yesterday, its lawyer, Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull, submitted six bundles of documents to the committee. These were on the type and frequency of training that station and train officers go through. He said SMRT had a 'proper and thorough' training programme for staff but it 'can always be improved'.

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