Friday, 20 April 2012

MRT breakdown COI: Day 3

Train drivers recount Dec incidents
No contact possible with control centre as systems were down
By Maria Almenoar, Transport Correspondent & Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2012

TWO SMRT train drivers were the first of the rail operator's employees to take the stand yesterday on the third day of a public inquiry into last December's two train disruptions.

Their accounts of what happened during the first disruption on Dec 15 highlighted several inadequacies on the train, including communication systems that did not work and the lack of indicators to tell if the train's 'collector shoes' were working.

Collector shoes are train equipment that draw power for the train from its third rail.

Both men took about 90 minutes on the stand to tell their stories.

Mr Muhammad Yassin Yazid, 24, who was on his first day on the job, recounted how he first noticed sparks on the right side of the North-South train heading towards Dhoby Ghaut station at about 6.40pm.

But he did not report this to the Operations Control Centre (OCC) as he believed this to be 'normal'.

Shortly after, he again noticed sparks, this time coupled with 'knocking' sounds and a burning smell.

System lights indicating faults with the train then went off, prompting him to contact the OCC.

When he was unsuccessful in making contact through the train radio communications set, he tried the handheld radio but that too was 'damaged', he said.

So he used his own mobile phone to make the call.

Train driver Zainal Rahmat, 50, whose train came to a halt near the Toa Payoh station on the same day, was confronted with similar problems.

He too had to use his mobile phone to get in touch with the OCC after noticing numerous fault lights come on in his train, which had been losing speed.

After listening to both drivers' testimonies, Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye, proceeded to ask Mr Zainal if some improvements would be useful, and what his 'wish list' as a train driver was.

Among Judge Tan's suggestions were:
A panel to indicate when the train's current collector shoes are damaged.
More flashlights and portable lights onboard the train. (Currently, there is one flashlight onboard a six-carriage train.)
A closed-circuit television installed on the trains to help drivers see what is happening in train carriages further down from the driver's cabin.

Mr Zainal, who has more than 20 years of train driving experience, replied that these would be useful in future train breakdowns.

During the Dec 15 incident, his train had suffered a power fault.

Even though the emergency lighting kicked in, he could not see all the way to the end of the train especially with passengers on board.

Yesterday's inquiry also tested the drivers' job training and knowledge.

Mr Zainal and Mr Muhammad were asked various questions on what they were taught to do in different train failure scenarios, such as a de-trainment exercise, and if they knew what current collector shoes were used for.

In his testimony, Mr Zainal said he was surprised that despite his train being in emergency mode, he was requested to use his train to 'rescue' another stalled train.

Mr Zainal said he departed from Toa Payoh to assist the other train. His train, however, stalled near Braddell and eventually had to be rescued too.

Both drivers, who requested the aid of court translators to speak in Malay, were also asked about how and what they communicated to passengers.

This issue had come up following the disruptions, where commuters had complained that they did not receive adequate information from drivers during the breakdowns.

Mr Muhammad, who admitted on the stand that he had been nervous on his first day of work, had played a pre-recorded message during the Dec 15 incident.

He later made a short announcement in English to passengers.

Mr Zainal said he was was unable to make any announcements as the public announcement system on his train was not working.

No fleet-wide checks after first breakdown
By Royston Sim & Maria Alemenoar, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2012

TRAIN operator SMRT did not carry out a fleet-wide inspection following the first of the two major breakdowns last December, the inquiry heard yesterday.

Its lawyer said it planned to do so but before that could happen, the second disruption happened two days later.

In the interim, only visual checks were carried out.

On the third day of the public hearing, committee member Lim Mong King asked whether the whole fleet was inspected in the two days following the first breakdown on Dec 15.

He was told that the inspection took place only after the second disruption on Dec 17. This led to a series of questions centring on why the inspection was not carried out earlier.

Professor Lim, from Nanyang Technological University, said visual checks of the 'collector shoes' - which are used to draw electricity from the third rail to power the train - should not have taken too long.

SMRT's lawyer Cavinder Bull responded that the operator had planned to conduct a fleet-wide inspection in the few days following the first breakdown.

However, its immediate priority was to repair trains with damaged collector shoes, which took time.

The committee was told that, after the first breakdown, SMRT staff performed visual checks on all trains returning to Bishan Depot and Ulu Pandan Depot. Five of them were found to have damaged shoes.

The next day, the same checks were carried out on trains returning to all three depots, including Changi. SMRT staff did not find any defective collector shoes during those inspections, said Mr Bull.

It was only after the second major disruption that checks were carried out to make sure the collector shoes of the entire fleet were intact.

Maintenance staff found that 11 trains had damaged shoes after Dec 17.

Mr Bull added that, when the detailed fleet-wide inspection was eventually carried out, it took a total of 28 days.

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