Sunday 22 April 2012

MRT breakdown COI: Day 5

Station managers lacked info to help stranded travellers
Control centre told some managers 'to just wait for further instructions'
By Maria Almenoar , Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2012

STATION managers yesterday told the MRT inquiry that they found it hard to answer stranded passengers' questions because they had not been given enough information by the control centre.

They said travellers were asking them what the problem was, where they should go and when train services would resume, but there was a lack of data to address their concerns.

The evidence came on Day Five of the public inquiry into the two massive breakdowns on the North-South Line that affected more than 200,000 passengers over two days last December.

Former Marina Bay station manager Tan Chit Siang explained the difficulties he and his colleagues faced, saying: 'Passengers don't only ask you where to go. They will also scold you.'

Some of the managers questioned yesterday said that when they tried to get more information from the control centre, they were simply told to just wait for further instructions.

The issue was also brought up by committee chairman, Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye.

He told the control centre's manager Lum Kok Soon that it should have had someone focused on commuter safety at stations, including checking for overcrowding at platforms.

The judge added that Mr Lum already had too many responsibilities to handle, asking him: 'How can you possibly, in a crisis situation, concentrate on so many areas?'

Mr Lum replied it was the station managers' job to monitor the situation on the ground and notify the control centre if there was a problem. There was no need for someone in the centre to focus specifically on passengers' safety, he said.

Judge Tan fired back that surely there should be a designated person in charge of verifying information from stations. 'We are here trying to help you in your job. But you seem to be resisting this.'

Station managers said that another problem was passengers who did not listen to announcements but preferred to ask staff for information instead.

Judge Tan suggested that this issue could be solved using pamphlets, which could also help commuters who were unfamiliar with bus routes.

Station staff could give passengers the materials listing all alternative means of transport including trunk bus services.

Another problem that was raised involved customer service teams which help regular staff during emergencies.

Station managers said that there should be more of them deployed during a major breakdown. They added that during the December holdups, some members of the customer service teams did not know what to do, and had to be briefed.

Judge Tan agreed that these staff should 'value add' and not be a liability.

The three-man committee was also told about a folder at each station containing station-specific information on evacuating passengers when crowds build up.

While other train managers said that their folders are updated on a yearly basis, Mr Tan Chit Siang pointed out that his was outdated.

For at least three years, the exit designated for bus-bridging services had been closed but this was not updated in his station's plans, causing some confusion about where buses would arrive during the first breakdown on Dec 15.

Despite feeling overwhelmed, all of the station managers said that they felt they had generally done their best given the circumstances.

They also described how they followed the standard protocol of making public announcements to update passengers, while putting up information signs about the delay and to show where the bus-bridging services were.

Some also switched off the escalators heading downwards to stop more passengers going to the platforms.

In other stations, fare gates were switched to 'train disruption mode' so that commuters would not have their farecards charged for the disrupted trip.

Faster activation of emergency response plan
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2012

SINCE last December's major disruptions to the train service, rail operator SMRT has revised its operations to activate its emergency response plan sooner.

Instead of waiting for the go-ahead from its senior management to proceed with the plan, called the Rail Incident Management Plan (Rimp), the manager of SMRT's Operations Control Centre (OCC) is now authorised to activate it.

OCC manager Lum Kok Soon, 55, told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday, Day Five of the public hearing, that with the OCC being closer to the ground, this would allow for a swifter response and eliminate the delay caused by going through senior management.

Once the Rimp is activated, key personnel and support staff are recalled, and bus-bridging services are launched.

Referring to the Rimp being triggered by SMRT vice-president of rail operations Lui Wai Meng on Dec 15, the COI commented that things would have moved much faster had it been activated earlier that evening, when the crowds at the stations were growing by the minute.

Yesterday, COI member Lim Mong King noted that the SMRT's OCC has not undergone a major upgrade since the MRT began operating in 1987.

COI chairman Tan Siong Thye, agreeing, asked Mr Lum why he did not familiarise himself with the newer Circle Line OCC, from where he could have picked up ideas to improve the older OCC.

Warning that the OCC could be stuck in an old way of operating, Chief District Judge Tan suggested Mr Lum look at newer OCCs in Singapore and elsewhere, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Germany.

However, any upgrading of the OCC will need prior approval by the regulatory agency, the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Judge Tan then asked whether the LTA was involved in SMRT's 'table-top exercises' in simulating and responding to disruptions and whether it would be good to include the regulator.

Mr Lum replied that such exercises are conducted internally, but welcomed the LTA's involvement, instead of their merely sitting in on the sessions.

'They only want to play observer and do nothing else,' he said.


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