Wednesday 25 April 2012

MRT breakdown COI: Day 6

Train tunnels are now lit at all hours
Change made after Dec disruptions, when some commuters had to walk to the nearest station
By Maria Almenoar , Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2012

LIGHTS that illuminate MRT train tunnels are now on day and night.

This is a change from before the two major train disruptions of last December, when they were lit only after train service hours.

This emerged yesterday, Day Six of a hearing by a three-man Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the disruptions.

The issue of tunnel lighting came up when the committee questioned nine station employees who were manning stations between Dhoby Ghaut and Toa Payoh during the disruptions to service.

Among those who testified were Dhoby Ghaut station manager Siak Wing Kin, 53, and Somerset station manager R. Kamaruzzaman, 47, both of whom were involved in getting the affected passengers from the stalled trains onto the tracks for their walk to the nearest station.

Mr Siak said he believed the tunnel lights then were bright enough for the passengers to not need torches, and that safety was not a concern.

But one COI member, director of Prisons Service Soh Wai Wah, who had walked through the tunnels with the other members of the COI to experience what the passengers went through, felt otherwise.

Mr Soh pointed out that when one walks in a group of about 20, those in front and behind would block off the available tunnel lights and cast shadows, making it harder to see the tracks.

To this point, Mr Siak conceded that he probably had a good view of the track during the evacuation operations as his sight was not obscured by other commuters' shadows.

COI chair, Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye, also said that from his experience, the lighting in the tunnels was 'pretty dim', and suggested having portable lights to illuminate the tracks.

Mr Siak welcomed this, and said it would be 'definitely good' to have additional lights in emergency situations.

The day's proceedings were noticeably more subdued than last week's, when Operations Control Centre staff testified and faced a barrage of questions on the inadequacies of the centre.

When Mr Kamaruzzaman took the stand to talk about his experience in evacuating passengers from train to track on Dec 17, he told the COI that the train ramp was 'knee-high' - 30cm to 40cm - off the ground, and that he had to offer his shoulder or hand to some passengers who were getting off the train.

The influx of passengers entering the stations from the stalled trains also raised concerns about potential overcrowding on the platforms and concourses.

The COI, which raised this issue last week as well, asked the station managers what yardsticks they used to measure how crowded a platform was.

The managers replied that there was no standard capacity number to go by, though they would take note of whether passengers were having problems getting off the downward escalators.

They said that switching off the escalators was one way to reduce the crowds on platforms, along with switching off the fare gates leading to the platforms.

The COI was told that another way to reduce crowding was by cordoning off affected platforms.

Mr Siak had used red-and-white tape to block off the north-bound platform at Dhoby Ghaut, thus discouraging passengers from waiting there for trains.

He suggested running more bus services that mirror MRT routes even during non-emergency times, so passengers need not wait for bus-bridging services to get started.

Such shuttle services take a while to activate and get going, he said, and added that it would take too many of such buses to clear even a single train-load of passengers.

Other managers agreed that shuttle buses take too long to get to stations in an emergency, and that stranded passengers from stations further along the line often find the shuttle buses already full when they arrive.

Newton's station manager Toh Kang Tiong, 54, said he received 'some nasty remarks and scoldings' from passengers who could not board the shuttle buses.


'Unwell passenger had breathing problems'

AT 6.45PM, my customer service officer, Mr Liu, said he was instructed to go to the tail wall by the north-bound track to check for sparks or abnormalities.

We went together and saw a train on the track about 100m to 150m away from the platform. The train's headlights later went off. After about 10 minutes, I was asked to prepare for detrainment.

At about 7.15pm, Mr Liu went to the north-bound head wall to operate the protection key switch, to stop any signal codes and prevent trains from coming to the north-bound platform.

While this was going on, I apologised to commuters for the breakdown. My colleague, Firdaus, was the one leading the commuters slowly back to the station.

I had already switched on the tunnel lights. They were bright enough for the commuters to slowly walk to the station without needing torchlights.

I used my torchlight to light up the gap between the tip of the ramp and the track to prevent anyone from tripping while they made their way down from the train.

It was a very packed train with easily more than 1,200 commuters. While I was at the side of the ramp, a man I recognised as a senior SMRT staff member told me someone was not well at the end of the train.

I handed my torchlight to the train officer and slowly made my way to the back of the train. I found a female in her 30s sitting down, attended to by other female commuters. One of them told me the unwell passenger had breathing problems, and that the SCDF had been notified.

Immediately, I contacted Firdaus to bring me an oxygen pack. The female commuter was conscious but looked weak, and as I was about to place the oxygen mask to her face, she used her hands to pull it towards herself.

SCDF personnel arrived shortly after and placed her on a stretcher. There were still commuters detraining. I reported one casualty after ensuring all commuters had detrained safely.

I also recall cordoning off the north-bound platform with red-and-white tape. This was because despite the announcements, commuters were still proceeding towards the platform for north-bound service.



'I assisted them as best I could. Some of the passengers were elderly. I offered them my shoulder and my hand to assist them... Some of the passengers said their legs were not very strong. We took more precautions... Some of them sat on the ramp first and then slowly put their legs down on the track.'

On the difficulties some passengers had in getting down from the train onto the track because of the knee-high difference in height


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