Sunday 20 May 2012

MRT breakdown COI: Day 24

Stiffer fines for MRT breaches
LTA is reviewing penalty system and maximum fine for rail operators
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 19 May 2012

RAIL operators are likely to face stiffer fines for breakdowns in the future as the Government reviews a $1 million maximum in place since 2000.

Land Transport Authority (LTA) chief executive Chew Hock Yong told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday that the rail regulator and builder is 're-calibrating the range of fines for different breaches', as well as reviewing the maximum fine of $1 million per breakdown.

Although the current penalty framework has been in place for over a decade, the maximum has never been imposed. The biggest fine, $390,000, was meted out to SMRT for a seven-hour disruption in January 2008 that affected 57,000 commuters.

For the 40 disruptions of more than 10 minutes each between April 2010 and March last year, no operator was penalised.

Mr Chew said the LTA will also beef up its regulatory role, revise operating and maintenance standards, and step up audits.

For instance, it is looking at including the availability of air-conditioning as a standard. This, Mr Chew said, came about after the LTA received feedback from commuters about train carriages which did not have working air-conditioning.

Another new standard might be setting tighter limits on the number of major disruptions each month. Currently, SMRT has to ensure that there are no more than two disruptions on the North-South and East-West lines of more than 30 minutes each within a four-week period.

Mr Chew said rail operators will be required to conduct internal audits of their maintenance framework, as well as hire independent auditors to give it a once over 'every three to five years'.

The chief executive, who took the helm in early 2010, said operators will also have to report disruptions of more than two minutes.

He assured the inquiry that the LTA senior management is on top of all land transport incidents, whether it be an accident on the expressway or a rail disruption.

He said he receives 25 text alerts on average per day on such incidents. 'I always tell my colleagues, if there's bad news, make sure I hear it first,' he said.

Asked by the Attorney-General's Office if any issue pertaining to SMRT's maintenance regimen had surfaced during the time he had been chief executive, Mr Chew related one case where water was found under a track platform.

He said any water should have been drained, adding that the authority had taken that up with SMRT.

The inquiry also heard evidence from three other witnesses, including SMRT senior manager Chua Hock Seng who was asked: How many current collector devices can a train afford to lose before it stalls?

Mr Chua said a train should be able to move as long as just one of its carriages had propulsion power supply. Typically, there are 24 current collector devices on a six-carriage train, but only the four carriages in the middle use the power for propulsion.

'Theoretically, it should move, but it may not be powerful enough,' he said. 'We've not tried it before.'


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