Saturday, 12 January 2013

Heftier fines for serious train disruptions; LTA Tightens Rail Regulatory Framework to enhance rail service reliability

LTA will peg maximum fine to portion of affected line's fare revenue
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2013

RAIL operators SMRT and SBS Transit will face stiffer fines in excess of $1 million for any serious train disruptions in future.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) intends to peg the maximum fine for a disruption to a percentage of an operator's annual fare revenue for the affected line.

The new penalty framework will take effect later in the year, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew after he visited Bishan Depot yesterday.

His remarks came even as service on a stretch of the North- East Line between HarbourFront and Dhoby Ghaut was disrupted for nearly seven hours yesterday.

It was the fourth major disruption on that line since last March.

The LTA said yesterday that linking the quantum of the fine to revenue signals its emphasis on ensuring a safe and reliable MRT system for commuters.

SMRT's annual fare revenue for the North-South, East-West and Circle lines in its financial year 2012 was $569.9 million.

SBS Transit's projected full-year revenue for the North-East Line for last year is $45 million.

Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport chairman Cedric Foo said: "By pegging the fine to total revenue, we'll have a deeper bite. Hopefully, the urgency to get reliable service right will be heightened."

Mr Seng Han Thong, deputy chairman of the GPC, said a higher penalty would remind operators not to cut corners on maintenance and urged them to focus on internal checks.

The LTA is also revising the penalty framework to put greater emphasis on service reliability. It will further adjust penalties for failure to comply with operating performance standards and codes of practice. It will also strengthen its regulatory framework in other key areas: maintenance of rail assets, incident management and operating performance standards.

This comes after a high-level Committee of Inquiry recommended last year that the LTA improve its oversight of SMRT's maintenance and handling of incidents.

The LTA will tighten standards on disruptions and delays by the middle of this year.

Operators will soon be fined if disruptions lasting longer than 30 minutes occur more than once in four weeks. Penalties are now imposed if such disruptions happen more than twice in four weeks.

The LTA will also introduce new standards to penalise shorter delays in excess of five minutes.

In terms of maintenance, the operators are now required to submit weekly listings of faults detected through routine maintenance. An expert is being appointed to conduct an independent assessment of SMRT's maintenance regimen, among other moves.

Commenting on the LTA's review to raise the maximum fine, SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek said: "Our focus is not really on the quantum on the penalties. Our focus is rightly on improving service quality and standards to make sure there are no train disruptions in the first place.

"Then, there will be no penalties that will be relevant to us."

MRT passengers to wait 5 mins or less under new plans
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2013

COMMUTERS will spend no longer than five minutes waiting for a train during most off-peak periods, under plans announced yesterday.

The transport authorities aim to eventually reduce the gap between services on all MRT lines, in a bid to cut the time spent hanging around on platforms.

Waits will be longer than five minutes only during the times of day when very few people travel, such as early in the morning or late at night.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) expects services on the North-South and East-West lines to be sped up "in the near term".

At the moment, trains arrive every six to seven minutes during off-peak hours and every two to three minutes in peak periods.

The newer North-East and Circle lines will have their service intervals reduced from 2015, when new trains are delivered.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew announced the changes yesterday after a visit to Bishan Depot.

He said the new five-minute standard will eventually apply to the upcoming Downtown Line and Thomson Line.

As well as raising performance standards, the LTA is also making improvements in areas such as maintenance and incident management.

It is holding discussions with transport operators about providing free travel on regular bus services for passengers who are delayed by disruptions lasting less than an hour.

At the moment, travellers delayed for 60 minutes or more can use bridging services and are entitled to free rides on regular buses.

The operators will also have to make customer service hotlines available throughout any disruption, even outside normal hotline operating hours.

A common incident management framework for operators has also been established.

The new measures come in the wake of a Committee of Inquiry that was convened last year to investigate two major MRT breakdowns in December 2011.

Replacement works are also in the pipeline for the Circle Line.

About 1,000 cables will be replaced with higher-grade ones in order to guard against further disruptions.

Mr Lui said he hoped the work would be completed by the end of this year.

He added that the time it was expected to take had been reduced from 18 months to a year.

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