Thursday 5 March 2015

Train disruptions: SMRT faces several constraints, says analyst

NUS' Professor Lee Der Horng says the demands on the public transport system means operators have less than 4 hours to carry out maintenance work. This is compounded by the complexity of the work and manpower constraints.
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 4 Mar 2015

Two disruptions brought SMRT trains to a stop on Tuesday (Mar 3), bringing the number to five - in the space of just one week. While commuters and the Land Transport Authority have expressed dissatisfaction, one analyst has said SMRT faces several constraints.

The train operator’s woes started on Feb 23, when services were disrupted for over four hours on the North-South Line, due to damaged train equipment. On Feb 24, the Bukit Panjang LRT was also hit by a train fault. Meanwhile, on Feb 27, an intruder was spotted on the tracks of another section of the North-South Line, forcing SMRT to stop services along the stretch.

The two disruptions on Tuesday were on the Circle Line and East-West Line.

Professor Lee Der Horng from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore, said SMRT faces several challenges. He said the demands on the public transport system means operators have less than four hours to carry out maintenance work.

This is compounded by the complexity of the work and manpower constraints. Land scarcity is also a factor.

Explained Prof Lee: "When we design our MRT system, we may not have the luxury to prepare backup tracks. But in other countries - during the designing stage - they have already thought of this. (This) means that in the future, as and when necessary, if they would have to close down certain tracks, they still have other backup tracks for them to carry out servicing, without causing disruption to the existing revenue service."

He suggested that it may be necessary to close the system for longer periods of time to carry out essential maintenance.

On security, Prof Lee suggested that SMRT adopt CCTV imaging detection and analysis techniques. These could be used to detect whether a break-in has occurred, or if it is just someone wandering onto the tracks by mistake.

SMRT to roll out fast-response team to tackle disruptions
It is also stepping up plans for new maintenance operations centre
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

SMRT says that a new initiative will allow its staff to respond more quickly and effectively when a train breaks down.

SMRT plans to have a central team of experts who will be in touch with the maintenance staff on the ground, giving them advice to hasten the recovery of affected train services.

SMRT said yesterday that it was bringing forward some initiatives it had planned. They include the new maintenance operations centre - a central facility with experts to guide crew on the ground when breakdowns occur.

"(The centre) was planned for the coming year, but we will look to see how how much faster we can bring on board some of these capabilities," SMRT's president and group chief executive Desmond Kuek said.

Mr Kuek acknowledged in a press briefing yesterday that commuter confidence in the reliability of SMRT's train services has been shaken recently, but expressed confidence in his team's efforts to improve services in the coming months.

There have been at least five rail disruptions since Feb 23, with the latest two occurring on Tuesday.

In the morning, a signalling fault at the Circle Line (CCL) HarbourFront MRT station took over 40 minutes to resolve. In the evening, a track fault on the East-West Line from Tanjong Pagar to Jurong East extended travel time by up to 20 minutes.

SMRT said at the briefing that it would add more engineers and technicians to its ranks.

The company now has 288 engineers, an increase of 64 per cent over the past three years, and it aims to grow this number to around 400 by March 2018.

The number of technicians will also increase from 2,098 to about 2,600, a rise of 24 per cent, in the next three years.

In the coming year, there are also plans to equip station staff with simple maintenance skills, so they can deal with minor delays and disruptions.

Mr Lee Ling Wee, managing director of SMRT Trains, said Tuesday's signalling fault on the CCL, for example, could have been resolved by station staff with the right training.

Also in the pipeline is the use of more sensors on trains on the North-South and East-West lines to detect anomalies in the third rail, which supplies power.

Two trains have these devices currently, but three more will be equipped in the next few months, said Mr Lee. With these sensors, faults can be detected and rectified early.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it would work with SMRT to review the operator's management of resources and processes relating to the maintenance of the rail system. During service disruptions, LTA will also require SMRT to deploy additional staff and resources.

SIM University's urban transport management expert Park Byung Joon said the maintenance initiatives were the right steps, but noted that the problems had accumulated over the years and there was no quick fix.

Dr Park said: "My concern is that while the five disruptions are not critical and were unrelated, the frequency between the incidents should be far longer."

Steps taken to fix series of train disruptions: SMRT
By Adrian Lim And Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

TRANSPORT operator SMRT said it has taken concrete steps to resolve the spate of train disruptions over the past week, even as it was hit by two rail incidents yesterday.

In the evening, a track fault on the East-West Line from Tanjong Pagar to Jurong East resulted in commuters having to put up with additional travelling time of up to 20 minutes.

Earlier, at about 7.30am, a signalling fault at the Circle Line HarbourFront MRT station resulted in trains being stopped between that station and Haw Par Villa. Normal service resumed about 40 minutes later.

SMRT said it was looking into the causes of yesterday's incidents, noting that the disruptions in the last week were unrelated.

In a statement, the rail operator disclosed the results of its investigations and measures taken:

Feb 23: North-South Line services between Yew Tee and Kranji were disrupted for four hours and 38 minutes.

This was due to a damaged power collecting device on the train that affected the third rail, which supplies power to trains. SMRT said a thunderstorm prevented engineers from accessing the site initially.

A fleet-wide inspection of all North-South and East-West line trains has been conducted to ensure the power collecting devices are working, SMRT added.

Feb 24: The Bukit Panjang LRT service was disrupted at midday due to a train fault.

SMRT said a power and signal collecting assembly on an LRT train had dislodged, hitting a signal rail and causing a power trip.

The signal rail has been repaired, and a thorough check of all trains and tracks conducted.

Feb 27: Train services on the North-South Line between Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Gombak were disrupted after a man was seen walking on the tracks.

SMRT said it is reviewing existing security measures with the relevant authorities.

Company president and group chief executive Desmond Kuek also apologised for the incidents of the past week.

They were not the only hiccups on SMRT's network this year. On Jan 19, a third-rail fault caused a 20-minute delay on the North-South Line from Admiralty to Yishun. On Jan 22, a track fault halted service on that line to Jurong East for 10 minutes.

On Feb 17, a train fault caused a 20-minute delay on the East- West Line from Joo Koon to Jurong East, and during the evening peak on Feb 25, a signalling fault caused intermittent stoppages and slower trains on north- bound North-South Line trains.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said of the disruptions: "Commuters have been severely inconvenienced again. This is unacceptable.

"LTA has directed SMRT to investigate the various disruptions and give a full account of them. LTA is also conducting our independent investigations."

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