Saturday, 11 July 2015

MRT breakdown: Kind acts lift spirits amid all the disruption

By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2015

Acts of kindness helped to lift harassed commuters' spirits even as chaos prevailed during the disruption of train services on Tuesday evening.

Staff at Changi Airport, which has an MRT station on the East-West Line in Terminal 3, distributed water to stranded commuters. At a McDonald's outlet at Changi City Point shopping mall, staff also gave out free drinks, according to a Twitter post.


Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, wrote on his Facebook page about another act of kindness: Car owners who posted online offers of rides to people who needed it .

This was something that programme executive Tong Sian Choo saw first-hand. She alighted from a bus at Marymount near Bishan, and a car owner asked if anyone needed a ride to Yishun - a young man took up the offer.

It was after 11pm then and Ms Tong was waiting for her boyfriend to give her a lift home. They also did their part and gave a ride - to a full-time national serviceman to Sembawang camp. In the 31/2 hours it took her to get to her home in Yishun from the Somerset station, she encountered other heartwarming moments.

She was given directions from a fellow passenger who overheard her asking for them, and another passenger lent her a mobile phone so she could call her mother.

She also saw another commuter standing with her arms wide open on the kerb at a crowded bus stop near Somerset station to prevent a crowd of people from spilling onto the road. "It was heartwarming, and quite amazing, how everyone took the initiative and managed the mini-crisis together," she said.

Our sincere thanks to the commuters who have dropped off their appreciation notes, and who have personally thanked SMRT...
Posted by SMRT on Friday, July 10, 2015

Kind act by McDonald's staff amid MRT chaos
Crew of Changi City Point outlet helped ease discomfort of commuters by giving out water
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 16 Jul 2015

Commuters stuck in long taxi queues, or jostling with thousands of other passengers to get on a bus in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, had very little to smile about last Tuesday.

A massive breakdown shut down the North-South and East-West lines for more than two hours and left more than 250,000 commuters struggling to find a way to complete their journeys.

A little kindness, however, went a long way to make the situation more bearable and brought people together in an unexpected way.

At a taxi stand outside Expo MRT station, staff from a nearby McDonald's outlet in Changi City Point shopping centre served up "happiness" in cups of cold water, Coke and Sprite.

It was Mr Karl Alvendia Rodriguez, general manager of the outlet, who came up with the idea.

Mr Rodriguez, who himself takes the train and was affected by the breakdown, took 20 minutes to walk to a bus stop. This left him tired and extremely thirsty.

"I thought to myself, 'Everyone else must also be unprepared like me'," said the 33-year-old.

He called his colleagues at the outlet and told them to provide water to those at the taxi stand.

"When I gave them the drinks, their faces were so happy. They said they were very thirsty and tired of waiting," said Ms Komala Devi Maniam, 23, an assistant manager from the outlet who gave out the drinks with two other colleagues to about 25 people in line.

A photo of Ms Komala and her colleagues handing out the drinks made its way to social media site Twitter, where it received much attention and praise.

Mr Rodriguez was surprised at the attention. "It just came naturally, but a small gesture like this can have a big impact on other people," he said.

The incident was just one of many kind acts which commuters witnessed that day.

Several netizens spoke of their gratitude and appreciation for strangers who looked out for them.

One of them was programme executive Tong Sian Choo. The 28- year-old was stranded in Somerset at a bus stop that was swollen with people desperate to get onto buses that did not have any more space.

After five buses passed, and a sixth one finally opened its doors, Ms Tong, who did not think she could fit into the crammed bus, was yanked up by a fellow commuter who saw her hesitate.

Ms Tong, like many others that night, had earlier struck up an easy conversation with the stranger who helped her that night.

The woman, Madam Susi Rani, 49, a housewife, was like Ms Tong making her way to Yishun.

Madam Susi also lent Ms Tong her phone to call her family, as the latter's phone battery had died.

Madam Susi said what she did was not a big deal. "It's nothing. This is how people always help each other when things like these happen," she said.

MRT breakdown brought out the best in Singaporeans

During the massive MRT breakdown on Tuesday, it was heartening to hear that amid the chaos, unhappiness and negativity, there was a swell of compassion and kindness ("Making good out of a bad situation" by Ms Susan Tan Chwee Huay, "Kind acts lift spirits amid all the disruption"; both published on Thursday, and "Kind acts, a poem and song lyrics, amid MRT breakdown chaos" ; ST Online, Wednesday).

From the stories emerging in The Straits Times and across social media, many clearly went out of their way to be helpful, with gestures such as offering rides or refreshments to stranded commuters.

Others contributed in different, but very significant ways - by keeping spirits up and exuding an infectious positivity, for both frustrated passengers and harried staff.

At a time when many commuters were frustrated and angry, there was a risk that negativity could spiral into contagion. It didn't.

By cooperating and working together, whether by helping drivers pass instructions down the bus, ride-sharing, shepherding traffic or buying drinks and snacks for SMRT and Land Transport Authority ground staff, these commuters make us feel good and, in turn, inspire others to feel better.

Small gestures like a smile, a laugh, or even simple good nature can really make a bad situation feel better. Consciously or not, these gestures, both small and grand, have been heartening. They reaffirm that despite what may be said about Singaporeans' tendency to grumble or complain, we are more than capable of banding together in moments of difficulty.

They are proof that Singaporeans, working together, can overcome any adversity, and that while they rightly seek accountability for this fiasco, they do not let it overwhelm their better nature.

William Wan (Dr)
General Secretary
Singapore Kindness Movement
ST Forum, 11 Jul 2015

2 major MRT lines down for over 2 hours
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2015

Tens of thousands of commuters missed dinners with families and other appointments yesterday, as Singaporeans grappled with possibly the country's worst MRT breakdown.

A power trip crippled train services throughout the North-South and East-West lines for more than two hours from around 7pm, causing commuters to be stranded during the evening peak hour.

This came just hours after Mr Desmond Kuek, chief executive of operator SMRT Corp, made a long speech at the company's annual general meeting on how much rail reliability had improved.

The breakdown rippled through the transport network, with large crowds gathered at bus stops outside train stations at locations as far away from the epicentre as the Botanic Gardens.

Buses as well as taxis were packed. Free bus services were made available at all stations on both lines at about 7.20pm to ferry commuters caught in the massive disruption, but these proved to be of little relief.

Operator SMRT said service on the East-West and North-South lines resumed at 9.20pm and 10.35pm respectively, but trains moved slower as a precaution.

In a statement, the Land Transport Authority said early investigations found a faulty train which could have caused the power trip.

Arcing was observed on the underside of this train, and the power surge caused the protective relays across both lines to be activated, causing the shutdown, it said.

An SMRT spokesman said engineers are looking deeper into why the power fault - which is usually isolated to a line - affected two lines simultaneously.

In a Facebook post last night, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said: "I am extremely concerned with today's incident. This is the first time that services on both the North-South and East-West Lines were affected at the same time.

"I am sorry that so many commuters experienced massive disruptions to their journeys."

Mr Lui added that he has told SMRT and the LTA to work through the night to "ensure that services run properly ".

SMRT said all affected trains had reached the nearest MRT station and passengers were safely transferred to platforms as of 8.01pm.

Stockbroker B.C. Cheong, 48, who boarded a train at Outram, said it soon stalled. He alighted at Buona Vista, and said he waited for more than 30 minutes for the free bus, to no avail. He added that SMRT's recovery process was "poor" .

Bank officer Prashanth Shankar, 32, was at the City Hall station when the incident unfolded.

Seeing the chaos and sudden crowd build-up, Mr Shankar called his uncle to pick him up in his car. "The taxi lines were very long too," he said. "There are a lot of frustrated people."

Am very concerned at the major disruption to train services last night. I had just recently visited the SMRT Bishan...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I am extremely concerned with today’s incident. This is the first time that services on both the North-South and...
Posted by Lui Tuck Yew on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

SMRT points to 3 likely causes of Tuesday's big breakdown
Checks are ongoing to pin down causes, with trains back in service yesterday
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2015

Rail operator SMRT Corp has identified three possible causes of Tuesday's unprecedented breakdown on the North-South and East-West lines: worn cable insulation, tunnel water leakage, and a glitch in a power substation.

It pointed to these possible causes at a media conference yesterday but said it was "not 100 per cent sure" that they led to the breakdown, and that it was continuing investigations to determine if there are other causes.

Yesterday, trains ran smoothly during the morning peak hour, after these flaws were rectified. Trains ran normally during the evening rush hour as well.

The Land Transport Authority said it did not observe any power trips during the evening peak, and that system checks would continue after operating hours. It said faults may still occur from time to time, and advised commuters to check for updates before their trips.

Both SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek and LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong apologised for the disruption, which affected over 250,000 commuters. Said Mr Kuek: "It is a stark reminder that the journey to bringing about a much higher order of reliability and assurance is a difficult one, but we are committed to doing so ."

In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed his concern, adding that he had visited the LTA operations centre to be briefed on the situation.

Noting that the root cause of the power trips had yet to be identified, he said: "Hope we identify and resolve the faults quickly, to prevent further inconvenience to commuters."

SMRT, which has been in the spotlight since two major disruptions in 2011 triggered a costly public inquiry, said it found two power cables at Bishan station with "slightly worn" insulation.

It also found a "no voltage relay" (a type of safety switch) at a substation in Kranji that was faulty. And in a tunnel at Tanjong Pagar station, there was water leakage close to a power-supplying third rail.

These flaws, it said, could have sparked electrical anomalies that led to power trips across both lines.

SMRT could not find any flaw in a new train that was suspected initially of contributing to the shutdown, but has taken it out of service to do further checks.

Asked if these potential flaws would have been picked up during routine maintenance checks, SMRT Trains managing director Lee Ling Wee said: "Our routine checks do cover these things, but they are not done every day, they are done six-monthly or annually."

He acknowledged that as a system ages, the frequency of checks needs to rise, adding SMRT was putting in place "conditioning monitoring systems" that will help it do this, but that it takes time to do so.

Such systems are widely used in the power generation, wafer-fab and other high-tech industries to detect changes that might indicate an imminent component failure.

On how a power anomaly at one spot in the system could trigger multiple power trips anywhere in the network, the LTA said it was designed in such a way for safety.

But LTA senior group director of rail Sim Wee Meng said the authority is exploring newer systems that can isolate trips. They are being tested on the Downtown Line, and are likely to be rolled out to other lines if deemed good, he said.

Mr Kuek said SMRT was doing all it could to make the network more reliable, but priority had to be given to multi-year programmes such as fixing the third rail and renewing the signalling system.

We are sorry that commuters were inconvenienced by the service disruption last evening. LTA and SMRT staff worked...
Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Impossible to find every flaw: SMRT chief Desmond Kuek
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2015

SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek said the operator will not be able to catch every potential fault even if it stepped up maintenance.

"So one solution is to completely renew the system," he said. Another would be to put in place condition monitoring systems.

Mr Kuek said SMRT was doing all it could to make the network more reliable, but priority had to be given to the third rail, sleepers and signalling system.

"All these are multi-year programmes," he said. "And all these are being done while new trains are introduced into the system that need to be tested."

At the same time, SMRT is focusing maintenance efforts on "hot spots" such as the problematic Yew Tee-Kranji stretch.

"All these are conflicting sets of priority in terms of resources, time and manpower," Mr Kuek noted.

Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said a maintenance regimen had to be "codified" (arranged into a systematic code).

"For example, in aviation, there are very specific checks, namely A, B, C checks... It should become a drill of sorts with strict objective standards to be achieved and regular compliance assurance."

Meanwhile, SMRT is racing against the clock to uncover the exact cause of Tuesday's devastating disruption. The operator said a fault in a train, track or power system could have caused the electrical anomaly that triggered power trips across the North-South and East-West lines.

On this point, Mr Foo said it was "troubling" that when a relay tripped, it affected the whole network. "The question on people's minds is whether the relay can be wired such that the trip is isolated. Whether some 'redundancy' can be incorporated?

"Is it possible to fit a diagnostic system so that faults can be identified quickly? There are more questions than answers at this stage, and SMRT needs to do more."

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng said the latest breakdown "exposed the weak resilience of the system". "Why was the system configured in such a way in the first place?" he said.

FINAL MEDIA STATEMENT ON NSEWL SERVICE DISRUPTIONFull train service resumed at 10.35pm at reduced speeds. ...
Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

If SMRT lacks resources, Government should step in
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Jul 2015

SMRT Corp and the Land Transport Authority have been on a billion-dollar, multi-year programme to replace major operating and infrastructural assets on the North-South and East-West lines since 2011.

But the suspected flaws that brought Singapore's oldest and most heavily used lines to their knees on Tuesday had nothing to do with the major assets being replaced.

They were fairly commonplace weaknesses - worn cable insulation, tunnel water leakage, and a glitch in a power substation switch. The first two have actually figured prominently in several past incidents, including two tunnel fires. So, they were not exactly unknown weaknesses.

One would think that after the long, costly and humiliating public inquiry in 2012 that found SMRT culpable for the two consecutive breakdowns in December 2011, which concluded that the incidents could have been prevented if a more vigorous maintenance regimen had been in place, SMRT would be paying more attention to the health of the network.

Especially when the inquiry had prescribed steps that were necessary to prevent a recurrence of such a system failure.

So, you would forgive commuters for being a tad unforgiving when they came face to face with a breakdown that was even larger in magnitude than the ones in 2011.

Singapore's MRT system carries an average of 2.8 million trips per day, and the North-South and East-West lines account for the lion's share of those trips.

The latest incident inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of commuters, not to mention the scores of transport workers and engineering staff who had to be called back to deal with the fallout.

And because such service disruptions are still fairly frequent (the previous one crippled the North-South Line for two hours during the morning peak on July 3), apologies from the operator, regulator or Government are beginning to sound glib and hollow.

To be fair to the new management at SMRT, the spate of breakdowns is not entirely its doing.

Chief executive Desmond Kuek and his team have been grappling with the mammoth task of putting things right - a task involving complex projects such as re-sleepering, re-signalling, train rejuvenation, and finally, replacing the power-supplying third rail.

All this is done during the short engineering hours after the last train pulls in for the night and before the first one rolls out the next morning.

And as Mr Kuek points out, it is "a dynamic process... when you have new systems coming into play with legacy systems".

He also points out that more condition monitoring systems need to be installed if it were to have a targeted approach to maintenance. That is something SMRT has realised since the public inquiry. So, why are these systems not widely in place yet?

Perhaps it has to do with priorities. The major asset renewal programme SMRT and LTA have embarked on is, of course, vital. But Tuesday's breakdown tells us that small, mundane bits of the system can also be its Achilles' heel.

In hindsight, SMRT should have paid more attention to these components. But in reality, it is limited by bandwidth and resources. And as such, its maintenance regimen is still largely determined by what engineers call "mean time between failures".

On this front, perhaps the Government should step in to help beef up resources required for SMRT to make things right quickly.

It is an unconventional proposal, especially to an administration that is usually mindful of how it spends public funds.

But maybe the Government can see this as an engineering equivalent to the Bus Service Enhancement Programme. After all, getting the two MRT lines back in shape will benefit more commuters than the additional buses that BSEP is funding.

And SMRT can treat the aid like a loan, to be offset by various components in an ongoing negotiation it has with the Government on its migration to the new rail financing framework.

If not, something else needs to be worked out. We should not dilly- dally, for the next major breakdown could well be around the corner.

MRT breakdown: Independent expert to look into rail network
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 10 Jul 2015

An independent consultant will be brought in to examine the rail network, even as a second day passed with engineers unable to pin down the root cause of Tuesday's massive disruption.

Staff from SMRT Corp and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) had carried out a second round of checks on Wednesday night.

In a statement yesterday, the LTA said it will engage an independent consultant specialising in transit power systems as early as this month.

Meanwhile, LTA and SMRT will continue checking the system. The operator had earlier identified three possible causes - worn cable insulation, tunnel water leakage, and a glitch in a power substation.

But it was "not 100 per cent sure" that these led to the breakdown, and is continuing to check if there were other causes.

During the second round of checks, LTA and SMRT engineers inspected all the trains visually and tested insulation between the cables and third rail.

Data loggers monitoring the running rail voltage were also installed at specific points on the North-South and East-West lines, which experienced power trips before train services on both lines were disrupted on an unprecedented scale during the evening peak period on Tuesday.

An estimated 250,000 commuters were affected that night, as two of Singapore's oldest and most heavily used lines were crippled for more than two hours.

Train services resumed later that night, but moved slower as a precaution. Over the next two days, they continued to operate on schedule at normal speeds.

Transport experts welcomed the move to engage an independent consultant, given that Tuesday was the first time both lines were entirely shut down.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng told The Straits Times: "The engineers have narrowed it down to three possible causes, so that is a good sign. But even then, they could not be sure and my fear is that the root cause is none of the three, which would be quite problematic."

Prof Lee and former UniSIM transport expert Park Byung Joon said it was important to understand how the flaws ended up affecting the whole network.

Said Dr Park: "The root cause could be something more fundamental, right down to the design and construction of the two lines.

"They may even need to look at the original blueprint. It would be good to have more manpower and a higher level of engineering expertise to find the root cause."

LTA & SMRT have ascertained the cause of the NSEWL rail service disruption on 7 July 2015. The disruption was caused...
Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Wednesday, July 29, 2015

* Salt deposits from leak caused MRT breakdown
The deposits allowed electricity from the third rail to stray, causing several power trips
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2015

Salt, water and electricity do not mix. That simple truth was driven home hard on July 7 when an accumulation of salty deposits on an electrical component on the East-West Line triggered the biggest rail breakdown here.

In releasing its findings three weeks after the incident yesterday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and rail operator SMRT Corp said lab tests found the deposits were caused by a persistent leak near the Tanjong Pagar station tunnel towards Raffles Place.

The deposits were 15 times saltier than seawater.

Water from the leak itself was found to be one-sixth the saltiness of seawater - an indication that the deposits had taken some time to precipitate.

The deposits allowed electricity from the MRT's power-supplying third rail to stray across its insulator into the ground. This caused several electrical trips along the East-West Line as well as the connected North-South Line.

Tripping cuts off electricity supply to prevent stray current from electrocuting train occupants.

The findings were arrived at with the help of external experts Parsons Brinckerhoff and Meidensha Corp, whose services are paid for by the LTA. They coincide with a hypothesis put forth by Dr George Yu, a chartered engineer specialising in industrial forensics, failure analysis and accident investigation.

Dr Yu, who has done extensive work on the MRT, told The Straits Times just days after the July 7 breakdown that deposits on insulators were the prime suspect.

He said contaminants would settle on the third rail insulators over time. These include water and graphite dust from the trains' current collector shoes, which make contact with the third rail. Graphite is a conductor of electricity.

To prevent a repeat of the incident, Dr Yu said SMRT should "prevent insulators from contacting water or liquid". He also suggested that insulators be regularly cleaned to prevent deposit build-up and that old insulators with heavy deposits in areas which are exposed to tunnel water leakage be immediately replaced.

SMRT said that this was done right after the incident. The operator and the LTA added that they will replace some 30,000 insulators on both lines by the first quarter of 2017 - along with the planned third rail replacement programme.

SMRT also said it would improve maintenance of the insulators. Its chief executive Desmond Kuek said: "We've reviewed all our existing work instructions and we're satisfied that they've all been complied with. But... we will be taking firm steps to review and improve all those work instructions."

SMRT will also "desensitise" the circuit breakers that trip the system, by raising the stray voltage limit from 136 volts to 200 volts by the end of this week. The LTA said this was in accordance with international standards and completely safe.

In the longer term, it will implement voltage limiting devices which are being tested in Downtown Line 1. These will isolate power trips.

The LTA added that it was also studying the feasibility of separating the North-South and East-West lines - so that a power incident does not propagate itself across both lines.

It said this would be considered carefully, so as to ensure that doing so would not give rise to other weaknesses.

LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong added that "we will leave no stone unturned" to improve the reliability of system.

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