Friday 16 October 2015

LTA, SBS Transit, SMRT test management of major MRT breakdowns

All bus rides free during major rail disruptions
LTA also looking at ways to make fare refunds trouble-free; new app to alert commuters fast
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2015

All bus rides will be free in the event of a network-wide rail disruption like the one on July 7.

These free rides will include those on private buses, which will be roped in to help in such large-scale breakdowns.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is also looking at ways to make fare refunds in the aftermath of such disruptions more painless. Now, commuters queue up at stations for refunds, adding to the crowd and confusion of a breakdown.

At the same time, the LTA is working on a mobile phone app to channel information to commuters as quickly and as clearly as possible. The app - which will include information such as which lines are affected, alternative routes available and which bus stops to go to - could be ready by year end.

The LTA revealed these at a joint exercise with SMRT and SBS Transit on Wednesday (Oct 14) to test an enhanced incident management plan.

LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong said: "When service is disrupted, even for a short time, our job is to get information to commuters quickly and help to provide alternative transport."

The exercise is the fourth since two massive breakdowns in December 2011. Since then, there have been at least 35 and 22 major disruptions on the MRT and LRT networks, respectively.

New elements were introduced at Wednesday's preparedness exercise, including flashing beacons at bus stops to inform commuters where free boarding is available.

Also, bus drivers will cover the fare readers when they see that flashing light. These beacons are being tested at Tiong Bahru and Serangoon stations, before they are rolled out to other stations.

This applies when one line, or a stretch of a line, is affected. When two or more lines are down, all bus services at all bus stops will be free.

Another new initiative is activating special bus services - on top of current bus-bridging services - to ferry stranded passengers to key interchange stations or to major town centres. These special bus services will be provided by public bus operators as well as private bus companies such as Woodlands Transport.

"Such exercises would help get everyone ready in the event of a major train breakdown, and also identify areas for improvement." Land Transport Authority's Chief Executive Chew Men Leong was at an exercise this morning to test public transport operators' readiness for large-scale train service disruptions. Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan was also present.
Posted by 938LIVE on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

These new steps were introduced following the July 7 incident, which crippled both the North-South and East-West lines during the evening peak period.

The unprecedented rail failure affected more than 400,000 passengers, many of whom got home after midnight - some by walking.

Operator SMRT was fined a record $5.4 million for the incident, which arose because of inadequate maintenance.

The LTA is studying ways to prevent a repeat of a network-wide disruption, including physically separating the North-South and East-West lines so that an electrical fault does not spread across both lines.

However, should such an incident happen again, exercises such as Wednesday's - which was held at the Tiong Bahru-Buona Vista stretch of the East-West Line - are supposed to help.

At this morning’s exercise to test out our operators’ response to a major train disruption, I had an unexpected...
Posted by Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Together with SMRT and SBS Transit, LTA conducted a ground deployment exercise, “Exercise Greyhound”, to test the...
Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Commuters welcome contingency measures for train breakdowns
They cheer plan to activate special bus services, with the participation of private bus operators
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2015

Commuters would rather the trains didn't break down.

But, as sales manager Shirley Ho, 29, noted, "we don't have a choice".

Commuters like her were glad train operators were at least drawing up new measures to help passengers during large-scale breakdowns, which they noted were becoming more commonplace. "I am glad that even the private bus companies are being roped in to help," said Ms Ho.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will activate special bus services, laid on by public as well as private bus operators, in the event of multiple line-wide service disruptions.

The extra buses will boost current bus-bridging services offered by SMRT and SBS Transit to ferry stranded passengers to key interchange stations and major town centres.

Private bus firm Woodlands Transport's general manager Roger Wong said the involvement of private bus companies to assist in the event of train breakdowns is in the early stages.

Woodlands Transport, one of the bigger private bus firms here, has a fleet of 260 buses, including 19- and 40-seat vehicles.

"It is good that the resources of private bus operators are being tapped to help out in such emergencies," he said. "With these initiatives, everyone is more prepared, and it would help to ease the burden of a breakdown."

Another area the LTA can improve is to make train fare refunds more convenient, said retiree Toh Cheng Chiang, 66, who noted it is now "quite troublesome" trying to get a refund. "I'd rather save the trouble and not join the long queues for refunds," he said.

Train breakdowns are unpredictable, and plans may fail at critical times, said IT manager Lee Kah Cheng, 36, who takes the train from his home in Clementi to his workplace in Tanjong Pagar.

"When trains break down, people panic. Some will get angry. These are natural reactions," he added. "Besides having good measures alone, operators need to know how to manage the passengers' emotions during such disruptions."

On Wednesday (Oct 14), the LTA, together with SMRT and SBS Transit, conducted a joint exercise to put their readiness plans to the test.

Exercise Greyhound simulated multiple power trips on the East-West Line during the morning peak hours, which resulted in the suspension of train operations along the entire line.

The MRT stations involved in the drill were Buona Vista, Outram Park and Tiong Bahru, on the East-West Line. It was carried out while regular train services operated as normal, and commuters were not affected.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday took the train to the MRT stations involved to check on the emergency drill, which is part of a series of regular exercises conducted to ensure operators are prepared to manage rail incidents.

Rail lines to be 'delinked' in disruptions
Disconnecting electrical supply between North-South and East-West lines limits impact of any breakdown
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2015

To avoid a repeat of the network- wide rail disruption on July 7, the electrical connections between the North-South and East-West lines will be "delinked" when the need arises.

This means that the electrical supply between the two major rail lines can be disconnected if one line is down, allowing the other to continue functioning as normal.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and rail operator SMRT will be installing electrical breaks at two MRT interchange stations - Jurong East and Raffles Place, wrote Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post yesterday.

The MRT network was hit by its worst disruption on July 7, when a breakdown crippled both train lines during the evening peak period. SMRT was fined a record

$5.4 million for the disruption caused by electrical power trips at multiple locations in the network. Mr Khaw noted that the disruption was a "disaster because of its scale".

In a reply to questions from The Straits Times, the LTA said delinking the two rail lines involves cutting the running rail and putting in bonded insulated rail joints at the point of disconnection.

"When a rail incident occurs and there is a need to delink the two rail lines, SMRT staff can disconnect the cables and operate each line separately," the authority added.

Mr Khaw said: "Under normal operations, these (electrical) breaks will not be activated as we want to continue to have the flexibility between the North-South and East- West lines."

According to LTA, the lines were electrically linked to allow trains to move between both rail lines.

"The link was, and still is, essential as Bishan Depot on the North- South Line is the only depot across the two lines with heavy maintenance and overhaul capability," Mr Khaw added.

"Other than for maintenance, allowing cross-overs gives operational flexibility. Unfortunately, this also means that a power fault on one line could affect the other."

In the early 1980s, a decision was made to set up one such depot to minimise costs and land use. Mr Khaw, however, noted that the Tuas West Depot on the East-West Line will be ready when the Tuas West Extension is completed next year.

The installation of the electrical breaks will be completed by the end of next month.

Assistant Professor Raymond Ong Ghim Ping, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore, said the move limits the impact of a breakdown.

"Users can hence expect a shorter delay when the efforts to delink the system are completed," he added. "Such delinking efforts will incur cost, but it is a worthwhile investment where system resiliency can be significantly improved."

Train stalled? It may be balloon's fault
NEL puts up reminders after stray metallic balloon hit power line, causing short circuit
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2015

Did you know that your shiny, metallic helium balloons could disrupt MRT train services?

It is no laughing matter if your Minion or Minnie Mouse balloon flies up and away, and posters have recently been put up at stations on the North East Line (NEL) to remind commuters to hold on tightly to their balloons.

In the poster, train operator SBS Transit explains: "If (the balloons) get caught in the overhead power lines, they can cause a power trip and bring train services to a halt."

SBS Transit told The Straits Times that it decided to put up the posters two months ago after a train disruption happened on April 6 last year.

In that incident, train services on the NEL were disrupted for close to an hour in both directions between Farrer Park and Boon Keng stations due to a power trip.

Investigations by the Land Transport Authority showed that a passenger had accidentally released an aluminium foil helium balloon, which slipped into the tunnel at Boon Keng Station when the platform screen doors were opened.

The balloon then came into contact with an electrical insulator of the overhead catenary system - the power supply system installed on the ceiling of the train tunnel - and caused an electrical fault.

Said Professor Liew Ah Choy from the National University of Singapore's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department: "The aluminium foil is an electrical conductor and when it comes into contact with the live overhead wires a short circuit occurs. This would trigger the circuit breakers to trip, to prevent further damage to the electrical equipment."

Meanwhile, SBS Transit's senior vice-president of corporate communications, Ms Tammy Tan, told The Straits Times: "There has not been a recurrence of last year's April incident, but prevention is better than cure and the posters have been put up as a precautionary measure."

The 16-station NEL is the only MRT line here powered by overhead catenary systems instead of a power-supplying rail on the ground, so the posters are put up only in NEL stations.

But the posters can be hard to spot, as several stations have just two or three posters put up along the platform. A few commuters who frequent the Clarke Quay Station told The Straits Times they saw the posters only in recent weeks.

While incidents of balloons causing power trips are rare here, they happen more often in cities like Hong Kong, where there are signs telling people not to take balloons into train stations.

According to a Hong Kong magazine, the ban was started in 1996, when a Minnie Mouse balloon floated into a tunnel at rush hour. The resulting short circuit halted all trains between Admiralty and Quarry Bay - both interchange stations - for 1 ½ hours and affected 100,000 commuters.

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