New national record set – MRT disrupted for 7 hours

By May 7, 2017Current

TL;DR – What amazingly disruptive technology!

The last national record in this category was set in December 2011. Where MRT trains on the North-South Line were disrupted for about 6.5 hours. But the disruption on the Downtown Line on May 3 2017 smashed that record.

During those seven hours, stops at each station lasted longer and trains bypassed Botanic Gardens MRT Station due to a signalling-related fault that caused platform doors to stop opening automatically. This happened during the morning rush hour.

This is the second incident in just seven months where the line was disrupted for hours due to a problem with the platform doors. The last time it happened, a bolt had come loose and caused a platform door to become dislodged at Sixth Avenue station.

Downtown Line isn’t exactly old…

And SBS Transit, which operates the line, can’t exactly say that the disruption was because infrastructure or the trains were old. It’s Singapore’s newest MRT line. Part of Downtown line started operating in December 2013. Another part only started operating December 2015. Some parts are still being built.

How did such a new line suffer such a massive disruption? We don’t know yet. Faiveley Transport of France, which supplied the doors, didn’t comment. And as with any major incidents of this sort, LTA has announced that it is investigating the incident.

How come didn’t learn from past mistakes?

Will the answers by LTA be satisfactory? Will they be of any use? After the last major disruption of 2011, there wasn’t just an investigation. There was an entire Committee of Inquiry. One would have thought that some of the lessons there can be generalised and extrapolated to prevent such major incidences from happening again.  Or maybe SMRT doesn’t talk to SBS Transit because they are competitors? So cannot share lessons?

Then what’s the point? All these investigations, for what? What exactly is the root cause of our train operators not being able to set up and operate our train lines well? Is it incompetence on the part of the management and staff of the train operators? No spirit of excellence? So go for the cheapest. Then just anyhow do? Anyhow install? Anyhow operate? Or what??

Hope to see improvements soon!

Perhaps part of the reason that we keep seeing such disruptions is because we don’t have enough experienced rail engineers who are willing to do real engineering work.

In October 2016, it was reported that Singapore is short of 1,000 rail engineers. SMRT, SBS Transit and LTA are scrambling to recruit more engineers. They have been aggressively trying to make the job more attractive – offer higher salaries, better training and more opportunities for promotion.

But one has to wonder. Why wait until the situation has become so dire to scramble? Why didn’t SMRT and LTA foresee this? After all, SMRT has been in this business since 1987. What has it been doing to retain, recruit, develop, and nurture engineers? Has it not ensured that salaries of its engineers grew rapidly enough for the career to remain attractive? Has it not provided sufficient training and promotion opportunities?

Doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, it seems that SMRT has succeeded in making rail engineering a career to shun. What a pity.

Let’s hope that the efforts by LTA to make rail engineering a more attractive career actually bears fruit soon. Let’s hope that smart and driven individuals, even if they are mid-career (especially if they already have some engineering background… like… say people from the offshore and marine sectors), will be attracted to join that profession.

Otherwise, our rail system will be a really disruptive technology that will drive us nowhere but up the wall.

(Cover image via)


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Author CRC

Working on a startup is a scary crazy process. To destress, I write random stuff.

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