Walking on escalators should not be allowed

From ‘Don’t overburden escalators by walking on them’, 21 Dec 16, ST Forum

(Gan Kok Tiong): Escalators in MRT stations should not be functioning like staircases.

The main issue is that those doing so are overburdening the escalators.

Also, commuters who are right-handed will then be able to hold on to the railings on the right without having to move to the left to make way for those wishing to “walk” on the escalators.

Disallowing people from walking on the escalators will lead to normal usage of the machines, which would help in reducing the frequency of breakdowns.

Perhaps a professor of physics could answer the age-old question of what’s the best way to move people along an escalator. But in the absence of actual escalator studies, we’ll just have to settle for the wisdom of SMRT spokespeople. In 2001, SMRT in fact DISCOURAGED people from keeping to the left, as this would leave the right side underutilised and reducing rider capacity. Walking up an escalator was also deemed a safety hazard, especially when you’re on fast moving rides, though the worst thing anyone could do while on an escalator, whether they’re on the left, right, standing or walking, is to wear goddamn CROCS.

SMRT has changed their tune since. Today MRT signs remind you to keep to the left and allow others to pass. Keeping to one side of an escalator, analogous to responsible driving, remains a hallmark of a civilised society. We unwittingly teach our kids to do it and we growl at aunties for hogging the right lane when we’re in a rush. Unless there’s a drastic shift in commuter behaviour no one would want to stick out on the right side and face the wrath of a marauding escalator-walker. What SMRT needs is a lab, model escalators, and willing subjects to test the hypothesis that walking up and down an escalator on one side will eventually destroy it. But I guess they have other things to worry about, like managing mysterious signal faults for example.

Or, if you want to avoid having to deal with the ethics of escalator riding, have time and energy to spare, and not doing anything for the rest of the day beyond sitting on your arse in front of the office computer – take the stairs.

Metal detector gates in MRT stations

From ‘Install metal detector gates at MRT stations’, 11 July 2016, ST Forum

(Seow Joo Heng): Terrorist hits are becoming daily news nowadays, and they are inching ever closer to our homeland. It is not a matter of if they will happen, but when. We must act to minimise potential casualties in such an eventuality. We must provide a bulwark for one of our softest targets – our MRT trains and crowded stations.

Approximately 2.9 million people use the trains daily. The sheer numbers warrant our best protection efforts. There are bag-check counters at MRT stations, but they are ineffective as the checks are ad hoc. Only one person carrying an explosive device needs to slip through to create carnage in a packed train.

Similarly, the presence of armed guard patrols serves as a general deterrence. The patrols can handle altercations in open spaces, but their effectiveness is doubtful when the threat is in a packed train.

Metal detector gates are one idea to explore. They can be installed just before each fare gate.

No doubt, such an implementation will slow down passenger flow, but people will understand and get used to it, just as they readily accepted the inconvenience when airports started doing additional checks as a result of terrorist attacks.

For a start, we can have trial runs at a few train stations, to build up patience and foster such a culture before extending this to more stations. A side benefit of such a scheme could be a change in travel patterns, so people will travel during the less-crowded hours.

Metal detectors will no doubt deter terrorists from bringing assault rifles into the train. It’s also effective against lone wolf samurais.


It also means you have to momentarily surrender your house keys, ipad, handphones, watches and goddamn nose rings before even tapping your EZlink card. We have ‘accepted the inconvenience’ of airport security because we don’t take plane rides every single day. Making us walk through a detector at least once a day as if we’re paying a visit to the President in his private suite is totally impractical, unacceptable, and frankly, rather lame.

Introducing another barrier to make MRT travel more irksome than it already is will only push commuters away from achieving our ‘car-lite’ ideal. To address a risk as remote as a drunk Hawkeye boarding the train with bow and arrows, the writer suggests an inexplicably expensive and cumbersome option that slows things down for everyone. If this rolls out, you’d have to start queuing for your train OUTSIDE the station, next to the bubble tea shop. Add a train breakdown and half your working day is already gone. The terrorists have won before even stepping out of their caves.

Terrorists think outside the box too. If they can’t bring in anything metallic, there’s the less deadly, but no less dramatic option of spraying ACID on everyone. In fact, someone already managed to lather a seat with corrosive fluids, burning someone’s buttock off in the process. And of course POISON GAS may make a comeback, a nod to the sarin attacks in Tokyo’s subway. If these murderers had the means they could kamikaze a damn helicopter right into a passing train without bothering about our metal detector gantries no matter how sophisticated they are.

Cracks on China-made MRT trains not ‘safety-critical’

From ‘Defects on SMRT train not ‘safety-critical’, to be repaired by manufacturer:LTA’, 5 July 2016, article by Kenneth Lim and Olivia Siong, CNA

A total of 26 of 35 trains delivered to SMRT in 2013 were found to have cracks, the public transport operator said on Tuesday (Jul 5). The cracks are in the structure of the trains connecting the car and the bogie (the framework carrying wheels), it added.

The defective trains, which are still under warranty, will be repaired by the manufacturer by 2023, managing director of SMRT Trains Lee Ling Wee said in response to media queries about a report by Hong Kong-based investigative news portal FactWire.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a separate statement that the defects “are not safety-critical and do not affect the train’s systems or performance”, adding that it has been working closely with the manufacturer Kawasaki Heavy Industries and CSR Sifang after defects were found on the trains purchased under C151A.

…FactWire claimed the details of the defects and recalls were “kept secret in both Singapore and China”, and that the defective trains were stored at SMRT’s Bishan Depot. According to the FactWire report, two train cars wrapped in green covers were moved out of the depot early on Jun 12, and arrived at CSR Sifang’s factory in Qingdao, China on Jun 25. The report also alleged that “serious malfunctions on the SMRT’s North South Line, which the SMRT suspected were caused by C151A trains” occurred in December 2011

In Aug 2015, SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek revealed that his sent his team for service excellence training at the Disney Institute to develop a ‘common purpose of building TRUST and bringing on smiles’. It appears that SMRT probably wished that they sent the defective trains back to China on a giant magic carpet instead.

Though the cracks were not considered to be ‘safety-critical’, the suspicious manner in which the delivery was handled brings to mind SGH’s delay in reporting the Hepatitis C outbreak to the authorities not too long ago. The Government’s ‘Factually‘ site were quick to put up their defence, explaining why trains are delivered in the dead of night (to minimise inconvenience to drivers), and that the green covers were meant to protect the China-made trains before they rupture further. Green, of course, being the colour of choice for the SAF when they want to camouflage their vehicles from prying eyes.

An FAQ that is conspicuous by its absence is why this wasn’t reported back in 2013 when it happened. If it were only a couple of trains, the silence would have been justified, but this was practically a whole fleet, done under the cover of night without our own Singaporeans noticing. Which makes one question SMRT’s ranking in the ‘Governance and Transparency Index’ over the years. Maybe they’re so good at being transparent that they can render such inopportune incidents practically invisible.

Trains aside, we should also start looking into  China-made HDB lifts as well, considering how many people have been injured by them recently. There comes a time when you need to stop using euphemistic technical bullshit like ‘safety-critical’ and just label these disasters waiting to happen as ‘dangerous’, especially when you get your hands cut off.

SMRT are frustratingly efficient at pulling off David Copperfield stunts, but can’t apply the same magic to prevent train breakdowns. That it required a foreign news site to uncover this fiasco doesn’t speak well of SMRT’s promises about building trust with commuters. The hairline cracks may be harmless from an engineering perspective, but the damage inflicted on SMRT’s reputation may well be irreparable.

Cross Island MRT line cutting under MacRitchie forest

From ‘Macritchie Route for MRT line an irreversible error’, 13 Feb 16, Voices, Today

(Joey Gan): I am writing in to express my concern about the planned Cross Island Line. I feel strongly that the line should be routed along Lornie Road, one of the two proposed alignments, to avoid it cutting under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (“Impact of Cross Island work on MacRitchie significant without LTA mitigation measures”; Feb 11).

Having worked in conservation previously, I have had the opportunity to conduct research in the forests of MacRitchie. It is a beautiful place that can only be harmed if works are carried out beneath the area. The impact of noise and smell on forest inhabitants cannot be fully understood or quantified even with an Environmental Impact Assessment.

Even with mitigation measures in place, it is likely to be near impossible to enforce these measures on a daily basis. Furthermore, works must be done around the clock, and this only exacerbates the situation.

The MacRitchie forest is home to one of the largest patches of primary rainforest and lowland swamp forest in Singapore. It is a national treasure.

I can appreciate that transport is a big concern, but in this situation there is a viable alternative. If this alternative is not taken, the consequences on our national natural heritage is irreversible.

We have already divided what was once the largest stretch of primary forest in Singapore into two fragments when we built the Bukit Timah Expressway through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. We then spent millions trying to connect the two via the Eco-Link@BKE. And now we are considering making a similar mistake at MacRitchie.

I implore the Minister of Transport and those involved this project to consider their decision carefully, for the sake of our forests and for Singapore.

Minister Khaw Boon Wan once pledged in a Facebook post that he would help ‘protect our Garden legacy’, whatever his portfolio. If there’s anyone would could sway the powers that be to scrap the Macritchie project, it would be this man. But he can’t do it alone. To paraphrase his thoughts on engineering, we need to make conservation ‘sexy’. We need to shake off our perception of nature crusaders as hipster tree-huggers. We can’t just plant a tree and think we’ve undone all the damage we’ve inflicted to become where we are today. We need to discuss such issues in Parliament instead of thrashing out town council accounts and duckweed (even though they’re green) NCMPs.

Concerned voices failed to stop the impending wipeout of Bukit Brown and, more recently, Bidadari. Mandai also looks set for a ‘moderate-impact’ makeover.   An Environmental Impact Assessment without considering the cumulation of all our past ‘achievements’ at the expense of nature doesn’t tell you much about the fate of our ecosystem, whether future generations will be spending most of their existence staring at screens, living in concrete, and their only concept of wilderness is a stroll though the UNESCO World Heritage Site Botanic Gardens. One also can’t help detecting the mixed messages coming from the authorities. On one hand, you’re talking about going ‘car-free’, the next you’re ripping an expressway right though the oldest damn cemetery in Singapore.

Environmentalists call for a zero-impact solution, but it’s likely that the Government will give zero shits. Occasionally, conservation warriors win the day. In 1992, the Nature Society managed to stop the development of an 18 hole golf course in Lower Peirce Reservoir. What’s more disturbing to me is the fact that the idea of building a golf course in the first place came from the PUB. What a national water agency is doing supporting an activity that actually wastes water is beyond me. We are thankful for Chek Jawa, Sungei Buloh and Kranji Marshes, but need to be wary that the Government doesn’t use these as excuses for further devastation. For every avid golfer there are probably a dozen motorists or commuters who wouldn’t mind a new road or MRT line if it means killing off some pesky wild boars. The Government will continue to use fuzzy words to placate us like ‘moderate’, ‘calibrate’ and ‘balanced’, and sneakily modify buzzwords like ‘Garden City’ to ‘City in a Garden’.

There wasn’t time for self-congratulatory pats on the back. Ultimately, conservationists lost the battle for Marina South and Senoko. And there’s little done to stop the onslaught of less known nature enclaves right behind our doorstep. There may not be an endangered pangolin hiding in the bushes behind my estate, but if the town council decides to replace whatever wilderness we have left with a Gateball Court that nobody uses, it not only wastes resources and tax payers’ money but who knows what chronic deprivation of greenery and birdsong would do to our mental health and ‘spirit’. Not everyone has the time or energy to trek to Sungei Buloh for their dose of greenery. I could be struck with cancer staring out of a window in my terminal years and there’s not even a swaying branch in sight to sooth my dying soul.

A ‘Smart Nation’ should have the foresight and, I should say – audacity, to leave our forests, marshes, seas alone without scratching that itch for progress. Singaporeans are already one of the most stressed people in Asia, and with the Government doing whatever it can to make us produce babies, we need to establish a link between this metastatic urban growth and environmental degradation to our willingness to procreate, and ultimately, our very survival.  In other words, think of new ways to pitch the conservation message – that displaced creatures will run amok on the roads resulting in accidents, eat your mangoes, steal your grocery bags and charge at little children, that one less hectare of greenery increases the risk of dementia or depression, or even scare tactics like a docile mousedeer mutating into a novel virus-spreading, gnashing, man-eating beast over time because of tunneling works. Godzilla was Japan’s answer to the scourge of nuclear technology. We need our own Godzilla for Macritchie – Maczilla.

Whatever we’re doing, misguided economic benefits, shitty useless amenities or otherwise, let us be reminded that for what it’s worth, our trains, fancy buildings, expensive automobiles and all those projects that work out to be short-term gratifications in the grand scheme of things, nature always wins in the end, and chances are we won’t be around to witness Her victory parade.

Photogenic Girl takes a Selfie on the MRT track

From ‘Power fault halts train services’, 10 Jan 16, article by Danson Cheong, Sunday Times

Train services broke down for the first time this year yesterday evening, affecting a four-station stretch on the North-South Line – from the station in Kranji to the one in Admiralty.

The disruption, which lasted for over an hour, was due to a traction power fault, according to transport operator SMRT

Commuters were forced to get off the train and walk towards Marsiling Station. Undergraduate Vanessa Chia was one of them. She told The Sunday Times that her train had stopped for about 20 minutes, with the air-conditioning failing during that time.

“It was a really hot day and I could hear kids crying,” said Miss Chia, 20.

She added that the train was “only about a 20-second ride to Marsiling” but the distance took about 15 minutes on foot.

“A few of the passengers were quite old; it was quite painful walking on the stones for them,” she said. She added that she also saw an SMRT staff member giving an elderly man a piggyback ride.

She said that some commuters were quite agitated and were shouting. But Miss Chia took the incident in her stride. She snapped selfies and took videos to send to her friends.

“At first I was a little scared, but then I began to see it as an adventure. I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.

“But it was lucky the weather was good and this was a weekend.”



Now what I really wanted to see was a photo of the SMRT staff piggybacking an old man on the tracks. Instead, the ST decided to give a positive spin to a MRT detraining, featuring a photogenic girl in a selfie, hoping to distract people from thinking ‘Barely 2 weeks into 2016 and we have our first power fault. Damn you SMRT!’

What the media wants you to think is ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Now if only I could experience this awesome adventure in a TUNNEL too!’ And one day you just might. I’m not sure if the photo below was taken during an actual train breakdown or a MRT tunnel educational tour , like how people flock to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on public holidays to hang around the tracks.

I pity the staff who had to go the extra mile for those in need, when people would rather take pictures of themselves having fun than everyday heroes in action. They still need to get back to work after the rescue mission, and instead of getting recognised for their act of kindness, the papers not only whitewash the breakdown, but sprinkle rainbows and candy over it as well. No, we don’t want pictures of crying babies, anguished faces or people collapsing from the heat, just for once we want an ordinary commuter believing this is the most exciting thing that happened to her over the weekend.

A well taken selfie can provide levity to any disaster, whether it’s a MRT breakdown, on a rescue boat after a ferry sinking, after fleeing from a burning building or just before getting gored in the kidneys during a bull run festival. Still, getting stuck on a train and having a stroll along the tracks under the hot sun is not even remotely in the Top 100 of my bucket list. Now I know what those sandbags on the tracks are for – to cushion your fall should you ever trip while taking a goddamn selfie.

There are instances that don’t involve risking your life where it’s inappropriate to snap selfies of though. Like LKY’s funeral, even if it’s a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity.

Kudos to MRT track girl for her chirpy attitude in the face of an unfortunate event. Singaporeans would do well to learn from her and stop whining about bad wi-fi connections, long queues, the haze and just chill their way through when shit happens. But I fear she may be wrong about this being a ‘once in the lifetime’ experience.

And where was this guy when we needed him anyway?

It’s a bird, it’s a plane..NO it’s knockoff Spiderman taking the MRT





The danger of sewing on a moving MRT train

From ‘Unsafe to sew on train’, 19 Nov 2015, ST Forum

(Tan Lay Hoon): Recently, I came across a young woman working on a piece of cross-stitch embroidery inside an SMRT train. She sat forward with a gap between her and the back of her seat, perhaps to facilitate the flow of her needlework movements.

The embroidery floss running through the needle was about 45cm long. I suggested to the woman that it could be dangerous to sew inside the confines of a moving MRT train. She replied that she had been sewing while riding in MRT trains for a long time and returned to her task. There were commuters seated on both sides of her.

While the train was relatively empty during the off-peak hour, sewing is not a safe activity to pursue inside a train that is travelling. At times, MRT trains lurch when moving or halting. If the woman is pulling the needle in an upward movement and is caught unexpectedly by a sudden staggering of the train, an involuntary jerk of the hand holding the needle may cause the needle to jab at a fellow commuter sitting or standing close by.

There will be very serious consequences if the needle impales an eye or other body part of a nearby commuter who could not move away in time. How can the injured commuter seek recourse?

If the SMRT’s regulations do not permit sewing inside MRT trains in operation, what is the appropriate action that a concerned fellow commuter can take in such a situation? By the way, what circumstances warrant an activation of the emergency communication button?

Thanks to this civic-minded writer, SMRT security will now have more things to check other than bulky haversacks suspected to carry bombs. Needles are notoriously difficult to search, let alone parangs. You could secrete them in your back pocket, your coin pouch or even pin them in your underwear. But maybe it’s not just needles but other deceptively harmless things with a pointy end that need to be looked into. With all the sudden jerking and staggering going on in the train, your vital organs could be impaled not just by cross-stitch instruments but pens, chopsticks, or the edge of a hardcover book. No wonder durians are banned. Recently I had some guy sketching with a pencil behind me. I was praying so hard the train didn’t jerk otherwise the nib would have penetrated my medulla oblongata.

If you are a chronic worrier practically anything could bring you to an early grave, not just sharp objects. Someone nodding away while sleeping could unwittingly cause head concussions. You may be a hit-and-run victim of that uncle on the motorised wheelchair. If you’re the extreme type who are especially good at estimating the length of sewing thread, even staying at home and avoiding the crowds could also be hazardous. You could fall off your bed and die, for instance.

I can imagine Tan Lay Hoon’s reaction if she ever saw someone wearing this massacre waiting to happen on the train below. Imagine the train braking to a screaming halt and this person careening into unsuspecting passengers. A total bloodbath. The world would send us condolences for this horrific accident. #prayformrt

Local invention called The Spike Away vest

You can’t activate the emergency button willy-nilly, of course, and SMRT has guidelines against inciting unnecessary panic and wasting everyone’s time.  If you ever push the panic button in the event of an impending needly holocaust, but not a single person is harmed by wayward cross-stitching, then slapping a fine on you is duly justified. The only thing being pricked then is your conscience.

Kampung spirit useful in rail failures

From ‘Rail failures: Kampung spirit can help’ 25 Oct 2015, article by Danson Cheong, Sunday Times

…”This is the kampung spirit that we must inculcate in every MRT station,” said Mr Khaw (Boon Wan), adding that Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo had suggested involving shopkeepers working in the station, so they can play a part in contingency plans.

“Such ‘family-ness’ will be important not just when there is a technical breakdown, but (will be) even more critical if there is a terrorist- led sabotage to our rail system,” he said. He added that he has asked the Land Transport Authority and transport operators to consider the suggestion.

The over-used ‘kampung spirit’ should be evoked only in reference to the ‘village mentality’, whereby neighbours look out for each other, where the doors are never locked, and you could always pop by your neighbour’s house if you ever run out of sambal belacan. When trains break down, you’re hoping for random acts of kindness from strangers, be they Singaporeans or foreigners. They’re not kampung kakis who you grew up playing chapteh with, soaking in the sun chewing lallang. They’re rush-hour passengers who want to get to their destination as desperately as you do.

Shopkeepers are more keen on making money out of stranded passengers than being honorary SMRT staff, and would rather stay behind their cashiers than risk exposing their shops to angry looting mobs. Now our Transport Ministry wants commuters to extend our homely altruism out of our estates into the public domain, so that we can have mass group hugs and singalong sessions on the free shuttle bus rides home during an MRT breakdown. We’re already having trouble keeping the ‘kampung spirit’ alive with our immediate neighbour, now we’re expected to heed the Minister’s call to summon it outside in sweaty work clothes because nothing else can be done to improve our travel experience besides deluding ourselves into ‘loving thy neighbour’.

Come, people, let’s see your ‘gotong royong’, from Pasir Ris to Jurong. Bring a spare umbrella to lend your fellow commuter while he’s forced to march along an overhead track during a breakdown! Keep a tumbler of home brewed green bean soup handy in case someone needs nourishment! Sing ‘Home’ out loud to lighten the mood when everyone is seething with murderous rage! Let’s exude this warm fuzzy feeling wherever we go, whether it’s outside our corridor, around the void deck, or on a shitty train ride home!

Still, where’s this ‘kampung spirit’ outside everyday common-man experience? Does it apply to our billionaires living in penthouses and Nassim Road mansions who zip around in supercars?  Maybe they give it a less ‘rustic’ sounding name, one that involves non-kampungish activities like sharing expensive wine by an indoor pool or loaning your butler to your neighbour while the family’s out holidaying at a private island luxury resort. It’s ironic that our Government bandies ‘kampung spirit’ around to inspire people to pick up trash, volunteer or endure train breakdowns, while at the same time destroying tight-knit heritage estates like Commonwealth’s Chap Lau Chu, thereby exorcising its ‘spirit’ all in the name of ‘redevelopment’.

Kindness in the midst of commuting madness is greatly appreciated of course. But it should be done solely out of compassion for fellow humans, not egged on by ministers who should be focusing on the root problem, rather than trying to soften ugly consequences with tired cliches.