MRT 20 hour disruption blamed on water pump

From ‘NSL train disruption: Malfunctioning water pump system to blame for flooded tunnel’, 8 Oct 2017, article in Today

A malfunctioning water pumping system allowed rain water to build up in the train tunnel near Bishan MRT station, which resulted in a massive disruption along the North South Line (NSL) at the weekend.

In a statement released on Sunday (Oct 8) evening regarding preliminary investigations into the disruption, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) noted that water had entered the tunnel through a portal opening near Bishan MRT station, where aboveground rail tracks make the transition underground.

It said that under normal circumstances, accumulated rainwater in the adjacent storm water sump pit would have been siphoned off by a system of pumps.

But as the pumping system had malfunctioned, rainwater overflowed from the storm water sump pit into the tunnel opening, and accumulating at the lowest point of the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell stations.

Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water.
Yet, to attack the hard and strong,
Nothing surpasses it.
Nothing can take its place.
– Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, Lao Tzu

Another day, another breakdown, another lesson on MRT systems learnt the hard way, another cog to blame other than the management, the regulator or the ministry itself; Signal fault, track fault, cable tie fault, sump pit fault, portal opening fault, heavy downpour fault. Screw you Acts of God. Screw you all.

Just this July, a water leak was determined to be the culprit behind the double whammy breakdown leaving 200,000 commuters stuck. Even during the post-mortem of  the infamous Circle Line breakdown in 2011, the deterioration of a DC cable was ‘exacerbated by the presence of water in some cable pits’.  Are we in such a rush to become a Smart Nation that we’ve stupidly forgotten to attend to the very basics of water seepage prevention?

Kudos to the bus drivers and engineers for fixing the problem and their ‘all-out tireless’ work (according to state media). Trust Minister Khaw Boon Wan to guilt-trip us all for our constant complaining by citing tales of heroic, soggy courage, of our brave men and women knee deep in floodwater in the muggy dark of a tunnel as a diversion from his Ministry and SMRT leadership’s incompetence. How dare you call this the WORST BREAKDOWN in the HISTORY of the MRT, news media? All you do is sensationalise with your ‘facts and figures’, sitting in your dry cosy offices while our staff work their butts off!

Speaking of the minister, though he should really be wading with torchlight in cute yellow boots to inspect the damage with our tunnel heroes, he’s actually in Panama as we speak, according to his conspicuously silent Facebook page. Maybe he’s busy gathering tips on water management.  As the palindrome goes: A man, a plan, MRT still breaks down anyway.

Given how crazy the weather has been and is going to be, and how SMRT is still cocking things up despite repeated, useless fines, maybe what we commuters need is not mandatory digital literacy programs, but basic swimming lessons. Or emergency canoes in train tunnels.

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Khaw Boon Wan thinks main media has gone tabloid

From ‘Biased figures on MRT breakdown rate’, 29 July 2017, ST Forum

(Chan Yeow Chuan): I was taken aback by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s statement that the MRT is three times more reliable now than it was in 2015 (Khaw raises bar on MRT reliability; July 28).

However, after a more careful reading of the report, I realised that this conclusion was drawn from statistics that excluded delays caused by the new signalling system on the North-South Line.

Computing statistics this way is biased and unscientific.

I propose that delays caused by the testing of the new signalling system be factored in when calculating the mean kilometres between failures (MKBF).

If there has been a decrease in MKBF since 2015, this can be duly explained by the delays caused by the tests.

Calculating MKBF this way would give us a gauge as to how disruptive the tests of the new signalling system have been.

I support The Straits Times’ coverage of the recent breakdowns and delays of the MRT (Minister takes aim at press; July 28).

If these disruptions remain largely unreported or are glossed over by the newspaper, it could hurt its reputation and relevance as a news source.

Instead of expressing ‘grave concern‘ for the recent spate of breakdowns like his predecessor, Transport Minister Khaw opted for the deflective strategy of sympathising with SMRT workers and taking Trumpy potshots at the MSM.

“I don’t like the media reporting … Even our main media have turned tabloid. Yes, exciting and so on … frightening figures, headlines.”

“But I thought they were being unfair to the teams … working their guts out on this re-signalling project. They think it’s so easy, you know, like holding a pen and writing a few articles and get the signalling done. I wish it was so simple. If it was so simple, they don’t need us. We can ask the reporters to run the train system.”

This is the thanks you get for your not-so-subtle PAP propaganda, ST. All these decades helping to keep the PAP on its Iron Throne with your biased election reporting, and you get accused of distorting the facts. Which explains ST wasting no time publishing letters rebuking Khaw like the one above. At least Lui Tuck Yew knew better than to offend the PAP’s media mouthpiece.

In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, Khaw himself claimed that MRT reliability , defined as mean km between failure (MKBF), had increased 3 times since 2015, and excluded delays due to re-signalling because these happen ‘once every 30 years’. I assume this 30 years was calculated based on the very first train ride back in 1987, but it’s a statistical fallacy intended to mislead laymen into thinking that we won’t get another issue like this until 2047. Did Khaw learn anything from Yaacob’s ‘once every 50 years’ figure for freak floods?

But perhaps one reason why commuters still think the figures don’t reflect reality is how they experience a typical breakdown. A failure is defined as ‘a delay lasting longer than 5 minutes’, which means a train stalling for 4 minutes 50 seconds will not be considered as a significant delay. To anyone who’s suffered peak hour crunching, this feels like fucking eternity. So technically a train can continue to clock serviceable miles even if it stalls for 2 minutes every 5 stations and SMRT can continue to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Media will always be media, and sensationalism with catchy headlines and glaring images is simply business as usual, part of the arms race vs the scourge of fake news and social media. While the quality of our MSM can certainly improve, what we really need, as lifelong commuters, is that the quality of SMRT management and their overseeing Ministers improve as well.

Speaking of ‘exciting’ headlines, always remember this, Khaw.

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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.

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.

LTA mobilising SAF soldiers during MRT breakdowns

From ‘Talk of SAF helping out in rail incidents sparks debate’, 22 Aug 15, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

News that soldiers could be roped in to help out during massive train breakdowns has sparked a debate about whether the military should pitch in during such incidents. Many questioned if rail disruptions are a “matter of national security” and whether the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), “a national resource”, should be called upon to help the public transport operators, which are commercial entities. Others, though, felt it was worthwhile tapping the military, which can be mobilised quickly and is “quite dependable”.

The Straits Times reported that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has approached the SAF to explore deploying the men in green to give directions and manage crowds. They will be tapped only during large-scale disruptions.

Currently, personnel from the police, Public Transport Security Command and Singapore Civil Defence Force already help the LTA and public transport operators to manage such incidents.

On the issue of getting soldiers to lend a hand in the case of major disruptions, commuters had a variety of views. Accountant Lee Boon Chye, 29, who takes the train from Ang Mo Kio to work in Raffles Place, said: “While the army has the manpower and resources to get things done, it should not be helping to solve problems of companies that are profit- driven... It is also not a national crisis that requires soldiers. “These companies can hire auxiliary police officers or private security firms.”

…Defence analyst Ho Shu Huang said it is “not a bad thing” to involve the SAF for contingency planning, especially for worst-case scenarios. The associate research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University said: “Train breakdowns have so far resulted in delays for a few hours.

“But a train breakdown could become a crisis if there are other untoward consequences, such as a stampede, civil unrest or if the train breakdown continues for days or weeks… it will then be justifiable for the military to support efforts to manage the crisis.”

The last time the SAF was activated for a major event that had nothing to do with shooting and killing people was LKY’s state funeral, where 10,000 men and women were roped in to make sure the procession went smoothly (No job too big for Ah Boys, 16 May 15, ST). Other festivities which involved the army include the Youth Olympic Games in 2010, the recent SEA games, and of course the annual staple that is the NDP. The military supposedly has the most experience in organising massive groups of people quickly, and besides defending the nation or going overseas for humanitarian relief efforts, it sidelines as the country’s largest logistics organisation. It’s also a dependable source of cheap labour.

Event planning aside, SAF soldiers have been also tasked to patrol airports to beef up security against terrorists, which led some to question whether our boys in green are even qualified to handle hostage situations or urban warfare. There’s an unlikely long-standing relationship between SAF and public transport operators. In 1976, SBS ‘borrowed’ SAF mechanics to repair their buses in the midst of labour shortage. More bizarrely, soldiers were ‘volunteered’ to become guinea pigs in an 1987 experiment where they were subject to a mock breakdown exercise in the middle of a tunnel, squeezed into two cars to mimic peak hour conditions without air-conditioning. What is this, the Third Reich?

So not only does the SAF supply us with human bodies to do ‘sai-kang’, they also provide trial participants for ethically questionable experiments that test the limits of human endurance. Presumably because they’ve been adequately hard-drilled by the war machine to swallow unspeakable torture. Incidentally, both the LTA and SMRT chiefs are former military stalwarts, so no surprise that they probably agreed on this brilliant idea with a top brass handshake. Ah Boys to MRT Ushers, really. Furthermore, shouldn’t stampede control be managed by the riot police? Or we’re all reserving those guys for Little India scuffles?

So if we’re all fine with sacrificing our army pawns to tackle ‘national crises’ in peacetime, why stop at MRT breakdowns where there’s a remote chance of stampedes and ‘civil unrest’? We could apply their operational finesse in other matters that may affect ‘national security’, so that our police officers can focus on other areas like arresting bloggers. Here’s a list for consideration:

  1. McDonald’s Hello Kitty Queues
  2. Primary One Registration
  3. Securing JEM in event of fire/ceiling collapse/flood
  4. Security at K-pop concerts
  5. Crowd control when Kong Hee goes to court
  6. Sentry duty at SMRT depots in case of trespassing vandals
  7. Collection lines for SG50 Commemorative notes
  8. Picking up dead fish hit by mysterious seaborne disease
  9. N95 mask distribution during bad haze conditions
  10. Road marshalling at marathons. Wait, they’re probably already doing that for that Army one.

ACS chartering 5 MRT trains for rugby match

From ‘SMRT acknowledged prior approval should have been sought: LTA’, 27 Aug 2014, article in Today online.

Transport operator SMRT has explained to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) why it let Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) charter five of its trains to transport students and staff to a rugby match yesterday (Aug 26) at the National Stadium. SMRT has also “acknowledged that prior approval should have been sought”, said an LTA spokesperson in a statement today.

“The operator is required to obtain LTA’s approval to run trains for non-public transport purposes because as regulator, LTA is responsible for ensuring that train services to the public are provided as scheduled, and that any additional trips in the network do not adversely affect such services,” the spokesperson added.

ACS(I) had chartered the trains to transport 3,000 of its students and staff to the Schools National C Division rugby final match, which was the first school final to be held at the new National Stadium at the Sports Hub. Yesterday, the LTA said it was looking into the appropriate action to take against SMRT after the public transport operator failed to seek the necessary approval from the authorities before letting the school charter its trains.

They've got a ticket to ride

They’ve got a ticket to ride

When asked about why they supported this private entourage, SMRT said that they believed in ‘supporting local education’ and ‘national initiatives’ without compromising core service delivery (Rugby: ACS(I) to charter five MRT trains…25 Aug, ST). This was a rugby championship match between rival schools, not a mass deployment of martyrs to the battlefront. It’s MRT playing host to a private event, where instead of your favourite restaurant or theatre being closed off for some company party, it’s 5 entire trains. I doubt LTA would have said NO anyway even if SMRT had asked for permission. The alternative would be 80 buses clogging up the roads and this is one premier school which is more than able to afford hiring a Zeppelin or cruise liner if they wanted to. Better to inconvenience some lowly train commuters than aggravate those car-drivers, eh?

Still, when you see ACS’s motto being flashed on the LED scroller in the image above, you can’t help wondering if SMRT the public transport provider is sidelining as a party organiser here. If a school like ACS could hire MRT trains to bring their students to a sports competition, what’s stopping a multimillion, Government-endorsed company from doing the same to bring their employers to a Dinner and Dance, or from office to Changi Airport for an overseas AGM? If I’m very influential, could I hire one train just to ferry people to my gala wedding in style, complete with buskers and champagne? After all, it’s cheap, eco-friendly and SMRT has given us the assurance that normal passenger service would be minimally affected. Imagine if traditional rivals like RI or Hwa Chong followed suit with their own mass events. Hwa Chong even wanted an MRT station named after them for God’s sake. In fact, managing director Lee Ling Wee went on to ENCOURAGE more schools located near the CCL to charter trains during off-peak hours because it seems that they could afford it. You know, just to dispel the notion of MRT chartering being the sole right of elite institutions. Maybe SMRT should have an online booking system too, and exclusive themed trains like ‘Summer Wedding’ or ‘Ruggers’ Fiesta’ which you can choose to upgrade to.

I think if the event had been a charity fundraiser or a Big Day out for pioneers or the handicapped, few would complain. But this was for a select group with no noble intentions outside of flying some school flags or chanting slogans for a sport that only gets screened live in dingy Irish bars. I for one would rather watch a Bonsai pruning competition than the Rugby World Cup final. ACS’s private joyride had no philanthropic, ‘educational’ value or ‘national’ objective worthy of inspiration or pride. So why does rugby warrant this special privilege? Vivian Balakrishnan could have skimmed his YOG budget had he thought of chartering for volunteers and participants back in 2011. If you accept the argument that this is ‘cost effective’ then anybody can justify using the MRT as their grandfather’s train to move thousands of people for other frivolous reasons. Does SMRT have any qualification criteria at all?

As for that LED marquee screen that otherwise no one ever gives a shit about, now there’s an idea for a wedding proposal, guys.

SMRT giving away Care stickers to needy passengers

From ‘ SMRT rolls out stickers and special queues to promote better travel etiquette’, 25 July 2014, article in CNA

Transport operator SMRT has rolled out two schemes to create a better travel experience for commuters who require special attention: Priority queues and care stickers.

Priority Queues for lifts in some train stations will ensure that passengers in need are able to access the lift more easily, SMRT said on Friday (July 25). The trial will see floor stickers pasted at the entrance to lifts at 12 selected MRT stations…

Care Stickers are meant to help SMRT staff and commuters identify those who may need help along their commute. Commuters may approach staff at all SMRT Passenger Service Centres along the North-South, East-West and Circle Lines, as well as SMRT Bus Interchanges (Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang, Sembawang, Woodlands and Yishun) for a Care Sticker that corresponds with their special needs.

SMRT said the measures are meant to help five groups of commuters who might require special care and attention: Expectant mothers, senior citizens, parents travelling with infants, commuters with mobility needs and unwell passengers. 

“Our bus and train services carry more than 2.5 million commuters every day and among them are some who might need some extra care. While passengers are generally courteous and are willing to offer seats to those in need, we feel that a sticker could help commuters identify and extend care more easily,” said Mr Alvin Kek, Vice-President of Rail Operations at SMRT Trains.

I'm wearing this because I want a seat

I’m wearing this because I want a seat

That we need priority badges to nudge commuters into giving up their seats is a worrying affirmation that we have a ‘compassion deficit’. I once saw a pregnant lady in the advanced stages of gestation sitting in the reserved seat with a ‘care sticker’ and my first thought was ‘WHY IS THIS THING EVEN NECESSARY?’, followed by ‘Where did she get that?’. Didn’t LTA already assure us that a staggering 94% of passengers will give up their seat to those that need them more?

Yes that is exactly how a needy person views the Reserved Seat

Yes that is exactly how a needy person views the Reserved Seat

As if queuing for the lifts, at the platform etc isn’t bad enough, now we have pregnant women queuing at the control stations to get a sticker so that HOPEFULLY someone would surrender their seat to them. Kinda useless if people are pretending to sleep isn’t it. What if no one gives up the seat still? Are expectant mothers going to charge SMRT for wasting their time? Besides, men, no matter how old and hobbly they are, are NEVER EVER going to paste on themselves a sticker depicting a grandmother carrying bags of groceries from Sheng Siong. If I just had an arm in a cast, I wouldn’t opt for a sticker that makes me look like a complete invalid. I foresee only the Pregnant sticker being the main sell here, which would be especially helpful if we can’t tell if a woman is carrying a baby or just fat, while the rest can jolly well end up in some quirky heritage section of the Philatelic Museum.

Of the 5 stickers, the one for the ‘unwell’ passenger (with the face mask) presents a somewhat ‘sticky’ situation. Are SMRT staff bloody DOCTORS? Can they TELL the difference between someone who’s ‘not feeling well’ vs someone who’s just faking a concussion to get a seat on the train? Did SMRT consider the potential abuse of this ‘privilege’ system? If I create a bootleg sticker or get someone to sell me his ‘Unwell’ badge, and I’m shameless enough to pretend to be sick, I can go around bugging people to surrender their seats, brandishing my privilege in their faces like a crappy employee flashing his MC to his boss.

Won’t this also mean additional time taken up by staff to hand out stickers instead of more important tasks like security or tending to REAL emergencies? Or making sure people don’t drink WATER for that matter. I may get so tied up ‘looking out’ for people with care stickers to ‘care’ about a suspicious bag in the corner with a disturbing ticking sound coming out of it. Maybe SMRT should get people carrying bulky bags to put stickers on them saying ‘Thanks for making sure I’m not a suicide bomber’.

This all seems like an elaborate charade to distract us all from SMRT’s real failing: actual service standards. Barely a week ago, the company was fined $1.65 million for disruptions, and now this sticker idea seems to be suggesting they still have money to spare, using the theme of ‘graciousness’ as a smokescreen for lapses in ‘efficiency’.  It started with some juvenile marketing of characters right out of a children’s book, where we had toons resembling pirated Minions like Stand-UP Stacey rapping about ‘the goodness in you’.

More like Stand-Up-for-Stickers-Stacey now. If there’s one character they missed out it’s Bag-Down-Bala (to ensure ethnic mix). Because people with huge backpacks blocking the way and knocking people into a state such that they qualify for Unwell stickers are the worst.

Other than lift priority queues, SMRT also invited buskers to make the rush hour a more ‘pleasant’ platform experience as part of a 3 month trial. Then there are the ‘Lorong boys’ who go around carriages getting grumpy commuters in the mood for jitterbugging instead of staring at their damn phones. Which is all fine and sweet, but is really the equivalent of giving a kid a soothing lollipop while you’re pumping a stinging enema up his rectum.