SMRT Managing Director of Trains Lee Ling Wee has finally admitted to the obvious yesterday on TV yesterday: SMRT just could not handle the “unprecedented disruption” last Tuesday, despite having 700 staff on the ground that night. He suggested setting up a taskforce involving the Land Transport Authority and other enforcement agencies.

“One trainload is about 1,400, so we’re talking about three to four trainloads of people descending onto the concourse and we were just not able to cope. This is a situation whereby I think SMRT just doesn’t have the organic capacity to cope with this level of disruption. I think perhaps it’s something that we need to take at the national level,” he said.

The LTA chief said they had mobilised whatever assets they could on the night, including buses from SBS Transit. The authority was also planning to call on private bus operators if it had to, as back-up.

“We will have to have a deep examination what worked, what didn’t work. We pull back and ask ourselves what are the additional contingency actions and plans we need to put together so we can be better prepared,” Mr Chew said.

Mr Lee was on Channel 5’s Talking Point with the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) chief executive Chew Men Leong and Professor Lee Der Horng, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore.

When asked about the cause behind the disruptions, Mr Lee blamed the increasing number of disruptions on aging rail networks. He says the North-South and East-West Lines are the first major rail lines to be built and they are nearing the end of their life span.

Mr Lee added a probable cause for last Tuesday’s breakdown was the aging insulators in the train’s third rail system, which may have caused a short circuit.

“The third rail is actually suspended in the air by a series of brackets,” he said. “The brackets are insulated from the third rail by this ceramic material that is called insulator. The third rail system has been in place since 1987, so it is almost 30 years old, and some of these insulators are aging, and so there’s a possibility that some of them have lost their insulation properties.”

As commuters, we can only wonder why – despite having years to replace the aging brackets and insulators – did SMRT not act sooner to replace these parts? Was it more a case of “profits first” and a “not-my-problem” attitude that led to the breakdowns and poor state of maintenance for SMRT?

What do you think?

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