Signalling issues and stalled train disrupt service on Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit lines

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Train services on two of Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit system lines, both operated by SMRT Corporation, were disrupted at separate times yesterday in two incidents.

During the morning rush hour, six stations of the Circle MRT Line (CCL) were without train service in both directions during the morning rush hour following what SMRT described as "intermittent signal interference". The company first announced the signalling fault on Twitter at 7:37 am, advising commuters to anticipate 10 additional minutes of travel time in the commute between Pasir Panjang and one-north stations. The fault was announced rectified two minutes later by another tweet from SMRT, though delays were still expected in the direction of Dhoby Ghaut station due to congestion at stations and on trains.

File photo of HarbourFront station, 2006.
Image: Sengkang.

SMRT issued another tweet at 8:09 am, alerting commuters to another signalling fault affecting the CCL, on the stretch between Botanic Gardens and HarbourFront stations.

Initially informing commuters that the issue would add 10 minutes of travel time along the affected stretch, the company later revised this to 20, and finally, 30 minutes in subsequent tweets, attributing the delays to "intermittent signalling faults".

The company later announced via Twitter service unavailable between Botanic Gardens and Marymount stations at 9:06 am, whilst offering free bus services along the length of the CCL. SMRT later amended the announcement in another tweet to encompass the stretch between Botanic Gardens and Serangoon stations. Train service was restored along the affected stretch by about 10:27 am.

SMRT had previously experienced disruptions in service on the CCL for five consecutive days in September, also attributable to signalling issues, leading to authorities briefly switching off mobile signals at four CCL stations for two hours on September 2 during investigations. Most of the disruptions took place during peak hours, leading to suspicion the telecommunications network could be interfering with the train signalling system. After tests proved inconclusive following the lack of a disruption that day, the decision was made to turn off telecommunications signals in the event of another disruption.

“It's very frustrating", commented a commuter, 41-year-old Joseph Lim. "The trains are sometimes moving and sometimes getting stuck. I don't know whether to stay on board. The communication has been insufficient".

Another commuter, 29-year-old Alice Pan, stated, "I am now stuck at the station with no way to get to work. I can't get on any SBS buses because they are full and there's no free shuttle bus in sight. I can't get any cabs either". Pan was stranded in a train for an hour at Lorong Chuan station.

36-year-old Sean Chew, said of his experience during the incident, "I was stuck at Buona Vista for more than one hour. I didn't want to take the bus because it was very crowded. So no choice, had to wait [...] Luckily I just finished work."

However, following the morning incidents, a stalled train on the East West MRT Line led to a half-hour disruption during the evening peak hour on the same day. SMRT informed commuters of the disruption, between Queenstown and Outram Park stations in the direction of Pasir Ris station, on Twitter at 5:48 pm, attributing it to a "train fault" at Tiong Bahru station. In the same tweet, SMRT estimated that the issue would be resolved around 6:10 pm. Due to the disruption, the company offered free bus services along the affected stretch in a subsequent tweet.

At 6:20 pm, SMRT announced on Twitter that it had cleared the disruption by removing the stalled train, and that trains were "progressively return[ing] to normal speed". The company continued to offer free bus services until 7 pm, when it announced the termination of the service on Twitter.

In the wake of yesterday's incidents, commuters criticized SMRT's handling of the matter on social media, citing SMRT's failure to provide sufficient information or sufficient buses for commuters, and uploading photos of the congestion.