About 35,000 commuters on their way to work just after 8am yesterday were hit by a major breakdown on the North East Line (NEL). It was the fourth incident on the 12-year-old line that lasted more than 30 minutes this year.
Operator SBS Transit said that there was a signalling glitch at 7.08am yesterday affecting service between Sengkang and Punggol stations. It was fixed at about 7.20am.
However, another developed at 8.09am, hitting morning-peak commuters using the Punggol, Sengkang, Buangkok and Hougang stations hardest. The disruption lasted more than two hours.
When The Straits Times (ST) visited Sengkang Station between 10.15am and 10.45am, the northbound track was not in service.
The south or city-bound track was running intermittently between Punggol and Buangkok stations, and later extended to Hougang.
Sales manager George Ow, 55, said he left his house at 7.45am and was still figuring out how to get to work in Bukit Batok when he spoke to ST at 10.30am at Sengkang Station.
"The queue for the buses is very long," he said.
Brand manager Fairshyan Chong, 30, who was at the Sengkang Station at about 10.20am, said she was alerted by her husband much earlier, but thought the breakdown would have been resolved by then.
"I also tried calling for a cab for over an hour, but couldn't get one," she said. "And where I work in Ubi, I don't have a bus."
While SBS Transit estimates that the incident affected about 35,000 passengers in Sengkang, Punggol and those transferring from the Sengkang-Punggol LRT, it also hit commuters farther down the line.
Psychologist Tan Jun Lin, 33, boarded the train at Farrer Park Station at about 8.25am to go to work in Outram.
The journey took almost twice as long as the usual 15 minutes. "The train stopped for around five minutes at two or three stations," Ms Tan said. "I'm lucky because I live just a few stops away. Those living in Sengkang and Punggol will be very frustrated."
SBS Transit said service resumed at 10.28am - nearly 31/2 hours after the first of the two glitches occurred.
Even then, when ST visited Serangoon Station at about 11am, signboards and announcements warned of longer travelling times.
SBS Transit said that the announcements were a result of a human error and that service resumed fully at 10.28am.
Meanwhile, commuters complained that bus bridging services deployed by SBS Transit were confusing. Civil servant Sim Soon How, 65, said he intended to take the train from Punggol to Sengkang but, as services were down, he was directed to hop onto a free bus shuttle.
However, he went on a roundabout trip to Hougang, before going to Buangkok and then to Sengkang. "I wasted my time. If I took a normal bus service, 83, from Punggol, I would have reached in about 10 to 15 minutes," he said.
Border security officer Bella Juremi, 23, who had just finished a 12-hour overnight shift, was in Hougang to catch a train home in Punggol - a six-minute journey.
But yesterday, it took her more than three times as long via the free shuttle. "I really need to go home and rest," she said with a sigh on the bus.
The 20km NEL, although accounting for just 13 per cent of Singapore's total MRT network length, experienced three out of seven major breakdowns in the first half of this year.
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