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Do you hear what I hear?

It was the night of The Great MRT Breakdown. -TNP

Tue, Dec 20, 2011
The New Paper

It may not sound like much of a mission - until the train you're on seems like it could self-destruct in five seconds.

That was what happened on Thursday evening after I took my kids to see Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol at GV Yishun.

While waiting for the train home on the crowded train platform, I half-heard a recorded announcement about a one-hour delay for trains headed for Jurong East due to a track fault.

How could SMRT have another service disruption less than 48 hours after the Circle Line breakdown? Could the train operator be so unlucky?

Just then, the train headed for Jurong East arrived, which was confusing. I thought there was going to be a one-hour delay? Did I mishear the announcement?

I hesitated for a moment, but people were getting on the train as if nothing was wrong, so my two kids and I followed suit.

I mean, what was the worst that could happen?

Once on the train, I quickly checked my Twitter feed on my iPhone for news about a possible MRT breakdown. At the time, the closest thing I found was a tweet that said, "Just heard: all commuters chased out of #SMRT City Hall station."

That sounded serious. But City Hall was about a dozen train stations away from us in the opposite direction. I figured we were safe.

So I was blithely playing Angry Birds' new Birdday Party levels on my iPhone when suddenly, there was a loud clanging. Then it stopped. It sounded like the train had hit a piece of metal on the tracks.

The passengers looked at each other, asking silently, "What was that?"

But the train was still speeding along unabated, so we thought (or hoped) it was nothing.

Just before reaching the Yew Tee station, there was another clanging. This time, it was louder and lasted longer. Now, people were starting to panic.

As the train arrived at the station and slowed to a stop, our train car rattled with an ungodly roar that sounded like it was about to fall apart.

When the train doors opened, most of the passengers (including me and the kids) rushed out as if our lives depended on it.

The few who remained behind looked confused as to why people were suddenly fleeing the train. Maybe those few were waiting for an official announcement to evacuate.

Fortunately, it was my stop, but for many of the passengers who alighted from the same car as us, it wasn't theirs. As I headed for the escalator, they were nervously waiting for the next train.

Curiously, only the last car, which we were in, was almost deserted as the train left the Yew Tee station. The rest of the train seemed unaffected.

When I finally reached home, I searched the Internet for news about an MRT train disintegrating on the way to Jurong East. What I found instead was worse (or not as bad, depending on how you look at it). That was, of course, the night of The Great MRT Breakdown of 2011.

Four north-bound trains had stalled between Braddell and City Hall stations after being damaged by a faulty power rail.

Now I wonder if the train my kids and I were on was also damaged, which would explain the noises.

The week started with a taxi fare hike despite taxi operators failing to meet service standards. Then came news of the SBS bus driver who got lost for two hours. Then came three epic MRT breakdowns in four days (including another one yesterday).

Looks like fixing our public transport system is going to be a - yes, I'm saying it - mission: impossible. Tom Cruise, where are you?


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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