'This shouldn't be happening'

PHOTO: Nguyen Tuan Anh

It was second-time lucky for Mr Nguyen Tuan Anh yesterday.

Knowing something was not right when he entered the darkened Hougang MRT station at 7.40am, he made a quick decision to take a bus instead of taking his chances on the train.

Mr Nguyen, 24, an operations associate, reacted quickly because he had been caught in a major disruption on July 7. He did not want to relive the same "chaotic" experience again.

His decision ensured that he narrowly escaped the disruption along the North East Line (NEL). He also did not have to jostle with other peak-hour commuters.

Mr Nguyen described the MRT station as hot and stuffy. It was dark, escalators were not running and the usual peak-hour commuters were waiting for the train that never came, he said.

He added: "I didn't want to take the risk, so I took the bus before the crowd rushed to the bus station. The scale of the breakdown was not known, so I took the safer bet."

Although he expected a traffic jam on the road during peak hours, it was near enough for him to take a bus to Serangoon MRT station before transferring to the Circle Line to get to One-North MRT station, where he works, he added.

He ended up reaching his workplace at 9am. "I planned to reach at 8.20am to go to the gym. My work starts at 9.30am, so eventually I was still early by half an hour," he said.

Yesterday, train services on the NEL were disrupted at 7.40am due to a power fault, said SBS Transit's Tammy Tan.

The senior vice-president for corporate communications said that train services between Hougang and Farrer Park were affected. There were also power blackouts at Buangkok, Hougang, Kovan, Serangoon and Woodleigh MRT stations.

Emergency lights were activated in the affected stations while the train operator worked at restoring power supply, she added.

Services restarted gradually after 8am. But many commuters, such as Mr Philip Lim, were not as lucky as Mr Nguyen.

Long wait for taxi

Mr Lim, 23, who was at Serangoon MRT station, found himself at the end of a long taxi queue made up of other affected commuters. He ended up calling for a taxi instead, after much difficulty.

"I was so late for my class that it ended 10 minutes after I finally arrived. This shouldn't be happening on a newer line like NEL," the National University of Singapore undergraduate said.

One Twitter user said she took 1½ hours to travel from Punggol to Serangoon and likened Sengkang MRT station - where she was stuck at - to a "moshpit".

SBS Transit's Ms Tan said trains gradually resumed service from 8.10am and by 8.20am, the NEL trains were in full service. Free shuttle buses were also available for affected commuters.

"We apologise to all passengers for the distress and inconvenience caused. We are investigating the cause of the fault," she added.

The NEL power fault comes a day after Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan wrote about the importance of recovering services quickly and minimising inconvenience to commuters in his blog, Moving News.

"We are committed to minimising rail disruptions. But when even the best in class, Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway, experiences on average one major disruption monthly, we are reminded of our Home Team's 'low crime does not mean no crime' message.

"So the key question is, if and when it happens, what can we do to recover service speedily and to minimise inconvenience to commuters?

"There must therefore be comprehensive contingency plans for breakdowns. More importantly, there must be actual and regular walk-throughs and 'live rehearsals'. This will ensure smoother execution of such plans when disruptions happen."


This article was first published on October 14, 2015.
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