Soldiers may help manage crowds in rail disruptions

Soldiers will be roped in as marshals to give directions to stricken commuters in the event of a massive train breakdown, The Straits Times has learnt.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA), which is beefing up its contingency plans, has approached the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to explore deploying the men in green to give directions and manage crowds. They will be tapped only during large-scale disruptions.

The LTA said that personnel from the police, Public Transport Security Command (Transcom) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force are already helping the LTA and the public transport operators in managing such incidents.

A spokesman for the LTA told The Straits Times that it "will also work with other agencies like the Defence Ministry to provide additional manpower resources if necessary".

When contacted, the Defence Ministry also confirmed the move, saying that the SAF will work with LTA in the event of a major disruption, "while maintaining our primary responsibility to safeguard our security environment".

The latest move comes on the back of a spate of major incidents involving Singapore's rail system.

The most recent was the July 7 massive breakdown of the North-South and East-West MRT lines, which affected some 250,000 commuters during the peak hour.

There were accounts of people, whose trains broke down around 7pm, not managing to get home until close to midnight. Some had to walk all the way. In the wake of the incident, a review was conducted, said Senior Minister of State

for Transport Josephine Teo in Parliament on Monday. She said it was found that the contingency plans of rail operator SMRT were "not adequate" to handle the scale of the breakdown.

As a result, trunk bus services calling at MRT stations hit by delays or breakdowns will be ramped up to provide alternative travel options for commuters, said Mrs Teo.

Transport expert Park Byung Joon said that tapping the military during massive disruptions makes sense as soldiers can be called up and deployed at short notice and "can channel commuters to the right places as quickly as possible".

The adjunct associate professor at SIM University said that using the military as "alternative backup manpower" during such incidents is not unheard of.

He pointed out that some special forces troops in the South Korean army learn how to operate trains to ensure train services continue in the event of a strike by train drivers.

Mr Alex Yam, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said deploying SAF personnel at MRT stations is not entirely new as soldiers are already put in key installations like Jurong Island and Changi Airport to conduct patrols. They also have experience in crowd control during mega national events like the National Day Parade.

Mr Yam added: "Transcom already has a sizeable pool of officers, so activating military men will not be the first course of action. It is a last resort."

This article was first published on August 21, 2015.
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