Many answers, but a few questions remain
COI says major disruptions last December were preventable; makes 24 recommendations
SINGAPORE - After a six-week inquiry involving more than 100 witnesses, the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday released its 358-page report containing a detailed account of what went wrong and a raft of recommendations covering areas including public transport operator SMRT's maintenance regime and its incident management procedures.
In total, the committee made 24 recommendations, some of which have already been implemented during the course of the inquiry.
Concluding that the disruptions on Dec 15 and 17 - which affected more than 200,000 commuters - were "preventable", the COI also suggested ways to better manage future incidents, including free MRT rides on unaffected sections.
However, despite the fact that witnesses cited confusion over the roles of SMRT and the LTA, particularly during an emergency, the committee stopped short of prescribing a solution.
Nevertheless, the COI said it was "of the view that the roles of the public transport operators, LTA and other stakeholders during a train service disruption should be spelt out more clearly". It added that "one possibility is to include a detailed delineation of the roles and responsibilities of each party" in the various codes of practice as well as licence and operating agreements.
Speaking to TODAY, National University of Singapore (NUS) transport expert Lee Der Horng felt that the COI could have gone further in examining the LTA's role.
Noting that the "whole report has one purpose - to assure us that the system is safe and reliable", Associate Professor Lee said: "The incident was preventable but was not prevented. It is disappointing that SMRT did nothing, things that were supposed to be checked were not checked."
He added: "And all this while, where was the LTA? They are the regulator and should know the system better than the operators - if not how do they regulate? I would question if the regulators have the corresponding technical capabilities to be able to regulate."
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew is expected to make a ministerial statement on the COI in Parliament next week. And NUS transport economist Anthony Chin felt that it was something for the Government to decide as to how the LTA, as a regulator, should be held to account for any shortcomings.
"The burden of responsibility lies (with) SMRT which failed to put in rigorous, frequent and effective checks, and LTA which failed to institutionalize (them)," said Assoc Prof Chin.
UniSIM School of Business transport expert Park Byung Joon noted that "one of the common questions (that) commuters appear to ask were why SMRT did not have a more stringent maintenance regime and (why) the LTA did not impose stricter guidelines". But Dr Park reiterated: "The danger of addressing those issues is that it can become a blame game quite quickly."
Mountbatten Member of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, did not think that recommendations on LTA were lacking.
For instance, the COI suggested that LTA impose a requirement on SMRT to conduct a Maintenance Management System audit every three or four years to identify areas for improvement. "The reality is that SMRT carries greater burden but of course, that does not mean LTA can just wash its hands off and I think COI is correct (in saying) LTA must do something - and that is tighter supervision of SMRT," he said.
In a statement yesterday, SMRT reiterated it "has operated a comprehensive maintenance regime in the past, regularly validated by LTA, which has served us well and placed SMRT among the top performing metro operators."
Since the December disruptions, SMRT has been implementing various initiatives to improve service reliability and incidence response, in collaboration with LTA.
Some of the COI's recommendations
Maintenance, engineering issues
- Better detect third rail sags and formalise procedures to manage dislodged claws and Third Rail Support Assemblies (TRSA)
- Conduct annual TRSA inspections and non-destructive testing on the third rail
- Work with LTA to develop more robust TRSA and properly inspect cable ties used in the meantime
- Upgrade or replace current multi-function vehicle used to inspect running and third rail
- Improve back-up power supply of trains
Incident management issues
- LTA to lead development of integrated Land Transport Emergency Plan
- SMRT to consider having overarching incident command centre
- SMRT to emphasise passenger well-being in review of Rail Incident Management Plan
- LTA and operators to study enhancing bus-bridging plans
- Better training for SMRT staff handling disruptions, in areas such as customer service
By Neo Chai Chin
05 July 2012