Running group that wanted to mark path with flour behind Woodleigh MRT scare

Running group that wanted to mark path with flour behind Woodleigh MRT scare
Police and SCDF vehicles outside Woodleigh MRT station, on April 18, 2017. Photo: Robin Choo/TODAY
Published: 5:06 PM, April 18, 2017
Updated: 6:51 AM, April 19, 2017

SINGAPORE — For causing public alarm, a 69-year-old man was nabbed on Tuesday (April 18) after he allegedly used baking flour to mark a running route at several spots in Woodleigh MRT Station, causing a three-hour closure.

This is the second security scare at an MRT station here in less than three weeks.

Two other men, aged 53 and 70, were with the man at the time, and are helping the police with investigations.

It was a 58-year-old cleaner at the station who discovered what looked like suspicious white substance. Several police and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) vehicles were deployed to the station to investigate, and after several hours, Hazardous Materials (HazMat) officers from the SCDF established the substance to be baking flour.  

TODAY understands that the men, who are all Singaporeans, belong to a running group called the Seletar Hash House Harriers, and the flour was found at four locations in the station’s concourse.

Mr Harish Pillay, an IT consultant and member of the running group, told TODAY that the men-only chapter — which holds runs at 6pm on Tuesdays — uses everything from flour and chalk to toilet paper and shredded paper to mark their trails. This has been a long-standing practice for decades, and they would then pick or clean these up after the run.

The 57-year-old said that, for certain trails, the group uses flour — which is luminous and allows runners to spot the route at night. These include tracks in open spaces such as fields, but it would not be used for trails in public places, which are demarcated with chalk, for instance.

He declined to comment on the Woodleigh station incident.

On April 2, Hougang MRT Station — also on the North-East Line — was closed for more than an hour after a suitcase was left unattended there. A 39-year-old man, who had left the bag there intentionally and went off to run an errand, was arrested for causing public alarm and later released on police bail while investigations continue. The police found household items in the suitcase.

It was unclear if the latest incident yesterday was an act of mischief or an accident.

The cleaner who found the trail did not want to be named, but told TODAY she saw the white powdered substance near a pillar at the station as she was about to leave for lunch. She informed the station manager about it because she did not recall seeing the substance when sweeping the floor at about 7am.

The police said they were alerted to the incident at around 1pm and the station shut at 1.25pm. Free bus services were provided between the Serangoon and Potong Pasir stations.

When TODAY reached the scene at about 2.20pm, an SCDF Hazmat Control vehicle, a fire engine and at least four police vehicles were seen. Dozens of SCDF and police officers were also sent there.

NE11 Woodleigh Stn is closed due to a security incident. Free bus rides are available at bus stops btwn Serangoon & Potong Pasir Stns

— SBS Transit (@SBSTransit_Ltd) April 18, 2017

The Police are attending to an incident at Woodleigh MRT station. Please avoid area. Updates will be provided when available.

— SingaporePoliceForce (@SingaporePolice) April 18, 2017

Members of the public are advised not to speculate on the case of suspicious substance found at Woodleigh MRT Station. Updates will follow.

— SingaporePoliceForce (@SingaporePolice) April 18, 2017

Full-time national serviceman Cleon Bong, 22, was at Punggol MRT Station going to Potong Pasir when he heard the news. He decided to alight at Serangoon and take a bus to Woodleigh to “take a look”. He said: “(It’s) not every day the train will skip a station.”

Fellow commuter Dan Peter Gollayan, 32, took the train from Serangoon station to his workplace at the Stamford American International School — which is next to Woodleigh station — when he noticed that the train bypassed the station. Mr Gollayan, an info-communications technology staff member of the school, returned to Serangoon and hopped on a bus to Woodleigh.

Ms Tammy Goetz, a music teacher at the school, said that after the news broke, the principal sent email messages with instructions for students, such as alternative routes to take to avoid the station, and that parents had been contacted.

At the bus-stop in front of the station, grassroots volunteers from Potong Pasir were standing by with 50 or so umbrellas, and handing them out to residents caught in the downpour.

The station resumed operations at 4.20pm. Speaking to reporters after that, Member of Parliament (Potong Pasir) Sitoh Yih Pin said: “Much as we always hope that nothing untoward will happen, we must always be prepared in case something does happen... There was no over-reaction. We can’t take chances in situations like this.”

The police said that they treat all security threats seriously and would not hesitate to take action against anyone who causes public alarm. They also remind the public to report any suspicious items or behaviour to the transport authorities or the police immediately.