Two-hour NEL breakdown hits 41,000 commuters

Two-hour NEL breakdown hits 41,000 commuters
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said disruptions tarnish Singapore’s reputation and the authorities are redoubling efforts to improve train reliability. Photo: Channel NewsAsia
Published: 7:24 AM, October 26, 2015
Updated: 1:10 AM, October 27, 2015

SINGAPORE — A trip-up during the testing of a new train on the North East Line led to about 41,000 commuters getting off to a slow start on the week — in the middle of exam season — with services down for some two hours.

The disruption is the sixth major one to hit the line this year, including one in September caused by a signalling glitch that left 35,000 commuters stranded during the morning rush hour. 

SBS Transit (SBST), which operates the 12-year-old NEL, said the disruption today was caused by a new train undergoing testing snapping the contact wire of the overhead catenary system power supply line — which transmits electricity to trains — as it was moving back to the NEL depot.  

The power failure affected the launch of trains for the morning service, which starts at Sengkang on weekdays at 5.37am. 

The south-bound service came back up at 6.51am, while the north-bound service started at about 7.20am. About 41,000 commuters were affected by the disruption, said SBST. We apologise to affected commuters for the inconvenience caused,” said SBST chief executive Gan Juay Kiat. 

The cause of the incident was still being investigated by LTA and SBST. Neither party elaborated on the processes in place that could have prevented such an incident.

The disruption also saw contingency plans drawn up after the massive July 7 breakdown on the North-South and East-West lines being put into action. SBST deployed an additional 110 buses for free shuttle services, which were made available at designated bus stops along the NEL line during the disruption. 

Regular bus services were also made free — initially along affected stations on the NEL, and later extended island-wide in light of the O- and A-level examinations taking place. Transcom officers were supported on-site by LTA enforcement officers and the Traffic Police to assist in crowd management.

SBST also offered refunds to those who paid for their bus rides between 5.23am to 9.30am this morning, which can be done at passenger service centres located at all MRT stations over the next seven days.

Following the July 7 disruption, new contingency plans were devised to help operators better cope with major breakdowns. Special shuttle bus services will be sent to four key stations within 90 minutes to send stranded passengers to main heartland towns. Beacon lights are also being installed at bus stops near MRT stations, to signal breakdowns and free regular bus services during breakdowns. 

Commenting on the breakdown today on his blog, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: “Such breakdowns tarnish our reputation, and we are re-doubling our efforts to improve train reliability. Singaporeans deserve better.”