SMRT replaces senior staff days after 20-hour NSL disruption: Internal memo

SMRT replaces senior staff days after 20-hour NSL disruption: Internal memo
The crowd of commuters waiting for free shuttle buses at the bus stop opposite Bishan MRT station after train services from Ang Mo Kio to Marina South Pier were suspended on Oct 7, 2017. Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY
Rail operator says it’s ‘strengthening its building and facilities team’ following disruption
Published: 8:45 PM, October 12, 2017
Updated: 10:06 PM, October 12, 2017

SINGAPORE — Rail operator SMRT has replaced a senior staff member involved in maintenance, according to an internal memo on Thursday (Oct 12).

This came hours after the publication of a news report which blamed inadequate maintenance of a water-pumping system for the tunnel flooding that disrupted train services for more than 20 hours on the North-South Line (NSL) last weekend.

Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, which broke the news, added that SMRT staff overseeing equipment maintenance could be transferred out of their posts for failing in their duties.

The Zaobao report, however, gave no indication of how many employees could be affected.

In the SMRT circular, a copy of which was seen by TODAY, the rail operator said Mr Siu Yow Wee has been appointed, with immediate effect, to take over Mr Ng Tek Poo in running its building and services division.

Mr Ng was previously SMRT’s vice-president for maintenance, while Mr Siu was its director of station operations for the North-South and East-West lines.

In the memo, which was sent to all employees, the company did not lay out the reasons for the change and gave no details of Mr Ng’s next appointment, if any.

Based on SMRT’s annual report for 2016, when Mr Ng was vice-president for procurement and supply, he had been in charge of procurement and logistics, overseeing areas such as inventory management and warehouse operations. 
He joined SMRT in 2000 as a maintenance manager in building services, the report said.

In 2012, Mr Ng, then vice-president for maintenance, was one of the SMRT staff members who took the stand at a Committee of Inquiry hearing into the massive train breakdowns on the NSL in December 2011, which affected more than 200,000 commuters.

The first major breakdown on Dec 15 that year lasted five hours. Two days later, Singaporeans awoke to news of another trip-up that dragged on for seven hours, leading Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to order a public inquiry. 

When contacted on Thursday, SMRT’s vice-president for corporate communications Patrick Nathan told TODAY that the company would not comment on staff matters, but it was strengthening its building and facilities team in light of last weekend’s disruption.

Zaobao’s report on Thursday claimed that inadequate maintenance was behind the water-pump failure that caused the disruption on the NSL.

“The pump was not operable during a critical period due to a lack of maintenance,” the report added, citing anonymous sources.

TODAY’s queries to the rail operator and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on what caused the water-pumping system to malfunction, and when the pumps were last serviced and how often they were maintained, have gone unanswered since the start of this week.

The disruption, one of the worst since 2011, began on Saturday evening and thwarted the journeys of thousands of commuters until Sunday afternoon.

The LTA had earlier revealed that the faulty water-pumping system resulted in water overflowing from the stormwater sump pit, where rainwater accumulates, into the tunnel through the rail tracks where trains from Bishan zip underground towards Braddell.

As a safety precaution, SMRT de-activated the trackside power supply, stopping services from Ang Mo Kio to Newton stations.