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9-hour NEL breakdown hits 18,000

SINGAPORE — Train services between Punggol and Sengkang MRT stations were disrupted for nine hours yesterday, in what was the longest breakdown on the North-East Line (NEL) since the record 12-hour delay in March 2012.

SINGAPORE — Train services between Punggol and Sengkang MRT stations were disrupted for nine hours yesterday, in what was the longest breakdown on the North-East Line (NEL) since the record 12-hour delay in March 2012.

Yesterday’s disruption, which took place between 6am and 3pm, affected about 18,000 commuters. Initially, train services between three stations — Punggol, Sengkang and Buangkok — were hit and scores of commuters fanned out of the stations to bus stops and taxi stands. At about 8am, trains were turned around at Sengkang station, enabling service between Sengkang and HarbourFront stations.

NEL operator SBS Transit said the disruption was due to a power fault caused by a dislocation of the cantilever arms holding the contact wire of the power supply line at the tunnels near Punggol station. As a result, power supply to the trains was cut off. This is the first time the arms have dislodged, added SBS Transit.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it would carry out an investigation into the cause and the operator’s management of the incident, which was criticised by some commuters, in contrast to the praise SBS Transit received from commuters and Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew in the aftermath of the March 2012 disruption.

Student Chia Yao Le, 19, was among the commuters who were affected yesterday. She ended up half an hour late for school. She said the service staff deployed did not know where the queues for the free shuttle buses started. “It was confusing with so many people.”

Another commuter, Mr Joke Jong, said he noticed only one sign that was placed outside the train station. The 31-year-old Indonesian said: “There were a lot of people queuing for the shuttle buses ... people were asking around for where to start queuing.”

Mr Mohammad Faruq Senin, 23, and Mr Matthew Yeo, 21, both Nanyang Technological University undergraduates, were stuck at Sengkang station for a while before they gave up waiting to board a free shuttle bus. “The queues were very long,” said Mr Yeo.

Addressing commuters’ feedback, SBS Transit’s senior vice-president of corporate communications, Ms Tammy Tan, said when the disruption happened, the operator immediately instructed all its Goodwill Ambassadors to head to affected stations. “It, however, took some time for all our Goodwill Ambassadors to reach the various stations and this might have affected information dissemination on the ground. We deeply apologise to all commuters affected,” she said.

SBS Transit said more than 70 Goodwill Ambassadors and traffic inspectors were sent to assist commuters, while more than 20 engineers were involved in the recovery work.

Checks were also conducted to ensure safe operations before full service resumed, it added. The operator said it is conducting detailed investigations to determine the cause of the fault.

Almost 40 shuttle buses were in operation during the disruption, while commuters were able to board public bus services for free at designated bus stops near the affected stations.

This is the fourth major disruption on the NEL this year. In April, train services towards Punggol station were delayed for almost an hour due to a power fault, while on March 29, a stalled train at Clarke Quay station disrupted services by 40 minutes. Eight days before that, a power fault delayed services for more than half an hour along nine stations.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PAUL LIM

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