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Joo Koon train collision: ‘A loud bang ... then everyone fell’

SINGAPORE — After leaving Pioneer MRT Station, Mr Eddy Ong noticed that the train he was on was moving very slowly.

Joo Koon train collision: ‘A loud bang ... then everyone fell’

The train collision at Joo Koon MRT station during the rush hour on Wednesday morning (Nov 15) left 29 people injured. Photo: Koh Mui Fong/TODAY

SINGAPORE — After leaving Pioneer MRT Station, Mr Eddy Ong noticed that the train he was on was moving very slowly.

“When it started to come close to Joo Koon Circle, we all heard a loud bang and everyone who was standing fell to the ground,” recounted the 43-year-old manager, who was one of the passengers of a train that rear-ended a stalled train at Joo Koon MRT Station on Wednesday (Nov 15) morning.

Some passengers hit themselves against the railing in the train cabins, said Mr Ong, who sustained minor abrasions on his left knee and arm.

Another commuter on the train, who goes by the name Mei Anne on Facebook, wrote that she and other passengers fell onto their backs upon the impact.

Mr Ong added: “A while later, as I was in the first cabin, we heard some passengers knocking at the driver’s door to tell (the) driver (that) there was someone injured ... (the) driver replied (through the) system and said help is on the way”.

The train collision at 8.20am, the second in the MRT network’s 30-year history, landed 27 commuters and two SMRT workers in hospital, including three who had to be warded for observation, said the Land Transport Authority and operator SMRT in a joint statement in the afternoon.

Ms Teo Li Bing, 37, a sales assistant at 17 Food Shop in Joo Koon MRT station, said she noticed people being carried out on stretchers or being helped out of the station after 9am. Some also had bandages around their heads and legs, she added.

The staff at the shop did not hear anything but realised something was wrong when there was a long queue of people waiting outside the gantry.

“I was surprised, I’ve never seen so many people outside, and the police and ambulance were here too,” she said.

When TODAY reached the National University Hospital (NUH) at about 11am, there was a flurry of activity as the casualties were rushed from the ambulances into the emergency ward.

TODAY spoke briefly to a woman in a wheelchair who was injured after falling backwards from the impact of the collision. She said her neck was injured and appeared to be shaken, but declined to give further details.

Representatives from the Ministry of Transport, Land Transport Authority (LTA), SMRT and NUH were present as well. At about 1.45pm, the two SMRT employees were spotted leaving the hospital, but also declined to comment.

 

Ms Stef Ng, 32, a chemist who was waiting for the train at Joo Koon MRT station at about 1pm said she was initially worried about taking the train home but went ahead as she could not get a cab.

A colleague of hers, who was on the train that collided, had told her about a passenger flying into his arms when the accident happened.

“I think (SMRT) is trying their best, but it’s getting from bad to worse,” she said.

“It’s usually breakdowns or (the trains) are stalling at certain places ... and not collisions. And (the collision) happened during peak hour, which makes it even more unsafe,” added Ms Ng.

Mr Lim Kim Hock, who owns an electrical company, told TODAY at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) that his 37-year-old employee Tan Ban Heng was among those injured in the collision.

According to Lim, Mr Tan told paramedics on site that he could manage without going to hospital for treatment. But while at work, Mr Lim noticed that his knee was swollen and red, so decided to send him to the hospital. He was discharged after an X-ray and given three days’ medical leave.

The LTA and SMRT did not state the extent of injuries. But as of 4pm, all but five of the injured patients had received outpatient treatment and been discharged. Of the 15 sent to NUH, one was warded. Two others were warded at NTFGH, and two were receiving treatment.

Earlier in the day, an NTFGH spokesperson said two of the commuters were classified as “major emergencies” cases, which may include injuries such as fractures, joint dislocation, and severe back pain.

 

ISSUE OF COMPENSATION

Lawyers whom TODAY spoke to said the amount of compensation that injured passengers could receive would depend on the severity of their injuries, and the issues that arise from them.

In the case of Wednesday’s incident, they also concurred that SMRT should be covering all medical expenses and damages from the incident.

Mr Hoh Chin Cha, director of Hoh Law Corporation, noted that personal injury claims will involve looking at the passengers’ medical reports to assess the extent of the injuries. The claimant’s “pain and suffering” and loss of income from being unable to work should also be taken into account, he added. “For those who suffer severe injuries, it may affect their ability or capacity to work. That is all on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Hoh said.

Mr Rajan Supramaniam from Hilborne Law said that the injured passengers could “take legal proceedings against SMRT for damages, medical expenses and personal injury”. More serious injuries would result in higher payouts, he added. Other factors include whether the claimant needs to undergo rehabilitation, how complicated their treatment is, and how traumatic the injuries are.

The court has guidelines on personal injury claims. These spell out precedents for compensation for different kinds and degrees of injuries, said Mr Luke Lee, of Luke Lee & Co. “But you will only be able to ascertain that after a medical report,” Mr Lee added.

For example, a claimant suffering back pain as a result of whiplash could receive close to S$10,000. For someone with injuries to the spine, he or she could receive up to S$20,000, while someone who has a bruise could claim about S$1,000.

Mr Supramaniam said: “Some cases might be open to negotiations and settlements. If there is an offer, it may not meet the actual quantum amount, but sometimes the payout will be accepted to settle the case.”

The lawyers were unanimous in the view that the operator has to bear the responsibility. “Negligence speaks for itself”, said Mr Lee, who noted that the incident would not have happened without some kind of negligence on SMRT’s part.

Mr Hoh said that the injured passengers “would have a prima facie case against the train operator”. “I feel very strongly that I don’t see how SMRT can get out of this. The claim is a very strong claim – I will be surprised if they come up with something that exculpates themselves,” he said.

Mr Sunil Sudheesan, head of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, said the incident could be tantamount to a “criminal offence” if negligence is established. He questioned whether it was a systemic flaw or a fault on the part of the train operator, and called for an independent investigation into the matter.

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