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Bishan SMRT flooding incident preventable and due to poor maintenance, says Khaw

SINGAPORE – Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has begun delivering his Ministerial Statement in Parliament on the tunnel flooding incident that shut down a segment of the North-South Line for about 20 hours last month.

Engineers work to clear a flooded tunnel between Braddell and Bishan MRT stations on Oct 7.  Photo: LTA

Engineers work to clear a flooded tunnel between Braddell and Bishan MRT stations on Oct 7. Photo: LTA

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SINGAPORE – Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has reiterated in Parliament that the tunnel flooding incident that shut down a segment of the North-South Line for about 20 hours last month was preventable and due to poor maintenance and neglect by some SMRT staff.

Delivering a Ministerial Statement on Tuesday (Nov 7), he noted that SMRT has completed its internal investigation and based on the findings, it appears that the Bishan flood protection system has not been maintained for many months. 

"Such systems need to be maintained quarterly by SMRT, and maintenance records were signed off and submitted for December 2016, March 2017 and June 2017," he said. "However, these records do not match any corresponding logs for track access and pump activation."

The maintenance crew in question comprises a manager, an engineering supervisor and four other crew members. Of these, three have been with SMRT for more than 20 years, including one who was with SMRT for over 28 years. Of the remaining three, one was with SMRT for a little over a year, the other two were with SMRT for six and eight years.

These six people have been suspended and are assisting SMRT's investigation, said the minister.

Another seven managerial staff from this maintenance group – including two executives at the vice-president level – have been suspended and will face a further inquiry for their supervisory responsibility in the lapses.

On October 7, a heavy downpour had led to Bishan MRT station being flooded, and train services on the North-South Line being shut down for over 20 hours.

Mr Khaw said the incident prompted further checks of storm water pump systems at four other tunnel portal locations in Redhill, Kembangan, Lavender and Changi.

SMRT found that 2 out of 8 pumps at Kembangan and 3 out of 4 pumps at Lavender were not in serviceable condition. "SMRT is currently conducting investigations into the relevant teams responsible for these pumps under the Building and Facilities maintenance group," he said.

He added that the Ministry of Transport will not be convening a Committee of Inquiry. "While investigations by LTA (Land Transport Authority) will take a few more weeks to complete, the facts of the 7 October incident are not complicated, and the cause of the incident is clear," he explained.

He said that apart from the building and facilities maintenance group, SMRT has not found any evidence of falsification or wilful dereliction of duties in other arms within the organisation. 

Turning to LTA's role in the matter, the minister said: "There has been no shortcoming or lapses in oversight by LTA staff in the present regulatory framework."

"Going forward, I have asked LTA to partner SMRT, and to set up a new Joint Readiness Inspection team to supplement SMRT’s own internal audit system," he said.

 A team of experts from the Taipei Metro has been invited to do a thorough and independent review of SMRT's operations, to flush out any gaps and recommend improvements in terms of system management, engineering and maintenance, he added.

Mr Khaw stated that the rail network maintenance ramp-up effort has been producing results, while noting that some commuters have also lost faith in the system after recent disruptions.

"Actually, the problems are being resolved one by one," he said, adding that not long ago, there was a situation of people jumping from platforms but that was stopped by erecting platform screens.

"We used to have all kinds of third rail problems, now no more because we changed it out. We had lots of sleeper related problems, now less so as we also changed it out."

Members of Parliament have asked about his ministry’s findings on the cause of the incident, as well as the "deep seated cultural issues" that transport operator SMRT has blamed for the recent string of malfunctions and faults on the rail network.

Mr Khaw said that growing the right culture in SMRT is the responsibility of everyone – from the top leadership to the workers.

"I will look to the SMRT management to set the right tone of professionalism and excellence, to complement the audit systems that are being put in place. This is the Singapore way."

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