A new train that was being tested pulled a wire on the North East Line's (NEL) overhead power system, causing a disruption that lasted nearly two hours and affected the morning peak period yesterday.
About 41,000 commuters, including students on their way to their O- and A-level exams, were affected.
Land Transport Authority (LTA) chief executive Chew Men Leong said the train was being withdrawn to Sengkang depot when the incident happened at about 5am. The train tugged onto the overhead power system, called the overhead catenary system, snapping one of the wires which, as a result, caused a power fault across the entire NEL.
He said it was one of two new trains being tested over the past few weeks, and this was the first time such a problem cropped up.
Why the train affected the overhead system will be investigated, he told the media at Hougang MRT station yesterday morning. Tests on the two trains will be suspended as the LTA investigates the problem.
Yesterday's disruption was the fifth major incident - lasting more than half an hour - on the 12-year- old line this year. Two weeks ago, train services on the line were disrupted for over 11/2 hours in the morning peak period because of a power fault causing a blackout at several stations along the line.
SBS Transit chief executive Gan Juay Kiat, who was also at Hougang station yesterday, called the disruption a "very major incident" as it was the first time both the north- and south-bound services on the NEL were down simultaneously.
To cope with the situation, 110 shuttle buses were activated while SMRT and SBS Transit made bus services free islandwide until normal train service resumed. Some 150 "goodwill ambassadors" were mobilised to help commuters.
South-bound train services in the direction of HarbourFront resumed at 6.50am, while north-bound services towards Punggol were back up at about 7.20am.
Trains first ran at longer intervals of about 6.5 minutes compared with the usual peak-hour intervals of 2.5 to three minutes, resulting in crowded platforms and trains. Commuters were allowed past the gantries in batches to avoid overcrowding.
Ms Kalaivani Rajaretnam, 37, a patient service associate, said her journey from her Buangkok home to her workplace in Farrer Park took twice as long because of the disruption. "There were already so many people on the train, we couldn't board," said Ms Kalaivani, who had to skip some trains before boarding.
LTA, SBS Transit and TransitLink said commuters who paid for their bus rides yesterday morning, when the NEL service was down, can seek a refund over the next seven days until Monday. This refers to anyone who took a ride on all public buses between 5.23am and 9.30am.
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