SINGAPORE - Commuters heading home on Wednesday (June 28) evening were affected by the single biggest rail disruption in 14 months as the entire North-South Line (NSL) ceased operating just after 5pm.
The breakdown was caused by a fault on a newly-installed signalling system. The same fault affected service on the East-West Line's (EWL) Tuas West Extension, which opened just over a week ago, and which uses the same signalling system.
About 10 minutes later, operator SMRT was able to get trains moving again, but at lower speeds. It warned the public through Twitter that journeys would take 30 minutes longer, revising it to 15 minutes, and then back up to 30 minutes.
This went on till around 7.20pm, when it announced that service on the NSL had fully resumed. Train service on the Tuas West Extension resumed earlier.
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Free bus service, which was activated when the lines first went down, continued till about 7.30pm.
In a joint statement released at around 8.10pm, SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said similar disruptions may persist for "a few more months".
The pair attributed the latest twin faults to "a signalling fault on the new communication-based train control (CBTC) system".
"Initial investigations point to failure in the radio communication network of the new CBTC system, which is currently undergoing intensive full-day testing," they said, but did not explain why the two lines which are kilometres apart failed at the same time.
"Although service recovery measures including free bus boarding were taken immediately, some commuters may have experienced longer waiting time as a result of train bunching," they added. "We apologise for the inconvenience caused."
The statement, which was posted on Facebook, drew strong comments from the public. Many cited free buses as a poor recovery measure as no number of buses could take up the volume of displaced train commuters, while others said they had endured a number of similar disruptions of late and asked how many more they had to stomach.
SMRT and LTA said the new system "is expected to take a few more months to fully stabilise".
Hours earlier during the morning peak, thousands of commuters were delayed because of a train fault at Pioneer station. The fault followed an even more severe one on Tuesday, which affected both the NSL and EWL, and which resulted in delays of over half an hour.
Meanwhile, surge pricing by private-hire operators kicked in during the two hours of disruption on Wednesday evening. At around 6.30pm, Grab's fare from Toa Payoh to Changi Airport was $46, while Uber's quoted rate was $42 - both about double the usual fare. Both cited higher demand for the pricing. An Uber demand distribution map showed the highest demand concentrated along the path of the North-south line.
The incident was the most severe since April 25 last year, when a power failure affected three MRT lines and one LRT line.