SMRT fined $5.4m for massive train breakdown in July

The crowd at City Hall MRT station during the service disruption on July 7, 2015.
The crowd at City Hall MRT station during the service disruption on July 7, 2015.ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE - Rail operator SMRT Corp has been handed a $5.4 million fine for a massive breakdown that crippled both the North-South and East-West MRT lines during the evening peak period on July 7.

The amount is the biggest penalty imposed on a rail operator here so far, but is less than what some analysts were expecting.

Soon after the incident, Maybank Kim Eng analyst Derrick Heng noted that SMRT could face a fine of up to $50 million.

He based his projection on new rules that allow the Government to fine an errant operator an amount equivalent to 10 per cent of its annual fare revenue for an affected line.

The disruption - the biggest in Singapore so far - affected about 413,000 commuters, many of whom took hours to get home, with some walking all the way.

It was caused by electrical power trips at multiple locations in the network. Investigations narrowed the root cause to salt deposits on one of the third-rail insulators near a tunnel leak between the Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place stations.

In announcing the penalty on Wednesday (Sept 23), the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the incident could have been prevented if SMRT had rectified the leak, as it was required to do.

"Based on SMRT's records, they had detected seepage in the tunnel section in question on its routine track patrols in mid-June 2015," the LTA said. "However, these leaks were attended to only in end-July."

This delay led to salty deposits on the insulator of the power-supplying third rail accumulating to a point where an electrical short circuit could occur.

The LTA added that SMRT had also failed to meet requirements under the Code of Practice for incident management. There were reports of widespread confusion, not only at train stations, but also at bus stops where buses had been deployed to replace the trains.

One video clip showed desperate commuters preventing a packed bus from moving off.

Mr Eugene Mok, 30, who works in communications and was among the thousands left high and dry, said: "The fine is probably painful enough to SMRT but, if I were to put a dollar value to each commuter who was inconvenienced, the amount should be much higher."

Asked if SMRT would pay up or appeal against the fine, company spokesman Patrick Nathan would only say: "SMRT acknowledges the financial penalty. We have stepped up efforts to systematically address the issue and minimise the possibility of a recurrence."

The previous record fine of $2 million was also handed to SMRT, for two breakdowns in December 2011.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2015, with the headline 'SMRT fined $5.4m for massive breakdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe