Eight days after an MRT train killed two SMRT employees on a track near Pasir Ris station, the Government issued the rail operator a slew of measures to enhance safety for on-track work.
In a joint press statement sent out at 8pm last night, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that, with effect from today, SMRT has to ensure that no trains are driven in automatic mode for sections of the track where workers are on an adjacent track walkway.
"Trains on such sections of the track should be operated manually, and at low speeds," the statement said, without specifying a speed limit. The train that ran over two workers was on auto mode.
It also said the section of a track where works are taking place should be isolated - that is, no train is allowed to approach it. "Measures for isolation must be continuously in place until staff have left the work area and trackside."
MOM and LTA said there should be "robust authentication procedures" between workers on the tracks and the Operations Control Centre. And watchmen should be deployed to alert workmen of oncoming trains.
In response yesterday, SMRT said it already has existing safety procedures for when staff go to the track during train service hours. It had admitted to a lapse last week as the team on the track failed to notify a station signal unit that they were going back onto the track.
Observers familiar with MRT operations said most of the recommendations are indeed already in place, except the one calling for the work section to be isolated.
Transport expert Gopinath Menon, an adjunct professor at Nanyang Technological University, said it is similar to work on highways, where the affected area is isolated by truck-mounted attenuators, traffic cones and diversion signs.
He said that on a railway, such measures would invariably affect passenger service. Unless it is an emergency, "it is better to confine work to late at night when trains are not running", he added.
Meanwhile, SMRT said its probe into the cause of the fatal accident will be completed by next week. "Findings will be reviewed by a panel comprising independent safety experts and the members of SMRT Board Risk Committee," it said, adding that a report will then be handed over to the police and MOM "for their statutory investigations".
SMRT would not say if it has offered compensation to the families of the two dead employees.
Asked if it would call for an inquiry, MOM said it was "too early" to comment.