Breaches of train depots must stop

The vandalising of a train at SMRT's Bishan depot last month was troubling enough because it was the fourth such case at its depots since 2010. Worse, it was the second this year. Worse still, the protected place had been breached on three separate occasions in the latest case, according to investigators.

Such a dismal record goes against the very grain of Singapore's reputation as a safe city. Given past attacks on transport systems elsewhere, one would expect local operators to leave no stone unturned in securing their depots.

However, repeated break-ins suggest that SMRT is in danger of falling prey to an illusion of security arising from the broad efforts of government agencies across the island.

This needs to be taken seriously as complacency could have potentially deadly consequences. For example, after an earlier incident, in which there was a breach in the fence at the Bishan depot, SMRT said it was concerned that the incident had taken place in spite of stepped-up patrols of the perimeter of its depots.

That concern was clearly insufficient to prevent another woeful breach. As incremental improvements have not added up to the deterrent expected, SMRT owes the public a thorough explanation of what happened last month and how its security measures failed.

Vandalism is bad enough, but what is truly alarming from a larger, security point of view is the possibility of terrorists and other criminals being spurred to plan attacks when the SMRT system appears plainly vulnerable.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) sounded a reassuring note in its statement. Noting how previous incidents at train depots had led public transport operators to enhance security, it said that the measures include increasing the number of security personnel and the frequency of security patrols, as well as upgrading the perimeter fencing. The LTA added that the stringent inspection of the trains, before their departure from depots for commuter service, helps to ensure that the safety of commuters is not compromised.

Singaporeans would welcome this reassurance, particularly on inspections, but they could be forgiven for wondering whether SMRT's measures and their execution are good enough to deter determined and patient criminals and vandals waiting for an opportunity to strike.

The public transport system is a prized target for terrorists because of the mass casualties likely to be caused by an attack. This is an area in which nothing but the highest standards of vigilance will do. SMRT must realise that, credibility aside, what is at stake is the security of the nation and the confidence of citizens.