Fatal SMRT accident

Jail for engineer who led team onto train tracks

His failure to effect 'last line of defence' safety protocol was most direct cause of two trainees' deaths, says judge

Former SMRT assistant engineer Lim Say Heng was sentenced to four weeks in jail after pleading guilty to causing death by negligence.
Former SMRT assistant engineer Lim Say Heng was sentenced to four weeks in jail after pleading guilty to causing death by negligence.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Singapore Civil Defence Force officers recovering the bodies of the two SMRT trainees after the rail accident in March 2016.
Singapore Civil Defence Force officers recovering the bodies of the two SMRT trainees after the rail accident in March 2016.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

Two SMRT trainees died because of a failure to impose safety protocols that would have prevented trains from entering the work site where a track inspection was being carried out.

But former SMRT engineer Lim Say Heng's failure to effect a "last line of defence", known as the 0/0 Automatic Train Protection speed code, was the most direct cause of death, said District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt.

For his role in the March 2016 rail accident, Lim, 48, was sentenced to four weeks in jail yesterday after he pleaded guilty to causing death by negligence.

The accident, the train operator's worst in history, resulted in the deaths of Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24.

Judge Chaysaid: "There is no denying that (Lim) did not impose or give the instruction for the protocol."

The prosecution had asked for a sentence of at least four weeks in jail, and said that a fine, even a large one, would be insufficient, given that it was "fully" within Lim's "powers to ensure a safe inspection".

  • Safety procedures not followed

  • Investigations into SMRT's fatal rail accident of March 2016 showed that various parties involved in track access that day did not comply with proper safety procedures.

    Proper procedure: A request to impose the safety code that would prevent trains from entering the track must be submitted for track access. Approval for track access and the specifics, such as time, duration and safety arrangements, must be granted by the operations command centre.

    What was done: No form was submitted.

    Proper procedure: The person in charge must liaise with the duty station manager on the exact time to impose the safety code.

    What was done: The parties had agreed that the safety code would be imposed "at a later time" when the inspection team reached the work site, but no exact timing was given.

    Proper procedure: A designated train picks up the work party at the station platform to head to the work site.

    What was done: The joint inspection team walked to the work site.

    Proper procedure: The safety code must be imposed before the work party boards the designated train and leaves the station platform.

    What was done: The safety code was not imposed before the team left the platform.

    Proper procedure: There must be a message displayed at the prior station to warn train drivers that there are people working on the track ahead. The message should be a standard printed sign.

    What was done: A handwritten message was displayed at Tampines station. But it did not indicate there were people working on the track ahead.

Judge Chay agreed that a jail term should be imposed

In his submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutor Anandan Bala said the consequences of Lim's failure to ensure that the particular safety code was imposed set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the fatal accident.

When imposed on a track circuit, the code would have ensured that a train come to a stop before approaching the area.

The court heard that on March 22, 2016, a fault was detected along the track between Pasir Ris station and Tampines station on the East-West MRT line at around 6.30am. The team of 15, led by Lim, was deployed at around 11am.

The safety protocol was not implemented and, instead of boarding a designated train that would take them to the work site, they walked on a walkway parallel to the track.

This was among the failures of different parties to comply with an approved set of safety operating procedures known as "Unit 3C OP" that governs track access during traffic hours.

Lim managed to avoid the oncoming train, but the two trainees behind him were unable to react in time and were hit by the train.

He was sacked six months after the incident, and now works as a technician.

During mitigation, defence counsel Lee May Ling said Lim was not solely responsible for the implementation of the safety protocols.

"Within SMRT, there was an environment where the documented safety protocols were not, and could not be, adhered to," she said. The defence sought a $10,000 fine.

In October last year, former director of control operations Teo Wee Kiat, 41, was fined $55,000 for failing to take necessary measures to ensure the safety of SMRT employees.

The rail operator was given a record fine of $400,000 in February last year over the same breach.

The families of the two trainees declined comment when contacted by The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2018, with the headline 'Jail for engineer who led team onto train tracks'. Subscribe