There were surreal scenes in the Kallang-Paya Lebar expressway tunnel yesterday as dozens of motorists abandoned their cars on the road during rush hour - after a burning taxi triggered an evacuation.
Eyewitnesses described a windy, smoke-filled tunnel, with many leaving their cars to walk to the emergency exits, while others attempted to back their vehicles out of the tunnel.
"It was like a Hollywood movie - being stuck in a slightly hazy tunnel - and we had little information as to what was happening," said a 37-year-old sales executive who only wanted to known as Ms Cheng.
"I saw a lot of smoke but couldn't see what was on fire. There was an announcement asking people to leave the tunnel," said Ms Doreen Lim, 52, who works in a hotel and was in a taxi heading to Sengkang at about 7.25pm.
Another motorist, Mr Darryl Kang, 37, a digital marketing manager, said: "We didn't sense any panic or alarm, but my girlfriend asked me if this was a drill for a terrorist attack, as we've never experienced such incidents before."
A TransCab taxi had caught fire in the tunnel at about 7.10pm. And though the fire involving the engine compartment of a taxi was put out by two members of the public, it was enough to fill the tunnel with smoke.
My girlfriend asked me if this was a drill for a terrorist attack.
MR DARRYL KANG, 37, digital marketing manager.
Drivers were told in an announcement made by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to either drive out through the nearest exit or leave their cars. It was made both through the radio and via the tunnel's announcement system.
At 7.20pm, LTA Traffic News tweeted: "Accident on KPE (towards TPE) after ECP Entrance. Avoid lane 4."
The SCDF dispatched one fire engine and one support vehicle to the location after being alerted to the fire at around 7pm.
No injuries were reported.
ST understands that the announcements were part of LTA's standard operating procedure for fires that happen in road tunnels. According to the OneMotoring website, motorists who cannot proceed when there is an emergency in the tunnel should leave the vehicle and leave the tunnel.
Escape staircases are located every 500m next to the slow lane, leading to the street level.
While the KPE fire is not the first time a fire has broken out in a road tunnel here, there were no previous reports of motorists having to evacuate on foot. In 2012, a taxi which burst into flames in the Kampong Java tunnel of the Central Expressway sparked a major traffic jam on the city-bound side of the highway. Last year, the KPE was also closed when a car caught fire.
In yesterday's incident, a motorist in his 50s said he had to climb several flights of stairs to reach open air.
"The tunnel was very windy. I had to struggle to close the car door," he said.
He, like many others, later returned to their vehicles and drove out. Some drivers were already returning to their vehicles after about 10 minutes.
Some, though, had to take a long walk.
Ms Cheng left the taxi she was in and took 45 minutes to walk from the tunnel to Tanjong Rhu, where she caught a bus and train.
Cab catches fire in KPE tunnel
A Trans-Cab taxi caught fire on the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) during rush hour yesterday evening, forcing the temporary closure of the tunnel. Motorists were asked to abandon their vehicles or to drive out through the nearest exit. No injuries were reported and the fire, which occurred at around 7.10pm and involved the engine compartment of the taxi, was put out by two members of the public using a hose reel before the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived. The incident, which took place on the KPE towards Tampines Expressway and after the East Coast Parkway entrance, caused traffic to build up around the area. Eyewitnesses described a smoke-filled tunnel, with one even saying the scene looked like a "Hollywood movie".