Rush-hour disruption affects many commuters

Crowding at some MRT stations cause worry about observing social distancing

The 31/2-hour breakdown along parts of the North-South, East-West and Circle MRT lines caused by a faulty power cable led to blackouts at stations such as Jurong East (above), where commuters stranded in trains were guided by SMRT staff to walk along
The 3½-hour breakdown along parts of the North-South, East-West and Circle MRT lines caused by a faulty power cable led to blackouts at stations such as Jurong East. ST PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO
The 31/2-hour breakdown along parts of the North-South, East-West and Circle MRT lines caused by a faulty power cable led to blackouts at stations such as Jurong East (above), where commuters stranded in trains were guided by SMRT staff to walk along
The breakdown led to blackouts at stations such as Jurong East, where commuters stranded in trains were guided by SMRT staff to walk along the train tracks that run above the street. ST PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO

A power fault shut down train service along parts of the North-South and East-West MRT lines at around 7pm yesterday, severely disrupting the evening rush-hour commute for many passengers.

At 7.30pm, the major fault disrupted service along a 16-station stretch of the Circle Line (CCL).

Preliminary investigations found that a faulty power cable had caused the 3½-hour breakdown, which was one of the most serious power-related incidents to hit the MRT network in recent years.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a statement that service on the CCL resumed at 8.40pm, while service resumed at all stations on the North-South and East-West lines at 10.35pm.

The power fault caused blackouts at stations and stranded commuters in trains along the tracks.

Such a major disruption amid the Covid-19 pandemic also raised fears among some commuters about contracting the coronavirus, as the crowds that formed at certain stations as a result of the breakdown made safe distancing impossible.

One such commuter was concept artist R. Fong, 28, who was stuck on the train at Kranji from 7.04pm to 8.24pm. He said he was "definitely worried about Covid-19 because social distancing on the train was non-existent".

Operator SMRT started to detrain passengers who were stuck on trains on the North-South and East-West lines at 7.30pm, and on the CCL at 8pm. However, SMRT had to stop this process when it began raining heavily.

In a Facebook post, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the power trip disrupted service between Woodlands and Jurong East on the North-South Line, between Gul Circle and Queenstown on the East-West Line, and between HarbourFront and Serangoon on the CCL.

"(It) has been a rough and stressful evening for many commuters. We are sorry for the disruption and all the troubles caused," he said.

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Around 115 bridging buses and 400 SMRT staff were deployed to affected stations to help commuters.

"(The) safety of the commuters remained topmost on our minds tonight," Mr Ong said, adding that the fault was isolated at 10.34pm.

"The engineering team will work through the night to rectify the problem," he said. "There will be students taking national exams tomorrow and we are on standby to help each and every child get to their centres safely and on time."

There are O-and A-level examinations taking place today.

SMRT said it is working with the LTA to carry out a full investigation into the incident.

Announcements on the disruptions were made at all MRT stations to inform commuters, said LTA, as well as on its websites and the Twitter accounts of LTA and SMRT.

Commuters reported blackouts at Boon Lay station. At Choa Chu Kang station, passengers were detrained and had to walk on the train tracks that run above the street.

When The Straits Times arrived at Jurong East station, it was dark and police officers were preventing people from going through the gantries. Station staff later closed the gates to the MRT station to prevent people from entering.

As people gathered around MRT staff at the base of the escalators at Jurong East, a man who looked to be in his 50s collapsed at about 9pm. He was quickly tended to by members of the public, as police officers told the crowds to back away.

Soon after, a Singapore Civil Defence Force ambulance arrived at the bus interchange near the MRT station and the man was conscious as he was taken away in a wheelchair.

One commuter, a 45-year-old teacher who wanted to be known only as Madam Tan, was carrying her dinner and staring intently at a bus service pamphlet. She said she had just arrived at the station and was on her way home to Choa Chu Kang.

"I got here and was stunned. So many people were leaving and the lights were off, so I immediately knew something was wrong," she said. "But they should have put more signs up."

Above: Protesters in Jakarta trying to remove barbed wire during a rally against Indonesia's new job law yesterday.
Crowds waiting at the bus stop outside Queenstown MRT station after a power fault disrupted train services, on Oct 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Another commuter, Mr Omar Abdul Ghani, 27, was on his way home from work as part of a ship crew at Jurong Island when he arrived at Jurong East station.

"I just got here and am a bit annoyed because now I have to take a Grab (ride) home to Marsiling."

Staff guiding commuters through Jurong East station after train services were restored, at about 10.35pm, on Oct 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Security officer Jazimi Suhood, 44, was sitting and waiting by the gantry after arriving at about 8.15pm. "At first, I was wondering what happened. Then I checked Twitter and people were saying there was a power blackout. I'm just happy I wasn't on the train when it happened," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2020, with the headline Rush-hour disruption affects many commuters. Subscribe