SBS Transit’s first public emergency drill in train tunnel sees students use six-storey escape shaft

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Follow this public emergency drill by SBS Transit to find out how to safely exit a tunnel during a train breakdown. The exercise, which included climbing a six-storey escape shaft, involved 40 students and teachers from Hwa Chong Institution.

SINGAPORE – SBS Transit had its first public emergency preparedness exercise in a train tunnel on Saturday, with 40 students and teachers from Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) climbing a six-storey escape shaft.

It was held at Promenade MRT station, just outside Suntec City.

SBS Transit group chief executive Jeffrey Sim said this was the first time the escape shaft was included to ensure the route was feasible in an actual emergency.

He added that the escape shaft would be used if a train was stuck in the middle of two stations, if a fire broke out at the station, or to avoid overcrowding at stations.

At about 1am, the 35 students and five teachers, members of the media, and officers from SBS Transit and the Land Transport Authority boarded an empty driverless train used to simulate a train breakdown. 

Moving several metres, the train stopped in the middle of the tunnel and its power turned off.

The lights were instantly dimmed and the constant hum from the air-conditioning stopped.

An SBS Transit spokesman said trains are equipped with batteries that can last up to 45 minutes in emergencies. This will help to keep the train lit, but the air-conditioning will be cut.

Hwa Chong Institution students taking part in the simulated train breakdown, early on Feb 11, 2023. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The batteries will prioritise only critical systems, including the ventilation fans and emergency lighting.

Announcements in English were made via the train’s speakers. But in the crowded carriages, it was difficult to make out anything clearly.

Instructions were also displayed on the LED panels inside the train, providing guidance on what to do.

After about 10 minutes, it felt warmer and a collective sigh of relief was heard when the emergency door at the front was finally opened. 

The spokesman said the emergency door can be opened by either staff or passengers. Pictorial instructions are placed near the door.

An SBS Transit staff member assisting a HCI student from Hwa Chong Institution in opening the escape train door. The emergency door can be opened by either staff or passengers. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Everyone poured out and walked about 20m towards the entrance of the escape shaft, which was six storeys underground. 

It was easy to navigate the tunnel, as exit signs were clearly lit.

Hwa Chong Institution students, SBS Transit staff and members of the media alighting and heading towards the escape shaft at Promenade MRT station onFeb 11, 2023. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The escape shaft was also brightly lit, and handrails at either side of the stairs made it easy for everyone to climb.

The stairs were slightly narrow, so the participants had to move in an orderly manner.

After climbing six storeys, everyone exited through a door on the ground floor to an open space just off the main station, with Marina Bay Sands in the background.

The escape shaft goes up about 6 floors and is brightly lit, thought the stairs were slightly narrow. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Mr Sim said: “We wanted to test whether the public, through our guidance, would be able to escape from the tunnel in an orderly manner.”

He added that there has not been a situation where it had to be used, but in an actual emergency, there may be those physically unable to climb the steps to escape. In such situations, Singapore Civil Defence Force personnel will be called to assist to carry them out. 

Mr Sim said: “We’ll be conducting more exercises so we can be better prepared to ensure the safety and security of our communities.”

The escape shaft leads to a empty plot of land near the Singapore Flyer. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

He said the exercise was held with HCI as it is one of the schools that adopted an MRT station – Tan Kah Kee station in Bukit Timah Road, just outside the school.

Adopting a station was an initiative launched in 2016 to engage schools and the wider community to be more involved in the stations. This includes showcasing talent through artworks or performances there.

Saturday’s exercise took about an hour to complete.

HCI student Tham Wee Nee, 18, said it made her realise a lot of work is put in to make Singapore’s public transport system safe and efficient. 

She added: “Not only did I learn about its safety features, I also got a glimpse of the thought process behind why the systems are designed this way. 

“It reminded me that Singapore’s public transport system is dynamic and ever-changing.”

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