Monday's NEL breakdown: Train testing could have been limited to the weekend, says Khaw

Commuters talking to a staff member at Serangoon MRT during the service disruption on Oct 26, 2015.
Commuters talking to a staff member at Serangoon MRT during the service disruption on Oct 26, 2015.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - A rogue new train responsible for the disruption on the North-East Line (NEL) on Monday (Oct 26) morning was being tested during engineering hours, before revenue service that morning.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog on Friday wrote: "In hindsight, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) agreed that it could have limited the testing to only Saturday night/Sunday morning, rather than Sunday night, eating into Monday morning."

Weighing in on the incident, Mr Khaw said this was a scheduling detail which the LTA and operator SBS Transit have learnt through this episode.

The new train that was being tested pulled a wire on the NEL's overhead power system, causing a disruption on Oct 26 that lasted nearly two hours and affected the morning peak period. About 41,000 commuters, including students on their way to their O- and A-level exams, were affected.

Mr Khaw asked rhetorically in a blog post on Friday why the train testing was done during a major exam period.


Citing an explanation by LTA, he said that testing was not a daily affair and was done progressively - first during engineering hours over weekends, then during off-peak hours and finally when ready, into peak-hour traffic.

The new train was from a batch of five that had been acquired to increase NEL's capacity, and had already clocked 200km on test tracks, before being tested on the NEL's tracks over the last two weeks.

While he did not say if the LTA would restrict its testing schedule to Saturday nights and Sunday mornings only following Monday's breakdown, he said it was a lesson learnt.

"Since breakdowns cannot be completely eliminated, we must be prepared for Murphy's Law and expect the worst," he noted.

In his blog post, Mr Khaw said he was also struck by the "close relationship" between the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) and LTA.

"SEAB was the first agency LTA contacted the moment it realised it was going to be a major disruption. Immediately, SEAB swung into action to inform schools and activate the contingency plans," he said.

"SEAB took a deliberate flexible attitude towards students affected by the disruption. I was impressed with the SEAB response and the collaborative spirit between SEAB, LTA and our public transport operators," he added.