MRT station staff to forge 'kampung spirit' to respond quickly in breakdowns and crises

SMRT staff ushering commuters at Ang Mo Kio MRT on Jan 20, 2014.
SMRT staff ushering commuters at Ang Mo Kio MRT on Jan 20, 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Inculcating "kampung spirit" at every MRT station could help when the next train breakdown happens, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

"Such "family-ness" will be important not just when there is a technical breakdown, but even more critical if there is a terrorist-led sabotage to our rail system," he wrote in a blog post on Saturday morning.

Mr Khaw, who is also Co-ordinating Minister for Infrastructure, has asked the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit "to think through this idea and see if it is practical".

Posting his reflections after observing a recent exercise simulating a suspension of train operations along the entire East-West Line line held on Oct 14, Mr Khaw said in the post that the first hour of response in a rail breakdown is critical.

"Commuters will judge us by what happens during this first hour," he said.

In the case of a disruption, there are only a handful of local station staff, who have to deal with hundreds and thousands of commuters.

Although operators are increasing the number of staff at each station, "they will have a dozen things to do" before reinforcements arrive, Mr Khaw wrote.

One way around this is to enlist other partners.

Mr Khaw wrote that he saw how Changi Airport worked with their "stakeholders", such as the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, in its emergency exercise on Oct 15, which simulated an A320 plane crash landing at the airport.

There could be a role for shopkeepers at the MRT stations in the contingency plans, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo has suggested, Mr Khaw added.

"Even if it is simply to help guide the commuters to the right bus stop or to the right queue, it will be a great help to reduce confusion amongst commuters," he wrote.

Operators will need to "forge the right culture, to want to do well, as One Team, during normal times, much like close neighbours who will not hesitate to chip in and help when help is needed," he said, but added that it will not be easy to foster such a culture.

Read Mr Khaw's full blog post here.