North East Line hit by 6-hour power fault, LTA and SBS Transit investigating

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Commuters queueing at Sengkang MRT station, on Feb 27, 2020. PHOTO: TATA SMRT/ FACEBOOK
SBS Transit said that the train service on the NEL is available only between Harbourfront (above) and Buangkok MRT stations. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and public transport operator SBS Transit are investigating the more than six hours long disruption to train service on the North East Line (NEL) that affected peak hour traffic on Thursday morning (Feb 27).

Initial investigations show the delay was due to a broken contact wire that affected power supply to trains launching from the Sengkang depot, said SBS Transit in a statement.

Train service at three MRT stations were affected - Punggol, Sengkang and Buangkok - and SBS Transit said it operated a shuttle train service on one platform between these stations from 5.36am, the start of train service.

To supplement the shuttle train service, the operator also provided free bridging bus services at designated bus stops along the affected stations.

Repair works were carried out after the morning peak period and the operator said it shut off power supply to the train tracks between Hougang and Punggol MRT stations to facilitate repair works. It announced the temporary closure of the stations at 10.40am.

In the meantime, shuttle trains ran between Serangoon and Hougang MRT stations.

Repair works were completed by 11.49am and normal service resumed at 12.14pm, said the operator. It added that there was regular train service between Harbourfront and Serangoon MRT stations, which ran at a frequency of about nine minutes during the train service disruption.

Said Ms Tammy Tan, SBS Transit's senior vice president of corporate communications: "We apologise to affected commuters for the inconvenience caused."

Commuters queueing for the free bridging bus service at Sengkang MRT station to Buangkok MRT station. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The measures were, however, insufficient to ease the crowd build-up during the morning peak hours at Punggol and Sengkang MRT stations, which are the main hubs of two LRT networks.

Some commuters reported delays of up to 40 minutes in their journeys.

A commuter who gave her name as Rosy said she set off for work from Sengkang MRT station later than usual, at about 10.30am, after learning about the delay in the morning. "I thought normally the delays will last for only two hours," she said.

Commuters waiting for the train at Buangkok MRT station. PHOTO: TINO TAN/FACEBOOK

Mr Chew Zhi Kang, 30, was one of the commuters who was turned away at Buangkok MRT station after SBS Transit stopped some train services there for repair works.

"The (service staff) said (the service) was only down from Punggol to Buangkok, so I thought it was safe to take from Buangkok," said the engineer. "It's a bit shocking. I missed the bridging bus and I never expected (the breakdown) to last for so long."

Some commuters said that the directions given by SBS Transit staff were confusing.

Commuters being turned away at Buangkok MRT station. ST PHOTO: CARA WONG

A housewife who asked to be identified as Jerry said she mistakenly hopped onto a wrong shuttle train at Sengkang MRT station.

"I just couldn't catch what they said," she said. The signboards at the stations were not displaying the train's end destinations, and commuters had to rely on the service staff's announcements to figure out where each train was headed, she said.

University undergraduate Angie Peh, 20, said that she was directed by SBS Transit staff to take the free bridging bus service to Buangkok MRT station to hop on the NEL, but discovered to her dismay that the station was closed.

The station was still open to commuters when Ms Peh's bus was headed towards it. But when her bus arrived, the station was already closed for repair works.

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"They have a lot of staff helping to redirect people so that's good, but for the older generation, some are very confused," she said.

With hordes of commuters redirected to the free bus services, some expressed concerns of a possible exposure to the coronavirus.

Madam Hor Mei, 68, said she was in a snaking line of commuters waiting for the free bus bridging service at Sengkang MRT station.

"Usually there are not so many people here," said the retiree. "I've got my mask, but I am still a little afraid of the crowd."

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