North-South Line train services resume after signalling system reset

Commuters changing lines from the North-South Line to Circle Line at Bishan MRT station at 7.50am on March 29, 2021.
Commuters changing lines from the North-South Line to Circle Line at Bishan MRT station at 7.50am on March 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Commuters at Newton MRT station at 7.34am on March 29, 2021.
Commuters at Newton MRT station at 7.34am on March 29, 2021.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Commuters changing lines from the North-South Line to Circle Line at Bishan MRT station at 7.50am on March 29, 2021.
Commuters changing lines from the North-South Line to Circle Line at Bishan MRT station at 7.50am on March 29, 2021.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Commuters changing lines from the North-South Line to Circle Line at Bishan MRT station at 7.50am on March 29, 2021.
Commuters changing lines from the North-South Line to Circle Line at Bishan MRT station at 7.50am on March 29, 2021.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
Commuters at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station on the morning of March 29, 2021.
Commuters at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station on the morning of March 29, 2021.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Commuters at Newton MRT station at 7.34am on March 29, 2021.
Commuters at Newton MRT station at 7.34am on March 29, 2021.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Commuters at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station on the morning of March 29, 2021.
Commuters at Dhoby Ghaut MRT station on the morning of March 29, 2021.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - A signalling fault along the North-South Line that lasted nearly five hours caused delays for commuters on Monday (March 29) morning.

Rail operator SMRT told commuters in a tweet at around 7.30am to add 45 minutes of travelling time between Raffles Place and Bishan stations.

The fault had occurred between Newton and City Hall stations at the start of train service. SMRT alerted commuters about the delay on its Twitter page at 5.47am, and deployed free and bridging bus services.

Preliminary investigations show that a software issue with the signalling system had caused the fault, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in a statement.

SMRT and system provider Thales rebooted the system as a precaution to fix the fault, it added.

There were no train services between Toa Payoh and Marina South Pier for about 10 minutes after SMRT and Thales engineers reset the system at about 10am.

The operator said it had wanted to "keep train services moving during the morning peak and fix the technical fault after the peak".

In an update at 11.30am, SMRT said the fault was cleared at 10.10am and train services resumed.

Mr Daniel Chan, 47, who was on his way to work in the MacPherson area, had boarded a train at Khatib station at 6.55am.

The business development manager said commuters on the train were abruptly told that the train service would be terminating at Ang Mo Kio station and there were no announcements about the signalling fault that was affecting the rest of the line.

The trains were packed and social distancing was "non-existent", he added.

Mr Chan got on another train at Ang Mo Kio but as he neared Bishan station, there was another announcement that the train was terminating at Bishan.

"We alighted again and waited for the next train. It was only then that we heard the announcement about the signalling fault."

He took 40 minutes, instead of the usual 15 minutes, to get from Khatib to Toa Payoh station, where he alighted to take a bus. It was much smoother there, he said, as there were SMRT staff around to guide commuters and control the crowd.

Mr Chan, who was also affected by a train fault two weeks ago during morning peak hour, lamented the lack of communication by SMRT.

"Not everyone follows SMRT on Twitter or Facebook, especially aunties and uncles. (There needs to be) better and more prompt announcements. Guidance for commuters needs to be improved.

"If we were told at the start of our journey at Khatib (about the fault), we would have opted for an alternative mode of transport."

Safety officer Arjun Nair, 26, boarded a train at 7.30am, also at Khatib station, but had to alight at Ang Mo Kio 10 minutes later.

The platforms at the station were packed with commuters, he said.

It took more than 30 minutes for Mr Nair to reach Toa Payoh station and he said it was "chaotic" when he alighted at Novena.

"I tried looking for the shuttle bus service but there was none. There were no representatives from SMRT at the bus stop."

He added: "It was very, very crowded. There were a lot of people waiting for taxis and ride-hailing services."

Mr Nair ended up taking a regular bus to Bugis, where he said he planned to take a private-hire car to his workplace in Tanjong Pagar.

In its initial tweet at 5.47am, SMRT said commuters travelling between Raffles Place and Toa Payoh should add 25 minutes time to their journey.

At 6.40am, SMRT advised commuters to avoid taking trains between Bishan and Marina South Pier stations. Commuters travelling to the city should take the East-West Line, Circle Line, North East Line and Downtown Line instead, it added.

Free regular and bridging buses between Toa Payoh and Marina South Pier would continue until further notice, it said.

“Our engineers are working to rectify the fault. Trains are moving at a slower speed. Longer train travel time is expected... We are sorry for affecting your morning commute,” said SMRT. 

Announcements were made in stations and on trains throughout the five-hour incident to inform commuters to make alternative travel arrangements, SMRT later added.

It deployed more than 150 SMRT staff to help affected commuters and manage peak-hour crowds.

The signalling fault on Monday is the second MRT fault in two days.

On Sunday morning, train services between Punggol and Serangoon stations on the North East Line (NEL) - run by SBS Transit - came to a halt for about three hours due to a power fault.

LTA on Monday said the cause of the NEL disruption has been traced to a faulty insulator.

This led to the overhead catenary system at Buangkok station, which supplies power to the trains, to fail.

The faulty insulator has been replaced and LTA is working with SBS Transit to accelerate an ongoing programme to replace insulators along the NEL with ones that have a better design.  These replacement works will be completed by June.

To have two MRT faults occur over two days is "very unfortunate and frustrating", LTA said, noting that the faults happened on two separate lines, each for different reasons.

"We apologise for the inconveniences caused," LTA added. "We will have to continue to dive into root causes whenever incidents like these happen and take firm actions. Maintaining rail reliability will be a continuous task."