SINGAPORE - For commuters heading down to the Downtown Line via Newton MRT station on Sunday (Feb 4), it seemed like any other weekend until they realised they had to undergo stricter than usual security checks.
Many passengers were surprised as security officers guided them to faregates where they had to place their belongings, such as bags and phones, in trays to be scanned by X-ray machines.
Commuters also had to walk through metal detectors before they passed the faregates to hop on the train.
It was all part of an emergency preparedness exercise called Exercise Station Guard, that took place from 10am to 6pm and carried out by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and transport operator SBS Transit. About 60 staff were involved.
The exercise aimed to test SBS Transit's security measures and plans to deal with heightened security threats, including bomb explosions set off by terrorists.
Mr Ngien Hoon Ping, LTA's chief executive and chairman of Public Transport Security Committee, said on Jan 26 that the exercise was part of the authority's regular review of security measures with the public transport operators and relevant agencies "so that we can respond speedily and effectively, should an incident occur".
SBS Transit chief executive Gan Juay Kiat also said at the time that such exercises engage the public and remind them that "we can never take things for granted and to always be alert to situations around us".
About 1,500 to 1,600 passengers were expected to pass through the station per hour on Sunday.
With the extra security checks it was expected to take about 10min for each passenger to clear the security screening.
Mr Joseph Goh, LTA's deputy director of public transport security, said on Sunday that this is "the first time this exercise is happening on this scale" and the first at Newton station. A more scaled-down version of the exercise was done at Stadium MRT station last year with SMRT.
On why Newton station was selected for Sunday's exercise, Mr Goh said that it was to test security measures for the Downtown Line and a station with passenger numbers in the middle of the range.
Retiree Noh R., 60, said the exercise was useful to help the public know what to expect when there is an emergency.
He also noted that it was good to see that commuters were lining up in order. "But I don't know if people will be so orderly when there is a real emergency," he added.
Another commuter, 13-year-old student Nadhirah Samsudin, said the extra wait times because of the checks were inconvenient as she was running late for an appointment.
"But I understand they are doing this for security checks. Thankfully they did it on a Sunday so that it will not affect people who are going to school and work," Nadhirah added.
Designer Lydia Tan, 29, said she felt safer with the added security measures. "People won't try to do anything funny because they will get scanned," she said.