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18,000 commuters affected by NEL train service disruption

Train service came to a nine-hour standstill between Buangkok and Punggol stations, due to the dislocation of two structures holding up the train system's power line.

SINGAPORE: The North-East Line (NEL) service disruption between Punggol and Buangkok on Thursday (Aug 21) morning affected 18,000 passengers, said SBS Transit (SBS).

In a statement, the transport operator explained how the disruption came about. An overhead power line supplies trains along the NEL, with power. Known as the Overhead Catenary System, it is held in place by a system of wires and steady arms. Just after 6am on Thursday, two pairs of these steady arms dislocated between the North and South tunnels of the NEL near Punggol station. This resulted in a loss of power between Punggol and Sengkang stations, with service only resuming around 3pm.

Services continued to run between Buangkok and HarbourFront stations, and trains were subsequently turned around at Sengkang station to enable service between Sengkang and HarbourFront stations.

More than 20 engineers were involved in the recovery works, which included replacing the two pairs of steady arms. Checks with sweep trains were also conducted to ensure safe operations before full service resumed, said SBS. Detailed investigations are being conducted to determine the cause of the fault.

Close to 40 shuttle buses were deployed to ferry commuters from Punggol and Sengkang stations, with more than 70 Goodwill Ambassadors and traffic inspectors at the affected stations to assist commuters. "We deeply apologise to passengers for the inconvenience caused," said SBS.

Commuters Channel NewsAsia spoke with were generally disappointed by the delays. One viewer Mark Cruise told us on Facebook that commuters were confused about the free bus rides: "Signs are not clear; people are queuing in the wrong direction. Instead of heading to Hougang, they are queuing for buses heading to Punggol. There are limited marshals around guiding commuters. People are confused and asking around."

Some did praise the efforts of SBS staff. One told us: “I think they're handling it very well. It's very efficient. I just came back from work in the morning, and when I came in they're already there and helping. Volunteers are also helping."

Students from neighbouring schools also shared their experiences. One said: “Teachers understood, because I think they all received the message that there was a breakdown." 

This is not the first time NEL train services have been disrupted by power faults. A power trip at Potong Pasir disrupted train services in March of this year.


6.18am: The company issued its first advisory via the SBS Iris app, advising commuters of the train disruption.

6.23am: SBS issues another advisory saying "free bus rides (are) available at designated bus stops".

6.29am: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) tweets "SBST: No #NEL service between Punggol NE17 & Buangkok NE15. Free bus rides available at designated bus stops."

7.10am: SBS explains "there is currently no NEL service between Punggol NE17 & Buangkok NE15 due to a power fault." 

7.55am: LTA tweets that no fares will be charged for commuters exiting affected stations.

8.41am: SBS sends a statement that "NEL service is now available between Sengkang NE16 and HarbourFront NE1 stations. Free bus rides and shuttle buses are available between Buangkok NE15 and Punggol NE17 stations."

1:02pm: SBS said train service between Punggol and Sengkang was still unavailable due to a power fault, and that the disruption started just slightly after 6am. It explains that the power fault was caused by dislocation of the two pairs of steady arms holding a wire to the overhead power supply line.

3pm: SBS said service is fully restored.

(Photo: Mark Cruise)

(Photo: Manje Moshiza)


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