Joo Koon train collision: Signalling system provider Thales 'could have done better', says Khaw Boon Wan

Joo Koon train collision: Signalling system provider Thales 'could have done better', says Khaw Boon Wan

Khaw Boon Wan doorstep on Nov 21
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan speaking to reporters after a joint press conference on Nov 21.

SINGAPORE: The French company which supplied the new signalling system for the East-West Line (EWL) on which a train collision happened last week "could have done better", said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Tuesday (Nov 21).

He acknowledged that Thales was faced with a "challenging situation", having to deal with two different signalling systems on the EWL. Most of the line runs on the old signalling system, while a segment of the Tuas West Extension (TWE) runs on the new system provided by Thales. 

"Still, Thales could have done better. They have acknowledged their mistake and have apologised," said Mr Khaw. 

The minister was speaking after a news conference by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), train operator SMRT and Thales detailing their findings on the train collision at Joo Koon MRT station on Nov 15. 

The collision was caused when a protective "bubble" around the first train was "unexpectedly disabled" when it passed a trackside device at Clementi. This device had not been modified to be compatible with the new signalling system. 

As the second train did not sense the protective "bubble", which ensures safe distances between trains, it started to move forward automatically and hit the first train, said SMRT and LTA. 

"There was no human error in this case," the transport operator added. 

For the time being, the signalling systems on the TWE and the rest of the EWL will be kept separate to "reduce the complications" of operating two different systems, said SMRT and LTA.

This means there will be no train service between two stations - Joo Koon and Gul Circle.

"I think that is a good decision," said Mr Khaw. "To end their (Thales') misery, we just keep this complete separation.

"Inevitably, the confidence (of commuters) will be shattered by events like this ... we have to get over it and regain public confidence."

When asked if the Government will be seeking compensation from Thales, Mr Khaw said: "That will be contractual obligations, I will leave that to LTA."

Joo Koon MRT station collision - AFP
Two trains after they collided at a train station in Singapore on Nov 15, 2017. (Photo: AFP / TOH Ting Wei)

On its part, Thales said it is fully cooperating in the investigation with SMRT and LTA.

"We have been organising extensively our resources from around the world to put deep emphasis, deep and meaningful understanding of that event," said Thales vice-president Millar Crawford.

He also apologised to commuters and those injured in the train collision.


As part of the solution, the Transport Minister stressed the need to speed up the completion of the resignalling project for the entire EWL, which is why two-full day shutdowns of 19 stations on the EWL and North-South Line (NSL) are needed, to increase engineering hours. 

"I hope commuters will be understanding. We will make sure that the affected stretches have enough buses."

He added: "Having settled this one, I think SMRT will come back to its original job – which is to raise (rail) reliability.

"This is a multi-year effort. I gave myself four years, we are halfway through. If not for this incident as well as the flooding incident, we are actually making good progress, as PM described it before."

Mr Khaw pointed out that the resignalling project "adds complications" to efforts to improve rail reliability. 

"And therefore I can understand why commuters - especially those travelling on the NSL - could not understand: 'You said things have improved, I still experience delays.' But that is because of resignalling."

He added that transport authorities have "turned the corner" for the NSL signalling project, which is expected to be completed by next month.

"We will wrap up the NSL and speed up implementation on EWL so that the improvement in reliability can be more visible to commuters," said Mr Khaw. "I'm confident."

Source: CNA/gs