SINGAPORE: Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Monday (Oct 16) said the SMRT maintenance team in charge of the anti-flood system at Bishan station had “failed us”, in his first public address on the major North-South Line (NSL) tunnel flooding incident two weekends ago.
On the evening of Oct 7 - a Saturday - torrential rainwater seeped in at Bishan station, causing the underground tunnel leading to Newton station to be submerged up to waist level.
SMRT had to cut off trackside power supply as a safety precaution, causing service on six stops across the NSL to be disabled for about 20 hours. More than a quarter of a million commuters were affected.
It was Singapore’s first disruption due to flooding and one of SMRT’s worst breakdowns in recent history, prompting much public unhappiness.
The incident was “sad and unnecessary” - but preventable and should not have happened, said Mr Khaw.
“We are all sorry it did ... Whatever follow-up action which needs to be done, has already started. Nothing has been covered up.”
“The incident has pushed back the recovery of public confidence in us,” he acknowledged.
Mr Khaw said Singapore’s MRT tunnels were designed to handle local weather and cope with “very extreme storms far more severe than the last few weeks”.
“The bottom line is they should not have been flooded. But on Oct 7, the stretch at Bishan and Braddell stations did.”
“There are standard anti-flooding systems with huge stormwater sump pits,” he explained. “Our findings show that the anti-flooding system there was poorly maintained.”
“In simple terms, the stormwater pit can hold more than 5,000 cubic metres of rainfall ... During that period over the catchment area, rainfall could not have exceeded 700 - let’s stretch it, 1,000 cubic metres.”
Said Mr Khaw: “If it were well-maintained, the reservoir should be empty before rain starts to flow. But it overflowed. The pit had not been maintained properly.”
He later revealed that the Land Transport Authority and SMRT had in fact, on Sep 29, made a decision to replace the pumps.
“So we are late by a few days. Had they proceeded to replace (the pumps) this thing might not even have happened.
"But I suppose that is life."
“WE’VE MADE SERIOUS IMPROVEMENTS”
The Transport Minister said energies had been focused on rails and train signalling systems instead - which he pointed out had improvements to show.
“At the beginning I said to give me four or five years. We are at the mid-point now,” he stated.
“We wanted to close the gap with Taipei’s benchmark of 800,000 km without incident ... We have made serious improvements, we have exceeded next year’s target (of 400,000km) and that’s why I was confident enough to say let’s go for 1 million.
“But I knew Singaporeans couldn’t relate, because they still hear delays here and there because of resignalling.”
The main reason for this, said Mr Khaw, can be traced to two major projects ongoing at the same time - improvements to existing lines and resignalling for the NSL.
“I did say the resignalling would have tonnes of problems. I said so in public, to bear with us,” he said.
“So even when you evaluate our performance in resignalling, we have done well. That’s why I’m concerned when media reports conflate the two projects and draw wrong conclusions.”