SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) intends to impose a financial penalty of S$5.4 million on transport operator SMRT for the system-wide disruption on the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) on July 7, it announced on Wednesday (Sep 23).
This is the highest financial penalty imposed on an operator since two MRT service disruptions in December 2011, which affected about 221,000 commuters, for which SMRT was fined S$2 million. The fine will go to the Public Transport Fund to help needy families with their public transport expenditures, LTA stated in a media release.
The authority said it found SMRT fully responsible for the incident on Jul 7. "SMRT’s maintenance lapses resulted in a system-wide disruption on the NSEWL for more than two hours during the evening peak period. This greatly inconvenienced 413,000 commuters travelling on the MRT network’s most heavily-utilised lines," LTA said.
“SMRT had also failed to meet requirements under the Code of Practice for incident management. They failed to inform LTA of the intermittent traction power tripping in a timely manner."
SMRT had earlier said "weak electrical resistance" of the train network's third rail insulator was the cause for the disruption.
Following a media briefing on Jul 29, LTA together with independent experts from Japan and Sweden, identified an ongoing water leak in the tunnel close to the insulator as a contributor to the weak electrical resistance.
“The leak, and inadequate maintenance, had resulted in extensive mineral deposits on the insulator and trackside equipment,” LTA said. “Laboratory tests found high chloride content in samples of the water seepage and in the deposits. The consultants deduced that the conductive mineral deposits, together with the wet tunnel environment, had significantly reduced the effectiveness of the insulator.”
LTA added that as a result, electricity flowed from the insulator to the ground, resulting in a higher than normal voltage between the running rail and the ground that eventually sparked the power tripping.
Tunnel water seepage at Tanjong Pagar - Raffles Place tunnel. (Photo: LTA)
MAINTENANCE LAPSES BY SMRT TO BLAME
LTA concluded that the incident could have been prevented if SMRT had rectified the tunnel water seepage as required under LTA’s Code of Practice for maintenance. Under the Code, SMRT has to attend to any tunnel water dripping directly on trackside equipment, such as the third rail, immediately upon discovery. If grouting works cannot be carried out, the operator has to divert the water seepage away from the trackside equipment.
According to LTA, SMRT had detected seepage in the tunnel section in question on its routine track patrols in mid-June 2015. However, these leaks were attended to only in end-July. The extent of mineral deposits on the trackside equipment also shows that SMRT’s maintenance measures had been inadequate, it added.
Mr Chew Men Leong, chief executive of LTA said: “After a full and comprehensive investigation, LTA concludes that the disruption is due to maintenance lapses by SMRT. LTA hence intends to impose a high financial penalty on SMRT in light of the seriousness of the incident, and given that several hundred thousands of train commuters, as well as motorists and bus commuters, were inconvenienced by this disruption. We require SMRT to review and improve their maintenance regime to prevent future occurrences.”
LTA added that it has asked SMRT to provide a detailed response and rectification programme to address the findings. To prevent a similar recurrence, SMRT has started replacing all third rail insulators since the incident, starting with insulators which have shown signs of electrical resistance weakness.
The authority is also increasing its oversight of the operators’ maintenance processes with more frequent audits. It has audited both SMRT and SBS Transit’s maintenance of the tunnels and track for the NSEWL, North East Line and Circle Line, and asked the operators to follow up on the issues identified. Another audit is underway, it said.
WE HAVE STEPPED UP EFFORTS TO MINIMISE RECURRENCE: SMRT
In response to media queries, SMRT issued a statement on Wednesday evening which said it acknowledges the financial penalty issued by LTA.
"We have stepped up efforts to systematically address the issue and minimise the possibility of a recurrence," said Mr Patrick Nathan, Vice-President, Corporate Information and Communications, SMRT. He added that SMRT would continue to work closely with LTA in renewing the North-South and East-West Lines.