MRT Inquiry: SMRT officers were overwhelmed

Overwhelmed. That's how SMRT officers described their experience when the train disruptions hit them on the morning of Dec 17 last year.

"We were like soldiers, ready to fight a war, but we couldn't cope," said Mr Quah Siew Chee (above, right), 52, a chief controller with SMRT.

Mr Quah, the duty chief controller at SMRT's Operations Control Centre (OCC), was coming off the previous day's night shift when trains started experiencing faults from 6.40am.

He worked with his team of five train service controllers to manage the train breakdowns and passenger evacuations, but the work piled up fast.

Fortunately, the incident happened just as staff from the morning shift, which starts at 7.15am, were about to arrive and be able to help.

Mr Frankie Lee, the duty chief controller of the morning shift, said in his statement in court that he assisted Mr Quah with "information dissemination".

While Mr Quah continued to work on restoring service, Mr Lee provided information on the train disruptions to senior SMRT personnel and staff on the ground at stations, using SMS messages and computerised printouts.

He also assisted in activating SMRT's Rail Incident Management Plan, deploying teams to affected stations to assist in crowd management.

Mr Quah handed over his duties to Mr Lee at 9am.

When asked by SMRT's lawyer if his team members could have handled the incident on their own, Mr Quah said that they would have been unable to cope.

"At the initial stage, we barely managed to do it. As time progressed, we would have to work hard."

Mr Quah told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) that his OCC staff could manage minor problems, but would struggle with major incidents.

"It depends on the management. If we want to use minimum numbers to run (the OCC) it's usually okay, but you can't expect us to run it if an accident occurs."

"Since I started (working at the OCC) in 1994, the number of passenger loads on trains has increased a lot. We're asking for an accident to happen sooner or later," added Mr Quah, who joined SMRT in 1986.

Mr Lee, who also joined SMRT that year, had similar views.

Replying to a query on the tracking of faults reported by train operators, he told the court: "There was no time to carry out the requisite administrative processes.

"We were more concerned about delays and recovery than the admin works."

The station manager of Novena station, Mr Alan Fong Keng Heng, reported that he tried to call the OCC three to four times from 9 to 9.30am that day to try and find out when service would resume, but nobody picked up.

Somerset station manager Chan Keng Ping told the court that he did not even try to contact the OCC. "I know that they are busy," Mr Chan told the court.

Mr Teo Puay Kee, Ron, station manager of Orchard station, told the court: "As station managers, we need to use our judgment. We can't disturb the OCC because they are overloaded with things to do."

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