By Joy Fang
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) was unaware of incidences of dislodged rail claws before last December's two major train disruptions. This was because transport operator SMRT had not been required to report such cases.
This was revealed yesterday by LTA's deputy director of the transit-regulation division, Mr Soo Weng Tuck, on the 16th day of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) hearing tasked to look into the two incidents.
Rail claws help to support the third rail, which provides power to MRT trains. In last December's disruptions, 21 claws were found to have been dislodged, causing the third rail to sag and trains to stall.
Mr Soo said SMRT must now periodically report the number of claws dislodged to LTA.
He added that his team conducts audits to check on SMRT's maintenance processes and work instructions. LTA engineers also carry out checks once every two months on SMRT's tracks and the structure of its stations, focusing on safety-related aspects.
The committee also heard that LTA has not issued the operator a "direction" since SMRT was established in 1987. A direction can be issued by LTA after a breach of rail legislation, and operators must comply with it.
Results from the last audit by LTA on SMRT's maintenance processes in 2010 were deemed satisfactory, said Mr Soo.
The LTA released a new code of practice in March to improve coordination and consistency in the handling of train-service disruptions.
For instance, one requirement is that, once bus-bridging services are activated, the first bus must reach a station hit by a disruption within half an hour.
During the hearing, Mr Tay Ko San, SMRT's chief engineer of control operations, told the committee that the installation of a new signalling system - announced in February - will enable trains to move in either direction on one track without a reduction in speed.
For instance, should disruptions occur, other trains can then bypass stalled trains and ferry passengers at normal speeds to unaffected stations. This would ease the passenger load on bus-bridging services activated in such situations, said Mr Tay.
With the current signalling system, when trains travelling along a track are made to move in the opposite direction, such as during a disruption, their speeds are cut to a third of normal speeds due to an old design specification.
During the hearing, COI chairman Tan Siong Thye expressed concern over SMRT's procedure of having the Operations Control Centre manager briefed by the chief controller before activating the emergency-response plan in the event of a breakdown.
This causes "considerable delay", said Chief District Judge Tan, adding that time was a critical factor in activating the plan.
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