There are many safety procedures in place to ensure the safety of the maintenance staff and passengers. The recent tragedy near Pasir Ris MRT station signifies that even with these safety procedures in place, the accident was not prevented. An accident is always an accident too many. How could it be prevented? Here is a walk-through of the proper procedures from our perspective.
The reason for track access in the Pasir Ris accident was due to a point machine conditioning monitoring device which raised an alarm, and a team of 15 were sent to the site to investigate the reason of the alarm.
Before accessing the personnel walkway beside the tracks, the maintenance team must first inform and seek permission from the Pasir Ris station master as well as the Operations Control Center (OCC). SMRT CEO Desmond Quek mentioned that this has been done, and approval has been given by the OCC for the work party to access the walkway.
Once approval has been given, OCC should inform the Tampines and Pasir Ris station master as well as Train Captains in the vicinity to look out for man working on track.
In this case, once notified, Pasir Ris and Tampines station masters are to put up a Train Captains' Notice at the headwalls of their respective station, informing Train Captains to drive in Coded Manual (CM) and look out for men on track. A staff should also be stationed at the headwall to ensure that Train Captains adhere to this instruction.
Train Captains, upon seeing the notice, should drive the train in manual mode instead of automatic, keeping their eyes on the track for any obstruction or personnel on track. If a personnel or obstruction is spotted, the Train Captain is to stop the train. Should the work party or lookout man fail to notice the train, the Train Captain is to alert them with the horn.
Meanwhile, the maintenance team must appoint a lookout man to lookout for any danger or oncoming train. Upon seeing an oncoming train, he should signal the train to stop and also alert his team of danger.
When the work party reaches the designated work area, the maintenance staff should call OCC again to inform them that they have reached and would ask for permission to work on the track. The OCC at this point, after ensuring that no trains are in the section, will turn off the traction power and give the maintenance team the go ahead to work on the track.
Should the train need to proceed through the work area, the work party should first clear the track, and the Train Captain should change to Restricted Manual (RM), which only allows the train to drive up to a maximum of 18km/h. The train captain must follow the hand or flag signals given by the look out man until the train has cleared the work area.
We understand that the train was in automatic mode when the accident happened and it was travelling at around 60km/h. There are many questions left unanswered. Why was the train in automatic mode when the incident happened? Why was the work team allowed on the track without OCC's permission? Was a Train Captains' notice put up? Was a staff stationed at the preceding station to inform Train Captains? Was there a lookout man? Lastly, was the Train Captain actively looking out for any obstruction on track? Just by not following one procedure and it leads to grave consequences. Let us hope that this will be a valuable lesson for SMRT as well as for its staff.