Negligence caused the death of trainees who were crushed by train; SMRT engineer gets 4 weeks jail

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The SMRT engineer who was in charge of two SMRT trainees who were crushed by a train in March 2016 was sentenced to four weeks’ jail yesterday (12 Mar). The man, 48-year-old Lim Say Heng, had pleaded guilty to one charge of causing death by negligence, which carried a maximum 2 year jail term and a fine.

The court heard that Lim – who had worked for SMRT since 1999 – led a 15-person team on foot to investigate a possible signalling fault between Tampines and Pasir Ris stations. Lim did not warn incoming trains that personnel were conducting works on the track, and had only left a handwritten note at Tampines station.

The men reached the worksite shortly after 11am and at 11.05am, Lim stepped off the walkway and onto the track – not noticing that a train was approaching. Control room staff who had seen Lim step onto the track tried to radio the team who did not attend to the call. An employee then left the control room to shout at the men to get off the track.

Lim heard the shouts and jumped off the track, back onto the walkway. However, 25-year-old Nasrulhudin Najumudin and 24-year-old Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari had followed Lim’s lead and had stepped onto the track behind Lim. Both trainees could not move fast enough and were fatally hit by the oncoming train that was travelling up to 80 kilometres per hour.

SMRT and Director of Control Operations fined

Lim and the driver of the train that killed the trainees were fired months after the accident. SMRT and the rail operator’s director of control operations Teo Wee Kiat faced charges, alongside Lim, in December 2016.

SMRT had been ordered to pay a hefty S$400,000 fine after it was convicted for failing to ensure the safety and health of employees at work, under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

In court last February, the prosecutor noted that the accident occurred “against the backdrop of an inexcusable systemic failure to ensure…strict compliance with (safety guidelines)” and castigated the the Operations Control Centre that Teo led for “giving the green light to employees (to work) in clear contravention of (safety guidelines)”.

Teo was subsequently fined S$55,000 in September last year, after the prosecutor argued that Teo was aware that safety protocols were regularly ignored and that he still did not do anything about this.

Interestingly, Teo was still an employee of SMRT at the time he was sentenced and was credited for instating stricter protocols governing track access during traffic hours.

Lim’s “career has gone to shambles” – Defence argued for fine instead of jail

Yesterday, Lim’s defence lawyer Lee May Ling argued that the maximum fine of S$10,000 would be fair since Lim “was not solely responsible for the implementation of safety protocols…(and) was not the only person who had failed to abide (by them)”.

Pointing to “systemic failures” at SMRT to enforce safety protocols, Lee added, “There were multiple points of responsibility, at least from the fact of the multiple parties charged and convicted”.

Urging the court to keep in mind that Lim has already paid a price for his negligence, Lee revealed that Lim now struggles to provide for his wife, children and elderly parents who are ill, as “His career has gone to shambles”. She added: “Above all, (Lim) has paid the price of his negligence by having to face the fact every day that Nasrulhudin and Asyraf have lost their lives.”

The lawyer also pointed out that the effects of a fine between SMRT or the well-paid Teo and Lim differ greatly as Lim would have greater difficulty paying a $10,000 fine given his circumstances: “The effects of a financial penalty on an organisation like SMRT and a well-paid director like (Teo) completely differ from the effect of a financial penalty on a man like (Lim)”

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt, however, found that a jail term was warranted since Lim’s failure to check that safety protocols had been followed on the day of the accident was the “most proximate and direct cause of death”.