The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has concluded that the 7 Oct tunnel flooding incident at Bishan was “entirely preventable” in a statement releasing the findings of its investigations into the incident which inconvenienced close to quarter of a million commuters after the flooding caused train services to be stopped over two days.
Previously disclosed preliminary findings showed that a group of SMRT maintenance staff falsified paperwork that maintenance was done on a pump system at Bishan Depot when no work was carried out for almost an entire year.
SMRT has accepted full responsibility for the incident and sacked 13 employees found to be responsible for the unprecedented tunnel flooding following an internal investigation.
The latest findings released by LTA yesterday reveal that while the individual components of the Bishan storm water pump system were not defective, the components had failed to work as intended.
LTA pointed to a “lack of proper maintenance, audits and supervision” as the cause of this failure since “existing flood protection measures at Bishan tunnel portal were designed to be more than adequate to handle the rainfall that fell on 7 October 2017.”
The statutory board’s investigations revealed that the failure of the pump system could have occurred due to one or a combination of three possible scenarios:
(1) the float switch at the bottom of the tank could have been impeded by silt and sludge;
(2) the failsafe alarm switch, which is supposed to remit a signal to the SMRT Operations Control Centre if the water in the tank reaches a critically high level, could have been impeded by floating debris; and/or
(3) SMRT maintenance staff failed to re-set the pump controls back to “Automatic” from “Manual” by SMRT staff.
It remains unclear which of these possible scenarios caused the pump system to fail to function as intended. SMRT concluded:
“From the available evidence and the tests conducted by STS, LTA’s investigations concluded that the flooding incident which occurred in tunnels on both bounds between Bishan and Braddell MRT stations from 7 to 8 Oct 2017 was preventable if SMRT’s maintenance team diligently maintained the Bishan storm water sump pit and pump system, and kept them in good and efficient working condition.
“If regular preventive maintenance had been carried out by SMRT’s maintenance team, as stipulated under the maintenance protocol, the abnormalities with the pump system could have been detected and rectified before the flooding occurred.”
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan acknowledged that the tunnel flooding incident was caused by a failure of organisation management at SMRT, and not a failure of engineering, yesterday.
Khaw sought understanding and support SMRT and its employees from members of the public:
“Not just for Seah Moon Ming, but also for his management, and the rank and file at SMRT. That would make his job much easier, and raise the morale of everyone down the line. Remember Seah Moon Ming is not Superman; none of us are.”
The Minister also acknowledged that the authorities are working on “what could and should have been done years ago” and that the least members of the public can do is offer moral support:
“Beware too that SMRT may experience other incidents along the way as we try to catch up in short order on what could and should have been done years ago. The hardest role is always the men and officers fighting in the trenches. The burden on their shoulders is the heaviest. And their families are also affected if they see that their loved ones are being screamed at, or castigated.
“The least that we can do is to provide moral support.
“Fortunately, the pride in SMRT still lurks among the rank and file. And we can build on that. They need our full support above all else, so that they have the time and the space, and the encouragement, for them to put in their very best.”
Comparing the North-South line – the oldest Singapore train network built 30 years ago – to the latest MRT line, Khaw asserted that the design of train lines have improved over time. In spite of this, there is a need to plan for contingencies since the complicated train system is bound to inevitably fail at times:
“And if you pay some attention, you know that people design for all kinds of contingencies – backups – because you know this is a complicated engineering piece of work, and it will fail sometimes, hopefully rarely. But it will fail.”
He added: “We’re not gods.”