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TWENTY-EIGHT commuters and SMRT staff were injured on Wednesday when two MRT trains collided at Joo Koon station due to an unprecedented sofware glitch in the signalling system of the East-West Line.
The fault resulted in a stalled train at Joo Koon being mistakenly profiled as a three-car train instead of a six-car one in the system, operator SMRT and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) revealed.
As a result, a second train which stopped about 10.7m behind the first one "misjudged the distance" between the two, resulting in a collision which injured 28 people.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "Its an awful day today. Commuters were inconvenienced, and some even injured. We are deeply sorry for that."
Sharing their preliminary findings at a press conference on Wednesday evening, SMRT and LTA said the first train had departed Ulu Pandan depot with a software protection feature, but this was "inadvertently removed" when it passed by a faulty signalling circuit.
When it arrived at Joo Koon at about 8.18am, all passengers alighted due to an anomaly in the train signalling system, except for one SMRT staffer onboard.
At about 8.19am, the second train carrying over 500 passengers arrived but stopped at the correct safe stopping distance, said LTA and SMRT. However, in a minute later, the second train moved towards the first train and hit it.
Among the 28 people hurt were 26 commuters, and one SMRT employee each onboard the first and second trains. Two commuters sustained injuries that were categorised as "major emergencies". Twenty-three passengers and two SMRT staff sustained light to moderate injuries, and were taken conscious to the National University Hospital (NUH) and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. Another three passengers sought treatment at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital later in the afternoon, bringing the total number of injured treated there to 13.
Alexandru Robu, 35, was on the westbound train on the East-West Line when it came to a sudden halt just before Joo Koon MRT station, causing passengers to lose their balance and fall. "I've experienced sudden stops before on the MRT, but this time it was really bad," the service coordinator said.
Thales, the company which is supplying the new signalling system for the North-South and East-West Lines, said it has not encountered a glitch similar to Wednesday's incident previously. "On record, we are one of the safest... we have never had a collision," said Thales' Peter Tawn.
Mr Tawn added that the company may look at increasing the safety factor, or the buffer distance, between trains. This currently ranges from about 10m to 50m.
In Wednesday's incident, the trains had adhered to a safety buffer of 10.7m before the collision.
SMRT's senior vice-president of rail operations for the North-South and East-West lines, Alvin Kek, said the company was ensuring that all drivers did extra checks and had controls in place even if the train was driven in automatic mode.
Additional information will also be made available to drivers in their train cabins.
Said Mr Khaw after the press conference: "Thales is confident of their system but I advised the team, let's play doubly safe, where safety is involved, that's why I want them to suspend the Tuas West Extension tomorrow, so we have a whole day to do a thorough check before we resume the Tuas West Extension."
Bus bridging services will be provided for affected passengers.
The Land Transport Authority said that trains on the North-South and East-West lines will also run at slower headways of between 2.5 minutes and three minutes, compared with the current two minutes, as an interim safety precaution.
On the same morning, what was believed to be a door-related glitch disrupted service on the Circle Line. It caused massive overcrowding at Bishan and Holland stations.
Even in the afternoon, commuters said service on the Circle Line had not reverted to normal, with doors remaining open at stations for longer than usual.
Later in the day, its North-South Line was hit by another glitch.
Commuters said trains have been moving slowly and stopping at each station for up to 15 minutes before moving again.
Business own Manoj Kumar, 48, said he was at Dhoby Ghaut when the train stopped for around 15 minutes. It did the same at Somerset. At 5.40pm, he was still at Orchard station. "People started walking out of the train," he said. "My wife took my son to Admiralty Park to play. Her phone is flat. She is waiting for me because she does not not how to drive back. And the train is not moving." SMRT said in a Twitter post that there were "fewer trains serving the North-South Line this evening, please cater additional 15 minutes train travel time".
It has not said why there were fewer trains.
Asked if a committee of inquiry will be convened to look into this, Mr Khaw said to let the investigation take its course.
Asked about whether commuters' confidence in the MRT system has been undermined following Wednesday's accident and October's MRT tunnel flooding, Mr Khaw said: "Obviously people will be upset... I'm equally upset as they (are)." THE STRAITS TIMES