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Contingency Planning


Encountered an MRT breakdown in the NEL line yesterday evening. The end result was complete chaos as the bus stops were crowded, buses were jam packed, there was non-existent signs of breakdown, no public address at NEL, no free shuttle bus.

I didn’t wait to find out what happen or for instructions on what to do when there was a crowd of people waiting outside the NEL turnstiles. i immediately headed for the bus stop to take a bus ride home. What took less than 10 minutes ride became a stressful 35 minutes journey on a packed bus in a breakdown induced jam as people drove to pick up their loved ones who were trapped because of the breakdown.

It seems that after numerous breakdowns, the transportation companies are still at a loss about what to do in a breakdown.

I’d like to suggest that they take a leaf out of the Tokyo management of such an event.

I was caught in such a situation while travelling in Japan with my wife. What stood out for me was that the staff were well prepared for such emergencies and the stress of such event was taken out as standby or actual station staff were prepared with free tickets to other train and bus systems to take you to the station or near to where you want to go to.


It is possible if the transportation network is as dense, as duplicated and as complex as the Tokyo network. Their trains are on time, every time and the delay is at most 18 seconds on average unless there is a breakdown or major disaster like an earthquake.

Singapore’s train network while good is far from the world class standards of the Tokyo network.


In the event of a train disruption, I will like to suggest the below, with D being the moment a train or the system is being disrupted.

D+5 min- Driver or staff has tried emergency SOPs to revive or restart the system and train with no success.

i. Company central HQ is informed (if they were yet to know).

ii. Message is sent out for train disruption to all public channels (apps, facebook, radio, tv stations, sms etc). Staff on leave or standby staff are activated to stations affected.

iii. Staff at all stations is informed of the disruption and where it occurs regardless of whether they are the ones affected so that this is made known to all commuters and they can plan for alternate routes.

iv. Signage is place at all turnstiles with the information of the disruption.

v. Standard message is played at all MRT station of the disruption.

vi. Shuttle bus companies are activated by HQ. Buses do not go to every station but from one station to one or two stations along the affected line. The buses loop around and carry on for the opposite direction. This will mean that the queues are dispersed.

vii. Staff at affected stations hands out free tickets for commuters to take alternate routes to destinations.

viii. Taxi companies are activated to send their taxis to pick up stranded commuters and encourage commuters to share the cab for common destinations. Taxi drivers pick up these free tickets to exchange for cash or free rental for the day.

ix. Buses on affected routes are made free for commuters and more buses are channelled to affected routes.

x. Radio and mass media communications advise commuters not to arrange for pick ups from family as this will jam roads. But if they do insist on picking up, to also pick other stranded commuters in exchange for the tickets which can be exchanged for cashcard top up.

xi. Pre appointed areas designated for pick up from free shuttle bus and taxis.


D+30 minutes, the standby staff should have started to arrive to ease the load of the existing staff. Additional tickets for issuance may have to be delivered from HQ to affected stations. If situation is worsened or widespread, more private buses may be activated to cope with the breakdown.

Depending on the number of stations down, the breakdown is coded yellow, orange and red and the level of resources and activation of public resources is levelled for accordingly to the state of breakdown.

Cost for all the above measures to be borne by the transport company who had the breakdown.

The crux will be the free tickets given out which should be valid only for the day of the breakdown and only exchanged for cash card top up or rental for taxis which should go somewhat to prevent people from lining up just to get the free tickets.

If there are redundancies planned to the transit systems like bypass lines for trains to go past stranded trains, alternative transportation lines like what you see for the Tokyo subway, that will also help commuters plan a more roundabout  to skirt around the breakdown area. That will also help in easing the transport load that the transport companies are facing too.

Just some thoughts for contingency planning for breakdown.

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