Everyday life

Tube versus MRT disruptions

So apparently there were severe disruptions on the North-South Line from Marina Bay to Braddell stations this evening in Singapore. No idea what time it happened. Doesn’t say on CNA or The Straits Times, but do know that it is during the evening, at least before 6.50pm. Southbound trains started running from 9pm again while Northbound trains only resumed at 11.40pm.

Apparently, it is due to 40m of power rail between City Hall and Dhoby Ghaut station that was damaged.

The picture of the broken train window (by a fire extinguisher) seems to have become the most circulated photo of the whole incident.

Without making any arguments or assertions, I would like to perhaps draw some comparisons of the disruption to what happens in London and the UK in general.

In London, there is probably an average of one disruption a day. This is not supported by anything. It is merely my personal assessment. In Singapore, maybe about 10 a year on the MRT lines and once a month on the LRT lines? Again, I’m just pulling these numbers from the top of my head.

The reactions of the people affected:

When they have to walk on the railway tracks: People really hate this. The newspapers love to show people walking in the tunnels on the railway tracks. The most common complaint is that it is dangerous. Sometimes people complain that they have to walk a long time, for a long distance.

Being stuck in the train without electricity: People really hate this as well. Over here in the UK, there was once when people were stuck on the train (due to snow) and the heating got cut off and people got really cold. In Singapore, it is the opposite–people got really warm.

Using alternative services:

Alternative lines: I assume people in central London do this all the time. When one tube line breaks down, find another tube line, walk to another tube stop. Because of the dense network of tube stations and lines, it is easy to find alternatives in central London. Not quite sure what happens when you get out of zone 1 though. In Singapore, our network (even in the centre) is not quite dense enough. And tbh, walking in central Singapore isn’t that easy/pleasant an experience as that in London. Because of our road capacity, I think we have much more traffic in downtown Singapore than in ‘downtown’ London.

Alternative buses provided by PTO: Replacement buses are always provided by TfL for service disruptions over the weekend. But because I’ve only ever had to use them out of zones 1 and 2, and there, the traffic volume is much less, I don’t see a fair comparison with what happened in Singapore. But anyway, from my experience, the replacement buses are always below capacity and they make the journeys 2x longer than it should have been by the tube. Seems like the shuttle buses provided reached maximum capacity very quickly. Interesting to find out where SMRT got the buses and drivers from.

Alternative modes: People (like me) in London just switch to buses. Buses in London come very frequently (in my experience) although they can be really packed at times and they move very slowly cause of the traffic in London. When the tube staff go on strike (and they seem to do so rather frequently), everyone switches to buses which results in overcrowding on the buses, long waits at bus stops etc etc. Also, people switch to the Barclays bicycle. I have not tried, but apparently in a tube strike it is impossible to get a Barclays bike. From what I’ve read on the news, people in Singapore switch to taxis. Many reasons for this. Perhaps the benefit from getting to one’s destination (i assume majority of it to be the home) is greater than the cost of the taxi fare. Perhaps people are willing to pay this amount because they perceive that such ‘unexpected expenditure’ will not happen often and they can afford to ‘splurge’ this one time. Perhaps the buses just do not have sufficient capacity or coverage. Perhaps there is a lack of information about alternative routes that one can take. Many many reasons, could be a combination of all of them.

I rather hate traveling in London. Especially during the peak hours. It is an immensely unpleasant experience. In the tube, there’s the dreaded wait at the narrow platform, with people streaming in and standing behind and around you. The train that pulls in that’s completely full and you know you’ll be unable to get on. The waiting for the next train. The desperate squeeze to get into one while you see lots of room in the middle of the carriage. Being squashed against the door or against someone else. The struggle to get out of the train when it finally pulls into your stop. On the bus, the roads are so congested with roadworks and construction and other vehicles that you know you think walking is faster than being on the bus.

And that’s when everything is working fine.

When lines get disrupted or shut off, there is even greater chaos. But I’m always slightly impressed by how the Underground staff deal with the problems ingrained in the tube network. The Underground staff have an actual presence all around the tube network. Unlike our train operators’ staff who seem more like silent creatures standing around on the platform or walking around in the trains. On the Underground, if the train stops suddenly anywhere, the train driver will say something to the passengers. Usually he/she gives an explanation of the problem and apologises for the delay. It seems to me that much more information is provided by Underground staff then Singapore’s train operators’ staff.

But I guess Singapore train operators never had much experience dealing with potential problems on the transit network. Until recently, breakdowns rarely occurred. I do hope they learn something from this experience.

Transport affects thousands of people. It’s a huge responsibility, one which must be handled with care.

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One thought on “Tube versus MRT disruptions

  1. Thanks for the thought-provoking article. Frequent problems are not unexpected of such an old and complicated system as the Tube; as you suggest, it is the way they mitigate these problems on the fly that never fails to impress me.

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