The three most powerful and influential persons i.e. The PM, Transport Minister and SMRT CEO have spoken in the wake of the recent major train disruptions within 4 days – last Wed, Thu and Sat – on the Circle line and North/South line which are run by SMRT.
I operated one of those trains on the East/West line. I had never operated a train on the North/South line until yesterday (17/12/11 Sat) and this morning (18/12/11 Sun) when my train was routed from Jurong East Bound via Raffles station due to operational exigency.
On this post, I have to be politically correct and extremely guarded on my comments. I shall stay within the OB markers. I shall not bite the hand that feeds me! Surely with more than 16 years of train driving experience, I could offer some insights and my two cents’ worth from my own perspective.
Rain or shine, day in and day out regardless of public holidays, weekdays, weekends, school holidays etc almost 400 of us – Train Officers – operate the approximately 100 trains in the system. We bring out all the trains before 5.30 am from the 3 depots i.e. Changi, Ulu Pandan and Bishan. After traffic hours past 1 am, all those trains are brought back to the 3 depots for overnight stabling. 365 days a year for the past 24 years or so SMRT trains never cease operation until recently.
Train Officer’s pay is on similar grade to station staff. However, our responsibility is onerous. No matter what work mistakes the station staff made, they will never get the sack. Whereas, if any Train Officer made a work mistake, the repercussions can be disastrous which usually involves passengers’ safety.
Imagine if the Train Officer opens the wrong side of the doors and if any passenger falls as a result, injury or death may occur. The 3rd rail is deathly with live voltage of 750 DC. Touches it instant death follows.
Do you still remember the 2 works trains collision in the early morning hours on 21st Jan 2008 near to Simei station leading to a 7 hour shutdown on the eastern line? Train services stopped from Tanah Merah to Pasir Ris. All trains turned around at Tanah Merah station. That was the worst human negligent error leading to much chaotic situation in the morning rush hours. It pales in comparision with last Wednesday and Thursday train disruptions.
I remember just before I joined SMRT in 1995, there was an unprecedented train collision at Clementi East Bound! That langgar incident sent shock waves round the world. How could it happen with all the built in full proof safety features in place?
To side track a little, this morning (18/12/11) when I was shunting the train at UPD, the traffic signal light was on RED aspect. I was shouted at and ordered to proceed to another track. I kept telling the DCS – Depot Control Supervisor – that it was on red aspect and I was right infront of signal U58! He “die die” insisted that his control panel indicated that the correct route was set for me and that I should proceed to shunt the train without delay and stop arguing.
Out of exasperation, I asked him if he trusted his computer or me on the ground? He then instructed me to ‘COUNTERMAND’ and “go” against the red aspect!
I gave up.
I called YM – Yard Master – over the cellphone and asked him to come take a look.
This true incident serves to remind us that machines can never replace a thinking human with flesh and blood.
Do you think that my CEO is correct to describe us as “train drivers” instead of explaining to the whole world that we should be respectably addressed as “Train Officers?”
Our job description on the official appointment letter states clearly that we are Train Officers. Although we are paid only peanuts at a starting salary of $1,250 we are still more than a “train driver”.
Do you term aeroplane pilots as airplane drivers? Or ship captains as ship drivers?
In fact, all our bus drivers are officially known as bus captains! It could be due to their expanded job scope where they are more than bus drivers! They not only drive the bus but need to ensure passengers’ safety, be customer oriented, knowledgeable on places etc.
If an outsider or a reporter addresses us train drivers we could understand. Our bosses should know better and correct this misnomer. They should do the right thing and not degrade us.
The PM made it clear that a committee of public inquiry will be set up comprising independent experts to investigate those glitches and probe deeply into SMRT. There will be no covers up. All shall be laid out bare for all to see. A detailed voluminous report will be published.
Usually, many revelations or skeletons and cobwebs from the cupboard will be unraveled and thrown out in such a thorough examination. Heads will roll. Some will bite the dust. No more free rides.
Transport Minister prefers to say “health check” in a rather mild term. We feel that the digging will surely lead to lots of changes on our established, entrenched SOPs.
Our job as Train Officers is definitely going to be much more tougher, exacting and zero tolerance expected for mistakes in terms of passengers’ safety. No more leeway on margin of errors! We will be under the spotlight for a long time.
After all we are the ones operating those trains in and out of depots for mainline revenue services. We bring in the dollar.
We face the wrath of irate public. Some of my colleagues have avoided walking about in uniform to avoid those accusing eyes and pointing fingers. A Train Officer from AMK had his tie pulled by an angry passenger and shouted at “You stupid MRT!”. Some declared straightaway “I drive bus NOT train when neighbours questioned about our failures and inadequacy. There are many more horror stories where we are targets of irate and irrational public! We bear the brunt.
Without Train Officers, the trains do not move. Since safety of passengers is of paramount importance as higlighted by the PM and the Transport Minister, Train Officers must be more than “train drivers.”
It must be so!
To promulgate otherwise is to defy logic!
As the saying goes – “You pay peanuts you get monkeys”
My two cents’ worth.
‘When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight’ Jack Welch