This week I’m on morning shift. I have to report at CHD by 6.00am. Usually I leave home at about 5.15am. Yesterday (23/5/12), was no different but it was raining cats and dogs. I was drenched even though I was wearing raincoat. Rain started around 5.00am. 15 mins travel time on my bike between Pasir Ris to CHD took me double time to reach my workplace.
My train was scheduled to depart CHD at 6.33am. I had to iron my uniform and also my T-shirt and pants which were quite drenched. Hopefully the ironing could dry up my clothing a bit.
Having prepared all the necessary equipment and dressed up, I was about to walk to my assigned train at the covered sidings with an umbrella, even though I knew it’s hopeless against such a fierce thunderstorm.
Suddenly I saw four of my colleagues in the buggy rushing back. I learned from them that they had just witnessed the mother of all lightning bolt. They were in the buggy near to the covered sidings when they saw the powerful lightning struck just behind the guard house near to them.
It was exactly 5.40am. (0540 hrs-timing was noted for its 4D intention) The whole covered sidings area including the guard house blackout! It was a close shave for the four of them. That really scared the shit out of them.
The four badly shaken colleagues and myself ran up to the second level control room to report to YM. At the control room, we saw YM and DCS in panicked mode. It’s confirmed that all the 12 trains stabled at the 12 covered sidings could not move out due to point failure. Remote control of points and circuits totally destroyed by that powerful lightning.
It’s coming to morning peak hours. All staff kept staggering in to launch the trains in sequential order. Our night shift YM and DCS swung into action. Whilst the site maintenance team (on standby 24/7) was activated and they confirmed the disastrous blow of the lightning, we had to regroup and get organized to keep things … err trains moving.
All those train officers who were assigned to one of the 12 trains in the covered sidings had to quickly be reassigned to one of those in the 44 open sidings. All the 6 of us were told to rush to the opposite side, at the extreme end of the depot where the other trains were stabled at the open sidings to quickly launch the trains in accordance to the timetable schedule.
Time was running out quickly due to this sudden collapse of signaling system as a result of the powerful lightning strike. Mind you all this while the rain kept belting at us even as we rushed over to the open sidings. There was much clattering on the otherwise quite walkie talkie radio sets. Everyone was asking and shouting for directions and instructions. Some of them even used their hps to communicate.
Once the chaotic situation normalized a little, the YM and another staff with HV protective vest and gear had to go down to trackside to manually throw points and set route for trains at the covered sidings to shunt to the open sidings on the opposite side where the earlier trains had departed.
At least two points on the track need to set either to normal (straight) or reverse (turning) mode for the train to move from point A to point B. It had to be done manually with the TO ‘counter manning’ the red aspect.
The TO will never drive the train over a red aspect unless someone is there in front of him to authorize that he counter manned that. A yellow flag need to be raised in front of him to allow him to shunt the train. It’s a tedious and laborious process but necessary in terms of safety.
Of course, the poor YM had to be on the trackside co-ordinating all the train shunting movements from here to there. The computer system via remote would take care of route setting on the undamaged part of the track circuit system.
Rain or shine, notwithstanding lightning or thunder, trains must move and we had to get those trains out to the mainline was in everybody’s mind. We were all experienced staff knowing what to do in unforeseen circumstances such as yesterday morning. No one argued with the competent leadership of the YM who was at one time not long ago was also a TO like us.
Yesterday at about 6am, the YM, DCS and TOs had to struggle through the crises to put all the scheduled trains onto the two reception tracks in the depot to launch them into mainline passenger service.
It was tense and full of excitement resembling a war zone with equipment, HV vests, raincoats, bags strewn all over the office. Whilst we were struggling with train and manpower deployment, the maintenance staff were also fighting against all odds trying to figure out and trouble shoot where the hell did the lightning actually strike and the full extent of the damages.
Lightning flashes were also igniting all over the sprawling depot grounds and the staff under heavy rain were either fixing the damaged equipment, setting routes by throwing points or rushing to our assigned trains. Scenario of a typical Hollywood combat zone where we could see bright flashes of lightning amid the dark gloomy sky with loud roaring thunder in the darkened background.
The above is just another chapter in our 24 year long history in CHD. Yesterday morning, I was part of that langgar drama as a result of mother nature’s wrath. Is it true that man proposes and mother nature disposes? I’m not sure. But I have seen the havoc caused by a powerful and merciless lightning. I do not wish for another.
“I appreciate very, very much … that it was not just the management people who have put in many extra hours, but also the people on the ground, the engineers, the maintenance staff, the technical people. They have worked much, much harder than in the past, over the last few months.”
Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew
“The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the official policies, practices or opinions of SMRT or any organisation with which I may be affiliated”.