Trains in Depot besieged by lightning and thunder


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”.


About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends.
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14 Responses to Trains in Depot besieged by lightning and thunder

  1. ape@kinjioleaf says:

    ‘We were all experienced staff knowing what to do in unexpected circumstances’.
    Never underestimate the importance of experience. There are things that rookies can’t learn from books, leaflets or lectures.
    Familiarity with surroundings so that even in a downpour with poor visibility, the old birds will still know where to head.
    Knowing your colleagues, like how you guys are familiar with the YM who is promoted amongst you reduces conflict.
    The above 2 are some examples how experienced staff can handle their tasks at unforeseen situations, thus deserving of better recognition even though they seem to be doing the same job as any new staff on any normal day.

    • Ape,
      Sad to say that there are organisations who do not think like you. They say that a job is just a job. You are trained to do a job so you shld be competent about the job scope. There is no difference a guy with 1 yr experience with 20 yrs of experience. But there is a difference in terms of pay. For example, the new guy is paid $1,200 whereas the old guy is paid $2,250! If I get rid of that older guy, I can get a much younger guy at half the salary to do the same job. I qualify myself to say that it is the general management thinking. I am not directing my comment on any particular specific company here. So you see it boils down to bottomline and costs again. It is the trend and the way in a competitive organisation where loyalty, attitude, senority etc do not really factor in when it comes to costs. How much do you pay for performing that job. If I can pay $1,200 why should I pay more? It is sad but true where profits and costs are always the overiding concern. The intangibles of how money can u buy or pay loyalty, experience, senority do not matter to profit driven enterprise. Do you see my points? Its a langgar situation in our materialistic society.

  2. Malcolm says:

    Salute to you, I know what throwing switches mean in a normal, relaxed situation. It’s really hard work to do it manually alone, that’s why hydraulics and electric drives are used in modern, automated systems. I was “playing” around with a manual switch as part of a railway property open house tour. I barely moved the “tongue” of the switch and was already exhausted. Imagine our brave & service-customer-oriented SMRT heroes doing it in heavy thunderstorms with the high risk of a fatal lightning strike & repetitively at the verbal orders of their superiors which may cause derailment if there’s misunderstanding or miscommunication. Simply salute our SMRT heroes!

    • Hi Malcolm,
      Thks for the comment and compliment. Usually the signals and points are controlled by the computer and mimic panel. But when they fail, we will have do it manually. Yes, its no easy task to throw points cuz that guy got to run up and down in bewteen poinits etc to set the route for the train to shunt. In this situation, we always worry abt derailment which could even cause greater problems. Derailment is the last thing we want to avoid. It will cripple the tracks and jam up all other trains. The derailed train need to be jacked up and put back to the track and the damaged points need to be repaired etc.. I am impressed with your railway knowledge. Cheers.

      • Malcolm says:

        I understand the pressure. Pressure for getting it done right, pressure to avoid another reason to launch a COI, pressure to make sure all employees’ records remain clean (no black marks due to accidents/negligence). It’s like during NSF days being asked to do change parade, or area cleaning in 2 minutes, but not for fun/egoism of the instructor, but now for real operations, for the benefit of customers who travel by mass rapid transit.

  3. Glad that no one was hurt in the lightning strike. If trains are delayed again, people are going to complain and point fingers again. Sometimes, it’s really not the operator’s fault. We must only scold when people deserve to be scolded. Good job, guys. Thanks for the behind the scenes info.

    • Steven says:

      It is the lightning’s fault but glad someone hammer thing back to work.

    • Toothfully,
      That is what we worry about. Trust me, every staff from the lowest to the highest is mindful of incuring the public wrath if we fail to deliver again. We are always mindful of the service delivery. We do not want another COI do we? Having one is already too much. The public do not really differentiate between human error or nature fury. They only demand train services at all times rain or shine, thunder or lightning which we fully understand as their right to be served. We do not blame them. We do what we can to satisfy the traveling public. So far, no one has yet to be struck by lightning but we never know in future. Fact is we are really exposed to lightning in the open sprawling depot grounds. Its a risk we need to take in order to fullfil our responsibility.

  4. Boss, respect and salute. This type of thing is really cannot predict. As I also take the train, thank u for working so hard for all of us, bringing us to our destinations safely. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Don’t lose heart and keep on rocking.

    • Roti,
      Thank you so much. We really hope all our customers think like you. If all our customers are like you – which I know is impossible – then we will have less stress, pressure, fear working hard trying our best in the system. I will keep “rocking” for you ok? No worry about that.

  5. Pingback: Daily SG: 25 May 2012 « The Singapore Daily

  6. Hi all readers,
    I would like to explain some of the terms used on the article.
    YM – Yard Master. He is the overall in charge of all trains and depot premises. He is also reponsible for manpower deployment and equipment issed to staff doing their work in the depot and operating the trains.
    DCS – Depot Controller Supervisor. He is incharge of all train despatches from the depot to the mainline. He will direct and set routes via the mimic panel and computer for all trains to shunt within the depot to the workshop, sidings for stabling or launching for mainline service. He still take instructions from the YM.
    Red Aspect – In railway terms we say red aspect not red light. In depot only yellow aspect allows a train to move. In mainline it is white aspect. White or yellow refer to green lights.

  7. Claudia Chia says:

    Oops~ I will try to be a more understanding passenger. But sometimes we are really rushing off to work, etc and our bosses/clients are not so understanding if we are late due to the train delays.

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