Sunday 18 October 2015

Khaw-ed by a balloon? MRT breakdowns no enough, so they faked one

Has he quit yet?

It has been 17 long days since Mr Khaw Boon Wan was sworn in as the new Minister of Transport on Oct 1.

Wasn’t there a power fault disrupting train service for half an hour on the North-East Line (NEL) on Tuesday?

It's the first MRT breakdown since Mr Khaw became transport minister.

What, no harakiri?

McDonald’s even brought back the Samurai burger for the occasion. (Don’t forget the seaweed fries.)

After all, isn’t the Ministry of Transport where political careers go to die?

That’s not me saying it. It was The Straits Times.

To quote:
“The transport portfolio seems to be a graveyard for ministers, cutting short promising political careers with its challenges.”
Buried in this graveyard are the ministerial careers of Mr Raymond Lim (2006-2011) and Mr Lui Tuck Yew (2011-2015), who some say committed career harakiri by resigning just before the General Election for the sake of the ruling People’s Action Party.

Someone buy him a Samurai burger.


But it wasn’t always like this.

I know it’s hard for younger Singaporeans to imagine, but once upon a time in Singapore, the sky was haze-free for 12 months a year, compact disc shops were in every shopping centre and MRT breakdowns were virtually unheard of.

Then, on Dec 15, 2011, it all changed.

An estimated 127,000 people were affected by what was then called the worst MRT breakdown in 24 years. Two days later, another breakdown occurred, affecting 94,000 people.

The new normal had arrived.

A big movie around the time was The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. It might as well be The MRT Saga: Breaking Down Part 1.

But unlike The Twilight Saga, which ended with Breaking Dawn Part 2, The MRT Saga is still ongoing with Breaking Down Part 94 and counting.

So I was surprised to learn that on Wednesday, the Land Transport Authority, SMRT and SBS Transit conducted an exercise to test their management and readiness plans in the event of major train service disruptions.

Don’t they have enough practice already?

Why do they have to pretend to have a train service disruption to test their readiness?

Wasn’t there a train service disruption just the day before to do that?

Or were they not ready?

But I guess no matter how ready you think you are, you can never be really prepared for everything.

The MRT has been the target of vandals, possible terrorists and priority seat hogs, but recently, a new unexpected threat has emerged.


Shiny, metallic balloons.

SBS Transit told The Straits Times that a train disruption on the NEL on April 6 last year was caused by a passenger who had accidentally released an aluminium foil helium balloon.

It slipped into the tunnel at Boon Keng station when the platform doors opened and came into contact with an electrical insulator of the power supply system on the ceiling.

This caused an electrical fault, which led to the disruption.

So all this time, we have signs telling us not to bring durians onto the train when we really should have “no balloons” signs because no train service has ever been disrupted by a durian. Yet.

Since the sale of chewing gum was famously banned in Singapore after gum was found to be the cause of two train service disruptions in 1991, should the sale of aluminium foil balloons be banned next?

Will we soon be asking our friends to buy aluminium foil balloons for us from overseas?

Will dental aluminium foil balloons be exempted from the ban?

Will we still be able to buy aluminium foil balloons at pharmacies for medical purposes?

But so far, all that has been done to prevent any more balloon-related train service disruptions is posters urging passengers to hold their balloons tightly, “especially the metallic shiny ones”.

But if an errant floater does cause another breakdown, at least we can rest assured knowing the transport companies are conducting drills for such an emergency, like they did on Wednesday.

As it turned out, it was the new Transport Minister, Mr Khaw, who asked for the exercise to be carried out this month.

So will the man — whom some have called Mr Fix-It — be able to fix the MRT and whistle his way past the graveyard?

Or will he be foiled by a balloon?

Aluminium-foiled, that is.

- Published in The New Paper, 18 October 2015