Thursday, December 29, 2011

Train Stories

Travellers on London's Underground have been disrupted by a 24-hour strike staged by drivers on Boxing Day. The dispute is over the Aslef union's demand for extra pay for staff working on the said public holiday.

Public transportation is really not as dependable as we would like to believe. It’s not just in Britain – ask the Singaporeans.

Our super-efficient neighbors who pride themselves on being better than us Malaysians were left dumbfounded when train services were disrupted. Not once, not twice – but thrice!!! Poor Singaporeans!

The first train broke down on the morning of December 14, 2011, on the Circle Line and services restored only after a five-hour delay.

The second breakdown occurred the following evening during rush hour when the north-south line, which connects the north of the island to the city center and serves the main Orchard Road shopping belt, stopped suddenly, leaving an estimated 127,000 commuters stranded. It was reported that hundreds of commuters were trapped underground without light and ventilation – one photo contributed by a netizen to citizen journalism website Stomp showed a window smashed by passengers in an attempt to get some fresh air. This disruption also supposedly caused massive traffic jams as crowds spilled onto the streets to try to get home.

To make things worse, train operator SMRT sent an opportunist message to all of its taxi fleet to inform them of an ‘income opportunity’ during the breakdown. This sparked a massive public outrage on cyberspace, with many netizens slamming SMRT for its indecent insensitivity over the matter.

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And on Saturday morning (December 17, 2011), Singapore was again hit by its third train breakdown in a week, frustrating the public and further dampening Christmas cheer.

Predictably, some smart alecks demanded the resignation of SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa and more than 1,400 people signed an online petition asking her to leave. Of course, Saw said she had no plans to quit – she is a Malaysian-born toughie after all!

Saw, who has been credited with trebling SMRT's net profit to S$161.1 million over the past eight years, had already been under fire for overcrowded trains and frequent breakdowns in the subway system.

The opposition Workers' Party – which controls six of 87 seats in parliament – asked if the increasing breakdowns along two subway lines were the result of insufficient investment in maintenance and upgrades.

"If so, were the lack of essential investments a result of pressure on the public-listed MRT operators to minimise costs and maximise profits for the benefit of their shareholders, at the expense of the 2.3 million commuters?"

SMRT is a subsidiary of Singapore state investor Temasek, whose CEO Ho Ching is the Singapore prime minister's wife.

Other commentators voiced concerns about Singapore's ability to cope with civil emergencies, given the inadequate response by SMRT to the breakdowns when they first occurred.

So Malaysian trains are not the only ones that are a distressing disappointment! Okay, our trains break down very often, they are habitually late, they are overcrowded – but once in a while, it is comforting to read news about other people’s misfortunes – not just Malaysia’s!

Besides, there’s hardly anything good that we can talk about Malaysia’s public transportation, is there?

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