December 17, 2011 / 7:21 AM / 9 years ago

Singapore train breakdowns douse Christmas cheer

SINGAPORE, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Singapore, which prides itself on efficiency, was hit by its third train breakdown in a week on Saturday, frustrating the public on one of the biggest shopping days of the year and adding to calls for a review of its public transport system.

The city state’s transport minister Lui Tuck Yew said there was some instability in the train network and has called for public transport provider SMRT Corp Ltd to do “complete health checks”, Channel News Asia reported.

Train services on Singapore’s north-south line, which connects the north of the island to the city centre and is operated by SMRT, were disrupted early on Saturday morning.

The breakdown affected Singapore’s main Orchard Road shopping belt at a time when many people were expected to be hitting the stores just a week before Christmas.

Saturday’s disruption came after a five-hour breakdown on the same line on Thursday left 127,000 commuters stranded.

“For a world-class transport system, three disruptions in a week is not acceptable,” said 27-year-old finance industry worker Chew Kuan Yee.

“This is three times too many to be a coincidence and points to an insufficiency of maintenance and possibly shortage of investment,” Chew said.

Train services on another central line also broke down on Wednesday, with services restored after a five-hour delay.

The breakdowns on SMRT train services have added to discontent over the rising costs of public transport. A protest was planned for later on Saturday in a central Singapore park.

SMRT recently said it planned to raise taxi fares from Dec. 20 because of rising costs. Rival cab operator ComfortDelGro has also moved to hike charges.

During Singapore’s last general elections in May, the opposition Workers’ Party called for the public transport system to be nationalised.

Opposition MP Lina Chiam demanded a comprehensive review.

“Public transport can paralyze the entire nation from what we have seen a few days ago,” Chiam said.

SMRT came under heavy criticism when it sent a message to its taxis during Thursday’s train disruptions, telling drivers the breakdown was an “income opportunity”.

“I think that as a public good, the company should activate their fleet to help those in need rather than to try and profit from it,” said 27-year-old Maximilian Chng. (Reporting by Charmian Kok and Kevin Lim; Editing by Paul Tait)

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