"Had it just been a one-off matter, one incident and the matter is solved, I think the operating agencies can take care of it,” PM Lee said on Saturday.
"But when the incidents happened again this morning, and same thing, that meant that it wasn't just a random thing, that (it's) something more basic has caused it and we haven't quite pinned down yet, and which we have to sort out and work out.”
The PM said a Committee of Inquiry (COI) will look into the matter and try and find the cause for the breakdowns.
More details of the COI’s members and terms of reference will be announced later.
On Friday, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called for an “urgent safety and health check” on the MRT system “to ensure that immediate concerns are eliminated so that the safety of commuters and the security of the system are not compromised.”
It also called for a Public Transport Commission “to study the safety, health and security of the MRT system” and that the findings of such a commission be made public.
PM Lee said the COI will be assembled by the Transport Minister, Mr Lui Tuck Yew, and will make its conclusions public.
I had earlier criticised the PM for going on leave a day after train service along the Circle Line broke down on Thursday. The disruption affected more than 127,000 commuters and the Straits Times described the breakdown as “chaos”.
It is thus heartening to now see that PM Lee himself has taken the matter seriously indeed, and has convened a COI to look into the cause or causes of the frequent failures of the train system.
"It's not that we have no problems, but when we have problems, we will handle them seriously,” the PM said.
Kudos to Mr Lee.
Some have criticised me for the earlier article criticising the PM for leaving the country when a major incident has just taken place. I am glad that the PM and even Mr Lui, who also cut short his trip to Cambodia for an Asean meeting, have both effectively agreed that the matter is serious enough to warrant their personal supervision.
Going forward, while the faults are being ascertained, commuters must exercise patience as it will take time to identify what exactly is wrong and to fix it. Things will take time and the COI should be allowed to carry out its work in a meticulous and thorough manner.
"We are watching the Circle Line very closely,” Mr Lui said. “The experience has always been that it will take a number of months before things stabilise, in terms of the defects, the incidents, as well as the number of passengers."
What may happen in the next few days, or even the next few weeks, are further disruptions before the causes are identified and rectified.
In the meantime, commuters should be understanding and especially so towards the SMRT staff and security personnel on the ground. They are there to assist. The breakdowns are not their fault and they should not be the target of any anger or frustration from commuters.
As for the COI, its members will comprise independent members and, as PM Lee said, its findings will be made known to the public.
After the second security breach at a SMRT depot in Bishan in August, the SMRT convened an “independent” committee to look into the breach. The committee was headed by its chief executive officer (CEO), Ms Saw Phaik Hwa.
It is thus good to know that this time round, the COI will consist of independent members. Singaporeans hope that the COI will, once and for all, get to the root of the matter and act accordingly.
The COI’s only concern should be the safety of the commuting public.