Yesterday, 23 Dec 2009, we were on our way home as usual and arrived at Jurong East (JE) MRT station at around 6.40pm via the west-bound train to change to the north-bound train at the centre platform. But we were greeted with a shock as there were soooooooooo many many people waiting at the centre platform. In fact, it was so crowded that the mass of people at the centre platform extended so much that they nearly blocked off the escalator leading down to the concourse level. This drastically slowed down the pace of commuters wanting to exit towards the concourse.
As there was no conceivable way of getting on the north-bound train from the west-bound side, we decided to take a detour and wait on the east-bound side instead. So we went down to the concourse level and tried to take the escalator up to the east-bound platform. To our surprise, the upwards escalator was not in operation (spoilt?). We took the lift instead.
The east-bound platform was definitely less crowded but there were still a lot more crowd than the usual. No train came in to the centre platform during the time that we took to switch sides but more trains came on the east-bound and west-bound sides, adding to the crowded mess.
We took a look at the information screen, 3 mins. What?! No trains since we arrived, this much people on the platform, and the next train is 3 mins?! Seriously, what kind of a lousy public train service is this?
We waited for a minute. More trains arrived from the east-bound and west-bound trains, depositing even more people onto overflowing platform (should have taken a photo…). The centre platform still showed 3 mins! The air was getting stale, the atmosphere hot and humid, ungracious people cutting queue, pushing and shoving. Fine. We give up.
We took the escalator down to the concourse level. As we approached the gantries to exit, we noticed that there were a lot of people stuck outside the gates. Dear2 noticed that there was only 1 gantry allowing entry while all others were dedicated to exits. Maybe the management was trying to control the number of people entering the station due to the already crowded conditions on the platform? Maybe.
The view from inside the gantry. Look at the horde of people outside the gantry trying to come in.
The view from outside the gantry. So many people wanting to get in, not knowing the platform was already full.
We exited the station and only to be surprised yet again. The escalators (both up and down) leading to the ground level were not in operation! Crowd control again? At least make both escalators go downwards to move more people out of the station instead of inconveniencing everyone, right?
Anyway, we proceeded to the main road and took a cab home, cost us $6.20 inclusive of surcharge. But at least we got home. Can’t imagine having to wait for the north-bound train that was not arriving on time. We might be still stuck on the platform.
I think the events we encountered yesterday really highlighted some very serious problems with our public train system.
First, train scheduling has much room for improvement. There cannot be multiple train-loads of people arriving from east and west without any train arriving in the middle platform.
Second, there was a lack of communication. There were some generic announcements informing everyone that the management “regrets any inconveniences caused”. Come on. If there was train breakdown or some other issues, please just tell the truth and duly inform the commuters. This way, we can make a better judgment of whether or not to continue waiting.
Third, there was no crowd management. No MRT officers were on hand at the platform level to direct the human traffic. As mentioned earlier, the waiting crowd was blocking the escalator and stair exits. This made the flow of exiting commuters slow and inefficient. On a bigger scale, this was a potential fire and evacuation hazard.
Fourth, still on the issue of crowd management. Why were so many escalators non-operational. If the aim was to move more people out and restricted the number of people entering, all the escalators could have been switched to downwards mode. Why switch off the escalators? Or were they really spoilt? If they were, then basic station maintainence was really lacking.
Fifth, I understand that the relevant authorities had already realized the problem of having only 1 train track serving the north-south line at such a major interchange at JE. Construction is already on the way for a new track and platform extension at JE station. The question here is, why isn’t the construction moving at a faster pace? Is the construction on-going round the clock? Do they recognize the importance and urgency of this extension work?
On a side note, let me also talk about some other improvements that I think are needed at our MRT stations.
First, the need for toilets inside the gantries, on the platforms. I think it is unreasonable to expect commuters hold their wee wee and poo poo until their destinations. Think about pregnant ladies, think about seniors, think about young children, think about people with medical conditions. It is unreasonable for these people to tap their ez-link card to exit the station and tap their ez-link card to return the station, just to visit the toilet outside the gantries. Is it reasonable to expect the commuter to pay extra transport fares just to visit the toilet outside the gantries?
Second, the need for toilets at every station. There was 1 occasion when Dear2 needed to visit the toilet urgent and decided to alight at Outram Park station although it was not her destination. She couldn’t find a toilet. Hence, Dear2 approached the station staff for help. The station staff replied that the nearest toilet is at the HabourFront station and suggested that Dear2 take the north-east line to HabourFront to use the toilet! -_-” Please lor… In the end, Dear2 went to toilet at the nearby Pearl’s Centre building. Although I can’t be sure until I personally check every MRT station in Singapore, but Dear2’s encounter at Outram Park station suggests that not every station is equipped with toilets. Not to mention the station staff’s uncaring reply leaves much to be desired.
Third, the need for more information screens on the platform. I’m making an estimate of the platform length for this discussion. Each train formation consists of 6 carriages. If we assume each carriage to be 25 metres in length, then the entire platform will be approximately 150 metres in length. Does the management serious believe that 1 miserly information screen along an entire 150 metres of platform is sufficient? Are commuters expected to have perfect eyesight? It doesn’t help that the information screen shows advertisements more often than the arrival time of the next train. Sigh.
Enough ranting about our World-Class transportation system, for now. Peace.