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SMRT fires train driver involved in fatal accident that claimed two lives at Pasir Ris MRT station

SMRT Corporation fires train driver who was involved in the fatal accident on 22 March, that claimed the lives of two SMRT maintenance staff along the track at a servicing point near Pasir Ris station.

Straits Times has reported that the train driver, Mr Rahmat Mohd, 49, who had been assigned to a non-driving job after the accident was called to the SMRT office yesterday for an internal inquiry and discharged right away afterward.

Mr Rahmat is quoted to have said, “I feel sad, I have no plan at the moment.”

According to its sources, ST reported that a SMRT staff in the control center has also left as the result of the accident, preceding Mr Rahmat

In response to its queries, SMRT spokesman, Patrick Nathan, said the company does not give comment about staff disciplinary matters.

Meanwhile, Melvin Yong, executive secretary of the National Transport Workers Union and Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC said, "NTWU understands that SMRT has taken action to dismiss two workers related to the incident on March 22.”

“NTWU has previously written to SMRT to withhold any actions against the affected workers until completion of official investigations so as to not prejudice the outcome of the official investigations.”

“We will now review the situation, study the grounds for SMRT dismissal, and work with the affected staff on the next steps.” said Mr Yong.

Two SMRT maintenance workers were killed in an accident on 22 March this year after being hit by an oncoming train while they walked onto the tracks for their on-the-job training.

The two men were part of a group of 15 sent to investigate a possible fault with a track equipment.

Why was the train driver fired?

SMRT Trains Managing Director Lee Ling Wee had earlier said in a media interview that the train was driven by a train captain but was on auto mode and was travelling at 60km/hr.

An Accident Review Panel was subsequently formed and presented their findings in April. (read more)

In its findings, the panel pointed out that the vital safety protection measure of setting a code to ensure the speed limit on the affected track sector to 0 km/h so that no train can enter on automated mode was not applied. Neither was the deployment of watchmen to look out for approaching trains and provide early warning to the work team.

The panel noted that as the train was on automated mode when the accident happened, he was unable to prevent the accident despite having applied emergency brakes immediately when he saw the staff on the track.

It is uncertain why the train driver was fired given that the panel has not pinned any responsibility of the accident to the driver.

SMRT had earlier stated in a press statement that SMRT Trains has taken immediate steps to ensure stricter enforcement of procedures, strengthened system ownership and control across levels and work teams, and tightened supervision within teams to prevent a recurrence.

"We take responsibility and apologise for the tragic accident. We express our deepest condolences to the families of Nasrulhudin and Muhammad Asyraf in their time of grief," and wrote that it is comprehensively reviewing all its safety structures, processes and compliance to ensure that safety continues to be accorded the highest attention and priority in its operations and maintenance services.

Given that the findings of the panel found systematic lapses of safety measures which resulted in the tragic accident, however after coming close to six months, SMRT has not shed light on why the lapses took place in the first place and who was involved in lapses to ensure that the safety measures were not enforced despite giving the go-ahead to go onto the tracks.

It is puzzling that SMRT has chosen to fire the train driver even before the senior management are being named, not to mention actions taken against them for the loss of two lives.

A coroner's inquiry into the accident is expected to meet early next year.

A side note from  this incident shows how the endorsed unions like National Transport Workers Union is powerless to protect workers under its care. Tripartite working relation? Only if interest serves them well.