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The Kelana Jaya Line Crashed This (Monday) Morning

Collective groaning

At 6:45 am yesterday (18th February 2019) morning, the Kelana Jaya line ground to a complete halt between KLCC and Kelana Jaya. For about two hours, hostlers (those people who were manually driving your trains this morning) and Prasarana staff were scrambling to manage the influx of people coming into the Kelana Jaya Line during the morning peak. People were incensed, annoyed and worried they’ll be late to work and their appointments. Many an angry rant was left on the Rapid KL Facebook and Twitter pages, and Instagram stories about the harrowing experiences of commuters suffering on the network spread like wildfire.

So, what happened?

The technical stuff

This is where we get technical. Bear with us; we’ll dissect the situation and make it easy for you to understand. We got you fam.

That morning, the equipment that controls the automatic running of trains between the Kelana Jaya to KLCC stretch of the line failed. Specifically, the power supply unit (PSU) to the signalling equipment fused, causing the automatic system to go offline. This automatic system (ATO) controls the distance (headway) between trains, their speed and direction of travel (especially when these trains exit the Subang Depot to start the day), as well as to beam back the location of trains to the Prasarana control centre.

The RapidKL rail engineers fixing the signals. (Picture from RapidKL’s Twitter page)

As a result, the automatic train control system (VCC1) couldn’t see where 19 trains were at within this stretch, and Prasarana control executives had to use whiteboards with the track layout overlaid on it to plot the locations of these trains. They stopped all services on the Kelana Jaya Line while they were trying to figure out where all these trains were. This is done for safety purposes – it’s better to err on the side of caution especially in a particularly risky situation as this where the potential for collisions is high.

Once they’ve established where these trains were, hostlers (part time train drivers/conductors) were deployed to the trains in the network to manually drive the trains through this offline section. It’s a marathon of coordination through walkie-talkie between the signallers at the control centre and the hostler. In addition, an alternative train movement plan was worked out as well – trains from Gombak were turned back to ensure that they don’t enter the offline section of track, while trains in Ara Damansara were moving at a snail’s pace to Kelana Jaya.

Staff at these stations meanwhile were putting up signs and beacons warning passengers to seek alternative modes of transport. Approximately 10 shuttle buses were eventually deployed to relieve the congestion building up along the Kelana Jaya Line between USJ, Subang Jaya and KL Sentral. Notices were also being broadcasted on RapidKL’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as their website. Refunds were also being given out at stations in compensation for the delay.

The good, the bad and what can be improved

It is good to note that the safety and the integrity of the line, as well as the passengers, were emphasised in the press conference. It also shows in how Prasarana dealt with the situation by stopping trains along the affected section until they were completely certain about where things are on the network. It’s also important to note that they have improved on the time it takes for them to communicate disruptions to people. Announcements were also made in-station about the recovery efforts as well, and any late-breaking advice on shuttle buses.

However, there’s still a long road to improvement.

There was an expectation that people could find their own way around during a disruption – there was no attempt to inform passengers about potential alternative modes of transport besides their own shuttle buses. A glaringly obvious example of this is at Subang Jaya LRT Station, which connects to the KTM Pelabuhan Klang Line – the least they could do is to inform people that it is possible to get to the city using KTM Komuter services and interchanging with local buses, the MRT, Monorail or the Sri Petaling/Ampang LRT Line. They could even go further to coordinate with KTM and bus services plying the Federal Highway corridor to rush extra services to Subang Jaya and drop the fares for stranded passengers as an apology for the non-existent service. It could’ve offered discounts for passengers who use the Grab platform or used their vehicles to ferry passengers to their intended destinations. It seems that RapidKL’s responsbility for getting passengers to their destinations seem to stop at the gateline. You’re on your own once you’re outside the station. This needs to change.

Cluttered information dilutes attention to what’s important. Were they even trying here? (Picture courtesy of a volunteer)

Information dissemination within the station is still a major issue. While announcements were made, there were times where different stations had different ideas about when the service will recover. Information boards weren’t even standardised, with some stations having clear status boards showing the disruption, while some resorted to a beacon and a laminated A4 sheet surrounded by other irrelevant notices and posters. Consistency of information is important if RapidKL is expected to disseminate information effectively.

All in all…

Disruptions are a normal part of running a public transport network, but more has to be done to reduce the number of unscheduled delays and suspensions. The prevention and handling of these incidents influences the confidence of the travelling public in our public transport system. More has to be done to win back the trust of the public – they are rightfully sceptical about the standard of public transport in our country, and RapidKL, as well as other operators, must learn to work together to buck the trend.

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