By ATTAYUTH BOOTSRIPOOM
BANGKOK’S BTS transit system was hit by a glitch on February 24 that resulted in a suspension of services and severe congestion and delays for several thousand commuters.
There was a problem with the system’s shunting device somewhere between Chit Lom and Siam stations in the city’s business and shopping district.
The system transports as many as 700,000 passengers per day, and the problem led to a massive pileup of commuters on BTS platforms. Long queues formed outside of stations, worsening traffic congestion throughout the city. The problem was solved by the following day and luckily did not affect passenger safety.
Just over a week later, on March 5, another incident happened in Bangkok’s mass transit system. A fire broke out on a commuter boat running along Saen Saeb canal, leaving many passengers injured. It was discovered that the fire was caused by an LNG leak. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.
Less than a month later, a new problem hit yet another transit system last Monday. The Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link was disabled by a power outage that caused a train to stop midway between two stations. Rising heat and a lack of fresh air inside the carriage prompted many passengers to exit the train and walk along the tracks to the next station. Some were treated by medical staff after they fainted. Luckily, again, there were no injuries.
Three incidents during a course of less than a month – and passengers involved have to thank only their luck that there were no severe injuries or fatalities. The question is: How long can we commuters rely on luck alone while using public transport services?
Regarding the BTS glitch, there still has been no clear explanation why the shunting problem happened. Was it caused by the system or human error? And will a problem like this happen again?
Regarding the commuter boat service on Klong Saen Saeb, regular passengers must be well informed of all relevant safety concerns, involving over-capacity passenger loads and unsafe boat conditions, among others. Authorities may have banned boats that are powered by LNG, but it remains unclear if other safety concerns have been addressed.
Regarding the Airport Rail Link, executives in charge of the system have admitted that a major maintenance overhaul is overdue. Such an overhaul is required after 1.2 million kilometres of service – but the system has logged more than 1.6 million kilometres without major maintenance.
Executives explained that partial maintenance projects were performed regularly but they could not afford a major overhaul.
They seemed to be saying that partial maintenance was sufficient, although that certainly goes against the maintenance manual.
They plan the next major maintenance when the system reaches 2.4 million kilometres, doubling the suggested distance travelled before servicing. The decision is not so reassuring.
That approach seems to be how the country’s mass transit system is being run generally. And it explains why many city residents opt to commute in their own cars and ignore the much cheaper option of public transport altogether.
It is because nobody can be sure they will continue to be lucky while using the problem-fraught public transport system?