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    Aug 29, 2014

    SMRT stays on track over chartered trains

    DESPITE facing a backlash online and a possible penalty from the Land Transport Authority (LTA), SMRT is encouraging more schools to charter trains during off-peak hours if they need to transport a significant number of students.

    "All things considered, we feel the effort was genuine and worthwhile, as it transported a large number of students efficiently and safely," said SMRT's managing director of trains, Lee Ling Wee, on the company's Facebook page.

    He was referring to SMRT's decision to allow Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) to charter five trains to transport 3,000 students to the Schools National C Division rugby final at the new National Stadium on Tuesday.

    That night, the LTA said it would take "appropriate action" against the public transport operator for not seeking its approval before providing the charter.

    While SMRT acknowledged its failure to inform the authority and added that it would do so in the future, it said this was not the first time it had provided such services without informing the LTA.

    "The charters are not without precedent. Tens of thousands of students from many schools have experienced similar charters done in support of National Education shows in recent years - all moved efficiently and safely, and without fuss. No permission was sought from LTA in these charters," said Mr Lee.

    As to comments by commuters on why SMRT was able to pump in extra trains for this purpose, but not when they complain of crowded trains, Mr Lee explained that the trains used were withdrawn during off-peak hours due to low passenger loadings.

    "While the current train fleet is insufficient to meet commuter demand during the peak periods, there is excess capacity during off-peak (hours) to cater for private charters," he said.

    In the past two days, SMRT has drawn flak from netizens. Most people whom The Straits Times spoke to felt SMRT should have sought approval from the authorities before it entered into the private arrangement. Others were not too bothered, as long as their commute was not affected.

    Said James Fong, 49, a trainer: "As long as it doesn't affect the daily train services, I am not bothered. Imagine if 3,000 students had gone on the normal train services - it would have been chaotic and caused more inconvenience for the commuters."

    Mr Lee emphasised that all stations along the Circle Line remained open to other commuters and trains ran at their usual frequency.

    He said that he was "grateful that the school informed us beforehand", as this gave SMRT time to make operational scheduling decisions and minimise the impact on other commuters.

    "The story may have been different had 3,000 students descended on the Circle Line with no prior notice at the same time, without crowd control measures in place, catching commuters and our station staff by surprise," he said.