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    Aug 21, 2015

    Soldiers to help in major train disruptions

    SOLDIERS will be roped in as marshals to give directions to stricken commuters in the event of a massive train breakdown, The Straits Times has learnt.

    The Land Transport Authority (LTA), which is beefing up its contingency plans, has approached the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to explore deploying the men in green to give directions and manage crowds. They will be tapped only during large-scale disruptions.

    LTA said that personnel from the police, Public Transport Security Command (Transcom) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force are already helping LTA and the public transport operators in managing such incidents.

    An LTA spokesman told The Straits Times that it "will also work with other agencies like the Defence Ministry (Mindef) to provide additional manpower resources if necessary".

    When contacted, Mindef confirmed the move, saying that SAF will work with LTA in the event of a major disruption, "while maintaining our primary responsibility to safeguard our security environment".

    The latest move comes on the back of a spate of major incidents involving Singapore's rail system.

    The most recent was the massive July 7 breakdown of the North-South and East-West MRT lines, which affected some 250,000 commuters during the peak hour.

    When trains broke down around 7pm, there were accounts of people not managing to reach home until close to midnight. Some walked all the way.

    A review was conducted in the wake of the incident, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo in Parliament on Monday.

    It was found that the contingency plans of rail operator SMRT were "not adequate" to handle the scale of the breakdown, she added.

    As a result, trunk bus services calling at MRT stations hit by delays or breakdowns will be ramped up to provide alternative travel options for commuters, said Mrs Teo.

    Transport expert Park Byung Joon said that tapping on the military during massive disruptions makes sense, as soldiers can be called up and deployed at short notice and "can channel commuters to the right places as quickly as possible".

    The adjunct associate professor at SIM University said using the military as "an alternative backup manpower" during such incidents is not unheard of.

    He pointed out that some special force troops in the South Korean army learn how to operate trains, to ensure train services continue in the event of a strike by train drivers.

    Alex Yam, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said deploying SAF personnel at MRT stations is not entirely new as soldiers are already put in key installations like Jurong Island and Changi Airport to conduct patrols.

    They also have experience in crowd control during major national events like the National Day Parade.

    Mr Yam added: "Transcom already has a sizeable pool of officers, so activating militarymen will not be the first course of action. It is a last resort."