By Mariam Mokhtar
The chairman of Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, is anxious about receiving his second coronavirus vaccination, as was seen in the press conference (PC) of 25 May, so it would be pointless to shower him with serious questions about yesterday's LRT crash.
This probably factored in his staff's thinking, because according to him, they did not immediately notify him about the accident, but delayed the information.
They are probably aware, that Tajuddin has more important matters on his mind, and as he admitted, he had to make various preparations for his coronavirus vaccination the following day.
He should be praised for his dedication to duty, by hosting this PC despite the prospect of the traumatic coronavirus medical procedure.
Moreover, Tajuddin also made it clear that it would have been futile for him to visit the crash site, despite being the chairman of Prasarana, the company which owns and operates Malaysia's urban rail network.
He said that the Transport minister, Wee Ka Siong had already been to the site, as had the Prasarana chief executive Norila Noah. In other words, his presence would have been unnecessary.
One can understand Tajuddin's anxiety for his own health, which showed in his engagement with reporters. He was incoherent, when asked specific questions. He tried to make jokes about the accident, was patronizing, condescending, accusatory, defensive and showed his contempt when asked if he would resign.
His "nerves" and erratic behavior, are symptomatic of a condition called "White Coat Syndrome" (WCS).
Nevertheless, minister Wee said that preliminary investigations, by the Land Public Transport Agency, had showed that the driver of the empty train 'TR40' had been negligent. He said that the train should not have reversed, on a collision course with 'TR81', but should have moved south towards Dang Wangi station.
To blame the driver of TR40 is grossly unfair. Digital trains are computer controlled. Each train has its own in-built computer system. In the LRT incident, there appears to be a system failure of the highest order. The driver is not entirely to blame.
Wee confirmed that the train failed to operate automatically as the Vehicle On-Board Controller (VOBC) stopped functioning. Isn't this a tell-tale sign?
He also said that TR81 remained static at KLCC station, before it resumed and moved automatically towards Kampung Baru station, after it received a signal that TR40 had left.
TR40 may have left the station but it was on a collision course with TR81. Was the control center unable to detect in which direction TR40 was heading? What happened to the warning and failsafe devices on each train?
Digital trains use the latest technology and the movement of each train is closely monitored by a computer. The train's position is visible on a screen at control center (headquarters).
So what happened to all the safety mechanisms? Something went seriously wrong, and to blame it solely on the driver would be irresponsible.
Modern railway and train signals have been revolutionized, since the olden days, when flag waving guards would signal to the driver that it was safe to proceed and the points were changed by a railwayman in a signal box.
Today, trains have their own highway code. The train line is divided into sections, or blocks, and only one train is allowed to move within each block.
Train signals are relayed by a small electrical current between the tracks and trains. Each pulse identifies the train's position within the block. Axel counters count the rotations of the wheels.
The exact speed and position of each train is relayed to the control center, where the central computer system can calculate how close to each other the trains can travel safely. This information is sent back to the train so that it can move accordingly. A train is only allowed to enter a section, if these computer calculations say it is safe.
If the line ahead is occupied, the train will reduce speed, and will not be allowed entry into that section.
The trains have an extra failsafe device which prevents trains from traveling in opposite directions, whilst on the same track. So what happened to this protective device yesterday? Was it disabled or overridden? Why and on whose instruction?
What happened to the technical experts at the control center? They failed to observe what was going on in the tunnel beneath KLCC. Were they asleep on the job, like the air traffic controllers who lost contact with MH370?
The LRT incident suggests a combination of failures and not just negligence. Will the Cabinet dare to acknowledge these mistakes, and demand that heads roll?
So, was the crash due to human error, reduced funding for rail networks, or system and organizational failure, or all of the above?
1. New Straits Times: Passengers injured as LRT trains collide along Kelana Jaya line
2. Malaysiakini: Defiant Tajuddin savaged after 'first thing in the morning' response to LRT crash
3. Medical Opinion Asia: What you should know about white coat syndrome
4. New Straits Times: Kelana Jaya line collision: Driver of empty train went the wrong way
5. Malaysiakini: 'Negligent' driver drove LRT in the wrong direction - transport minister
6. New Straits Times: Ten seconds to disaster: LRT passenger recounts horror crash
7. ABC: Driverless trains are being embraced around the world — but what could go wrong?
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)