24 May 2021 will go down as an ignominious date in the annals of Malaysian rail history - two Light Rail Transit (LRT) trains collided that evening in an underground tunnel along the nation’s busiest train line, Kuala Lumpur’s Kelana Jaya LRT Line. It was the system’s first accident in its 23-year history.
The 37-station LRT line is the Klang Valley’s first fully automated and driverless rail system - but human error contributed to the accident.
It started with an empty train on a test run timing out as it headed towards a depot, its automatic system failing.
Its driver manually drove the faulty train in the wrong direction, against the flow of traffic, causing a head-on collision with a driverless train ferrying 213 passengers between KLCC and Kampung Baru stations.
In all, 166 sustained light injuries, while 47 had serious injuries. Videos and photos of the accident and injured passengers circulated on social media.
Consequently, chairman of state-owned LRT operator Prasarana Malaysia, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, was sacked.
Condolences to the casualties of the disaster.
A train accident is one of the worst things that can happen to a train operator or line. An accident is one accident too many. In an instant, all previous goodwill built up - even over decades - will be wiped out.
In this day and age, with advanced technology, the emphasis on safety, and the dependence of so many on rail for essential transport, serious accidents such as head-on collisions with packed trains just isn’t acceptable at all.
As for Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit system, it has had just two train collisions. The first one took place on 5 August 1993 between Buona Vista and Clementi stations (that was before Dover station was built between them), causing 156 injuries. The second one occurred on 15 November 2017 at Joo Koon station, causing 38 injuries. But as mentioned earlier, a collision is one collision too many.