If Only SMRT Had More of These…

The SMRT breakdown yesterday could have been easily averted. A power supply earth fault had brought down their communications backbone network, and that disrupted their train signally and hence te trains could not run. Now, I suppose they do have UPS backup power, but probably just not enough of it. If only they had enough batteries, the 2.5 hrs of downtime could have been averted.

It seems like such a silly thing for network equipment to run out of power. It is so easy to supply network equipment with standby power.

This matter of earth fault, as well as how it brought down their communication network, reminded me of exactly the problem we encountered at work in late 2011. The main incoming emergency power supply for the building tripped because of an earth fault. The earth leakage relay itself was faulty. There wasn’t a real earth leak. But there was no way to restore the power without replacing or bypassing the earth protection. Power to our wire centre was disrupted, and the UPS batteries eventually ran out of juice. The network went down.

The difference between the SMRT and us, of course, is that we our business isn’t all that critical. Sure, some of our customers are unhappy about the situation. But the reality is that such disruption has little business impact, and practically no financial loss. As a result, it is difficult for us to justify spending on measures to minimize┬áthe occurrence of such incidents, or to minimize the impact when such problems do happen.

In fact, we don’t even need to talk at the “money level”. It already tires me out trying to explain to electrical people about our requirement for a second independent power source to our main wire centre. This doesn’t cost a lot of money, but some people are convinced this is an unnecessary and futile expense.

So I wonder if at the Circle Line, someone did suggest measures that could have prevented the disruption yesterday, but got shut up because they were deemed unnecessary expenses. Sometimes little things like this can blow up into a big incident.