TL;DR – This will save $2b in construction costs and is more environmentally friendly in the longer term.
Most of the local media headlined prominently the Ministry of Transport’s (MOT) announcement that the Cross Island Line (CRL) would run directly under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR), instead of skirting around it.
The Essentials of the Cross Island Line (CRL)
The Cross Island Line (CRL) will be Singapore’s longest and eighth MRT line.
The CRL will stretch from Jurong to Changi and is expected to save commuters up to 30 to 45 minutes of travel time. The journey from Pasir Ris to Jurong is expected to take about 55 minutes.
The CRL is is expected to have a daily ridership of more than 600,000 in the initial years, before eventually growing to serve over 1 million passengers in the longer term.
The CRL is a critical transport infrastructure to our little red dot, and is expected to improve the quality of life for many fellow Singaporeans. It will also connect existing radial MRT lines, with almost half of its stations being interchange stations, and is part of a plan to almost double Singapore’s rail network by 2030 and help put eight out of 10 households within a 10-minute walk of a train station.
The CRL will also support the development of new hubs such as the Jurong Lake District and the new BTO estates in Sengkang, Punggol and Hougang.
The first phase of the CRL is expected to open by 2029, and will comprise 12 MRT stations.
The CRL took six years of consulting and research
Yes, you read right. The decision to take a direct route, instead of a 9-km skirting route and under homes and businesses was not one that was lightly taken.
The decision to take a direct route under the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) followed six long years of consulting the public and in-depth research.
Nature groups and environmentalists had previously raised concerns that a direct route could have an impact on Singapore’s wildlife and nature. But the alternative would be to adopt a skirting route which means longer tracks, longer travel time, higher costs, higher fares and also higher energy consumption in the long run.
The CRL project was first announced in 2013, and since then, our Land Transport Authority (LTA) had conducted Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies on the two possible CRL routes, and also invited the members of the public for feedback.
What is noteworthy is how the LTA had also proactively held engagement sessions with the different stakeholders. These included nature and heritage interest groups, grassroots leaders and affected residents.
Some details about the chosen direct route for CRL
In order to mitigate the CRL’s environmental impact, MOT said the project would tunnel as deep as 70m below the reserve, while most MRT tunnels were only 20m to 30m underground.
Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said in a Facebook post, “Normally, MRT tunnels are about 30m deep under. With CRL, we decided to go much deeper, so that any impact on the flora and fauna in the nature reserve can be almost completely eliminated.”
“We also consulted international experts to make sure that our plan will work. 70m is equivalent to a 25-storey HDB block. This decision will increase the estimated project development cost by at least S$20 million.”
This is part of the project’s commitment to implement all practicable environment mitigation measures.
Minster for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said in his Facebook post that the Government had agonised over the alignment, but skirting the CRL around the nature reserve would “cost taxpayers and commuters dearly”.
Minister Khaw also took the chance to thank the nature groups for their sharing, suggestions and understanding, and he pledged to continue working with them as the project proceeds.
The benefits of a direct route, instead of a skirting route
- The direct route will translate to shorter travelling time by about six minutes per commuter per trip, compared to the skirting alignment. For example, a commuter travelling from Ang Mo Kio to Clementi would need about 32 minutes with the direct route, instead of about 38 minutes with the skirting route.
- The direct route will also lower public transport fares by about 15 per cent on average due to a shorter and more direct route.
- It also presents a reduction in construction costs by about S$2 billion for taxpayers.
“In the longer term, it is a more environmentally-friendly option as the direct alignment has a lower energy consumption,” MOT said.
What are the nature activists and environmentalists saying?
According to a various media reports, environmentalists were heartened that the government had taken on board some of their feedback, although they maintained that the direct alignment was not their preferred option.
Some environmentalists still voiced some concerns that the mitigation measures might not be fail-safe. One additional concern a few environmentalists had is how the decision to build under Singapore’s largest nature reserve could set a precedent for future work in protected areas.
A tough balancing act
As with most large-scale projects, many different stakeholders are involved and each group has different interests to protect and different sets of consideration. For the government, it’s always about delivering what the people need or what would benefit the most number of people in a most resource-efficient way.
If we want to be cool-headed and practical about things, the CRL is essentially about shorter traveling time and connectivity, and if we can deliver this in a way that hurt nature the least, inconvenience the residents and businesses the least, and without pushing the project costs way way way up and still keeping the fares affordable, that will be best.
It sure does not sound easy, but once we try and understand the different considerations, I think most of us can understand and appreciate the thinking behind the decision.
(Featured image via)