Rail transport in Singapore

Rail transport in Singapore

Rail transport in Singapore exists in three main types, namely an international rail connection operated by Malaysian company Keretapi Tanah Melayu, a rapid transit system collectively known as the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system operated by the two biggest public transport operators SMRT Corporation and SBS Transit, as well as several Light Rapid Transit (LRT) lines also operated by both companies. In addition, local specialised light rail lines are in operation in places such as the Singapore Changi Airport, Sentosa, or within the grounds of the Jurong BirdPark.

International rail network

The sole railway line providing direct international connections is operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu, with services commencing from the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in southern Singapore. The present single-track line is 38.6 km long, with a narrow gauge of 1.000 m, and proceeds north through Bukit Timah, before crossing the 1.2 km causeway to Johor Bahru on the Malay Peninsula, where it then runs along the peninsular's west coast through Kuala Lumpur and onwards to Thailand and beyond.

A railway system dating back to the British colonial era, [cite web | url=http://travel.zaobao.com/spore/pages/place140901.html | title=火车轨道一站一站看 | accessdate=2007-12-12] it was generally considered inadequate in meeting contemporary transportational requirements. As the system was largely built to cater to the transportation of goods from Singapore's ports to the rest of Malaysia, it terminates at Tanjong Pagar, where port operations are still concentrated. There was similarly a branch line which leads to the Jurong industrial area, but which has since been expunged. The development of an efficient transportational network in Singapore, and the containerization of maritime trade globally meant that the existing rail system no longer played a significant part in the ferrying of goods, and is now catered primarily for passenger transport.

Over time, however, the rail service was once again unable to compete effectively with modernising modes of alternative transport. The high frequency of air shuttle services between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur presented a much faster and more comfortable means of transport despite the high prices. Moreover, the opening of the North-South Expressway in Malaysia from the late 1980s drastically cut traveling time by private car or buses to just four hours from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.

In light of this, the Malaysian government is currently undertaking plans to upgrade the railway system to an electrified, double-tracked, express line, although it is unclear if the upgrading works will be extended into Singapore.

As a result of the agreements leading up to the independence of Singapore, the land on which the railway runs on is owned by KTM, and will remain so as long as the rail system is in operation. This arrangement has erupted into several spates of diplomatic disputes between the two countries. Land-scarce Singapore was keen to move the railway station to either Woodlands or Kranji, thus freeing up large tracts of land for redevelopment. In return, the Singaporean government was willing to offer a plot of prime land in the Marina Bay area for development by the Malaysians, although this concession was not required according to the original agreements. The negotiations were stalled, however, when the Malaysians were dissatisfied with the compensation amount, and expressed concern over accessibility should the railway station be moved this far from the city center.

Plans to build a high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were mooted in recent years, in particular by YTL Corporation Berhad, with the possibility of cutting travel time between the two cities from seven hours currently on existing rail lines, to about 90 minutes. The Singapore government expressed its willingness to discuss the idea. [cite web | url=http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/252816/1/.html | title=Singapore open to proposals on bullet train between KL and S'pore | accessdate=2007-12-12]

Local rail network

Heavy urban rail

Singapore's public transport system has been reliant largely on buses, until the opening of the first section of the Mass Rapid Transit in 1987. Although buses still enjoy an average daily ridership exceeding twice the number carried on both the MRT and LRT systems (2.8 million on buses, compared to 1.3 million on the MRT and LRT in the year 2004), the Land Transport Authority plans to expand the rail system such that buses will eventually play only a feeder role to an extensive rail network.

The current MRT network consists of three main lines, for a total of 109 km in length, and with 67 stations. The North South Line and the East West Line are operated by SMRT Corporation, while the newer North East Line is run by SBS Transit. The new Circle Line, slated for full completion in 2010, will be operated by SMRT Corporation.

Light urban rail

Singapore has had various forms of light urban rail systems, such as the monorail system on Sentosa island, which opened in February 1982. This 6.4 km, 6-station system was closed in March 2005, however, with a new Sentosa Express system slated for replacement by 2006. The Changi Skytrain, a people mover system shuttling passengers between the two terminals at the Singapore Changi Airport, was opened in 1990 along with Terminal 2. This system will be replaced by a new system with the completion of Terminal 3 by 2008. The Jurong BirdPark features an air-conditioned panorail, which traverses through the world's largest walk-in aviary.

Light Rapid Transit functioning as feeders to the main MRT network has been under study for some time, particularly since the existing urban configuration of self-containing new towns spread out in the suburbs meant it was feasible to consider having light rail systems connecting each town to the MRT station in the town centre, a role which has traditionally been provided by feeder buses. Thus, the first SMRT Corporation operated LRT was opened in Bukit Panjang in 1998 to provide a connection to the Choa Chu Kang MRT Station in neighbouring Choa Chu Kang New Town. Although subsequently hit by over 50 incidents, some of which resulted in several days of system suspension, similar systems albeit from a different company were introduced in Sengkang and Punggol in 2003 and 2005 respectively, both operated by SBS Transit.


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