A circus at Newton Circus

Part 2 of my series on what the Downtown Line would have been, featuring Newton station.

I believe those of you who use the station daily know about the fact that you need to tap out and in again to change trains between the lines at this station. Of course, you know the usual culprit here — site constraints, cost constraints, and a lack of creative thinking and willingness to take risks.

What was meant to be

When Newton NSL was originally designed, the station featured a public underpass bisecting the station, which besides providing access to the station, is used by pedestrians to cross Scotts Road. A key consideration DTL planners had was that the underpass could not be untouched as a key pedestrian walkway, which meant that the station could not “recapture” the underpass for use as part of the station unless a replacement was provided.

Hence, some original plans I’ve seen that have since disappeared off the internet (thanks Photobucket!) indicated that exit A of Newton station was to be reconstructed to add a second stack of escalators beneath, to connect to the NSL station within the paid area. This was later deemed unfeasible (my guess is because of the disruption to exit A during construction) and the plan canned.

A later plan got us to what we have now — where the DTL linkway connects to the existing underpass and commuters must exit and re-enter the system to change trains here.

But why?

Firstly, at Newton, space had to be left for the Singapore Underground Ring Road System to pass through the area. Initially, the plan was to do something like Rochor station, where the SURS tunnel would pass over the DTL station, and the walkway from said station would connect directly to the NSL platform, Outram Park-style.

This plan was later abandoned because it would make the station far too deep, around 40m, which is as deep as DTL Promenade station (expect a post on that as well). Currently, digging deep adds cost and makes the station difficult to access, and since the DTL was planned during the 2008 Financial Crisis, LTA’s main imperative was to keep costs as low as possible.

Thus, LTA’s design team and the consultants decided to swap the positions of the station and the SURS tunnel, allowing the tunnel to pass under the station instead. However, this swap introduced a maximum depth of how deep the station could go so that it would not encroach into the space reserved for SURS.

Without access to technical diagrams for this one, I can only go on visual observation and estimation as to how deep some areas are, but I would presume the DTL intermediate level is at the same depth as the NSL trackbed. With the DTL platforms being just below that level, I would presume that any linkway connecting straight from the NSL platform would require you to go down, up, and down again (like at Marina Bay station), if it could even fit in in the first place.

If you go to Outram Park station, notice how deep the escalators down to the NEL from the EWL platform have to go before reaching a landing. This is because there are so-called “underplatform” machinery rooms providing ventilation and other electrical and mechanical services to the EWL station, which the NEL transfer passageway has to be well clear of. This is the case at all underground stations.

To add complexity to the situation, Newton station is a designated Civil Defence shelter. This restricts the kind of work you can do there, since the ability of the station to function as a shelter would be impaired if improper modification works are done, so the abovementioned connection under exit A was trashed.

Due to all these constraints, it was thus decided to plug the DTL into a part of the station which is not required to meet CD shelter standards — the exits. This created the current situation we have now.

So what could have been done?

I would say this is where the facts end and the opinions begin. Alas, what’s built is built, so we can only go with what we have right now. Though, of course, some people I’ve spoken to would like that they demolish the entire thing and start over, but this isn’t LEGO bricks we’re talking about here. These are billion-dollar capital projects, and “starting over” can be rather unpalatable, both to us commuters and to planners.

Like so many stations along Telok Blangah and Bukit Timah Roads, an overhead bridge could have been built to replace the underground passageway. The exits could then have become part of the station, with two separate lines of faregates depending on which way you’re going. Pick the wrong side, or just need to cross the road? Go up to the overhead bridge (which can also be extended 100m to connect to the one leading to Newton Food Centre)

This would have allowed recapture of the underpass solely for transferring passengers. In fact, I go to town often on Saturdays, and I can see that there are already plenty of people using that underpass to change trains, since, after all, Newton is the only interchange between the NSL and the DTL. This is all anecdotal, of course, LTA would have all the usage data that I, a mere layman, do not.

And if you want to talk about cost, an overhead bridge honestly wouldn’t cost much, when put in perspective. In fact, what should have been underpasses at the stations along Telok Blangah/Bukit Timah were replaced with overhead walkways, sharply reducing costs. Perhaps the construction of such an overhead walkway might also be disruptive, but I’m sure the greater good of fixing a transit wrong (like what Seoul and New York have done) will outweigh the temporary inconvenience.

But those are my two cents on the situation. Next week will be Stevens and why you need to pick the right platform there before entering the system.

Comments welcome.

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