From the Red Line
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From the Red Line

Looking through the CRL announcements

I think you have plenty of questions.

And I think I have answers.

And I have some questions of my own too.

What’s going on?

Maybe I should begin with this first. Earlier today the LTA announced the first phase of the upcoming Cross Island Line. The announcement was surprisingly scant on details, but here’s the gist of it:

  • 12 stations, 29km of line
  • 4 interchanges
  • Changi to Bright Hill

This is largely in line with the original proposed CRL’s eastern section, as in the 2013 Master Plan, but what’s more glaring is what’s missing. It’s not a lot, actually, it just means the CRL won’t benefit as much people as we think it will. But for observers like me, it’s a bit concerning. Here’s what isn’t there:

  • at least 18 stations, and 21km of line including:
  • Changi Terminal 5
  • the Punggol branch
  • everything west of Bright Hill

I think we’ll start by looking at this before we dive into today’s announcements (which, as mentioned, is quite light for a major megaproject like the CRL, but it’s a Friday and LTA’s staff probably want a TGIF. Who can blame them)

A long, long way to go

Before we talk about Terminal 5, let’s look at a potential projected timeline. LTA wants to start work next year — this means that the main construction contracts could be coming up for tender later this year, with the announcement of a winning bid early next year — giving the contractor enough time to get up to speed before calling in the minister to turn stones.

Two problems exist here that make 2029 a pretty optimistic timing — Paya Lebar Air Base, and Terminal 5 itself. 2.5km of tunnels run through the current air base, and while Google Maps shows a patch of greenery in which the LTA could build a staging ground for tunnel digging, my first question is whether the RSAF will let them. If no, that means a straight tunnel may have to be bored through the air base, which takes up time, and we’re not counting the wait time while they manufacture the TBM. (the Japanese, for example, will take 6 years to bore a 5km tunnel, barring any unforeseen circumstances). If you throw that all in, the earliest tunnel boring could start is perhaps 2022, and they’ll finish around 2026 latest. After that comes the fitting out of tunnels, then train testing — all of which would preclude an opening no earlier than 2029.

The second is the entire Changi East complex itself. At least some sections of the connection to T5 will have to be built, in order to allow CRL trains to access the Changi East Depot along Tanah Merah Coast Road. After that, it’s 5km of construction sites until you get to T5 proper. I’ve good money on the possibility that LTA is waiting for the airport developers to come up with a plan for the CRL link to Terminal 5, but for now one station code’s been reserved. T5 should open from 2030 onwards, so we can afford to wait after all.

No love for bus 168

People who recall the original LTMP 2013 would have remembered seeing a branch line from Pasir Ris to Punggol. This would have made life easier for a lot of folks otherwise reliant on the buses plying the TPE, like for example bus 168, the fastest way from the north to the east.

The lack of a firm announcement for the Punggol branch of the CRL feels off to me, given the fact that CRL-related investigation work was very clearly done in the Punggol area. Perhaps the Punggol project may have been passed off to something greater — as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it can be extended all the way to Woodlands North as the North Coast Line, and planning may now be taking place internally with the NCL project as a whole line.

I’m thinking we may find our answer in the design of Pasir Ris station — whether it provides the possibility for seamless transfer to the Punggol branch, and whether the Punggol branch will have a merge back to the CRL, or a stub to allow it to go elsewhere.

If none of that is happening, since the CRL is now opening in 3 phases, the Punggol branch could open as a later phase of the CRL. This may be the simplest explanation — after all, it’s slated to pass through Lorong Halus, and the place used to be a landfill so developing safety measures may take time.

But for now, regular TPE-by-bus commuters are going to still have a hard time. Stay tuned and we’ll wait to see what’s next.

Tea leaf divining

After that, we now come to the west side of the CRL. I’m really not too optimistic about this, given that the LTA hasn’t called engineering consultancy contracts yet on what will be phase 2 and perhaps 3 — it’s likely the development process is pretty behind that of CRLe (aka phase 1), or they may even be doing all the engineering work internally so there’s no need to call those contracts.

But the west side would mostly seem pretty straightforward to me — from the Jurong Lake District, down Pioneer Road, to Tuas. The issue here is getting to JLD from Bright Hill. No plan has been chosen for how the CRL will get around the CCNR — I repeat, no plan has been chosen — but otherwise, both the direct and skirting options end roughly around the old Turf Club, where the URA has stamped a large “SUBJECT TO DETAILED PLANNING” mark while zoning it for residential use on the Master Plan.

After that, work was spotted at King Albert Park, and near Clementi station, so it wouldn’t be too far fetched to say that both stations will be interchanges. Next, we go to West Coast, where what was supposed to be a JRL station was left out of the JRL project— the tea leaves tell me that this may be an integrated station between the JRL and CRL, like Sengkang and Punggol stations. From there it should be a quick jump up to JLD.

The question here is of course how soon can all this be done, to bring some relief to the west side..

Train spotting

That said, now let’s go on to what was said in the announcement.

The first thing that may catch eyes is the long distances between Aviation Park and Loyang, and Defu to Tampines North (which I’ve mentioned earlier). In the case of the former, LTA’s map would indicate that the CRL tunnels will pass through the Changi Airfreight Centre (a secure area) and runway 1 of Changi Airport. So that’s one long non-stop stretch. And once the RSAF base goes, there may be the option to place an infill station or two along the line within the old base compound. But for now I’d enjoy the express ride while I can.

Secondly, Channel NewsAsia has found a few renders you might be interested in. But what interests me, though, is this:

Changi East Depot (image: LTA)

See those little fencepost-like things on the tracks? What I think this may mean is that the CRL, like the North East Line, will operate on an overhead catenary system. So come 2029 you might want to lay off the balloons if you don’t want to ruin the fun, although I’d like the LTA to confirm this. I’d also like to ask about the maximum speed of CRL trains (which would be useful given the long distances), and at what threshold would the lengthening of trains from 6 to 8 cars be considered.

Third is Serangoon North. More observant folks may have noticed the presence of a couple of stubs leading off the lone passageway to the exit across Yio Chu Kang Road on LTA’s maps. Some think this could lead to a potential future line which can relieve the NEL out of Sengkang and Punggol, but let’s see whether anything about that shows up in the upcoming LTMP.

Fourth, Loyang. With the “renewed focus on speed”, what the LTA seems to be doing is to reduce station counts. This means the return of the double headed station — an example being Outram Park NEL station, where exits E and H are on one end, F and G on the other, and a significant walk between them. The same appears to have been done at Loyang, where pundits were saying we’d see two stations due to SI works but we’ve only ended up with one. Could they do the rest along the rest of the CRL, and on future lines as well, we’ll see.

But on the other hand there’s Teck Ghee station, which looks to be a bit too awfully close to both Ang Mo Kio and Bright Hill station. There’s also the fact that it passes under the North South Corridor (making it basically a repeat of Rochor station, and we know how much trouble that was), so I’m starting to ask myself if the need for the station really is there. Perhaps there could be greater plans for Ang Mo Kio which warrant the dense station placing, but I wouldn’t speculate.

Afterword

This wouldn’t be a Singaporean internet post if we didn’t do any politician bashing, but in this case it’s very much justified. Today I shake my fist at Minister Khaw for this:

The CRL will only have one signalling system, Mr Khaw said, to keep things simple.

He cited a Financial Times article on the British Crossrail Project, billed as Europe’s largest transport project, whose construction was stalled as it required the project managers to integrate five different signalling systems across three different lines.

If the minister had any idea what Crossrail actually was, he probably wouldn’t say this. Crossrail is more like an extension of the suburban rail network into central London (a project more comparable to the Tuas West Extension), while the CRL is really a blank slate and very easy to do. There should not be a need to have “multiple signalling systems” unless the NCL becomes a thing, and it offers through-running service on CRL tracks to Aviation Park and/or Terminal 5.

And with that, I’m done. I’ll be honest, this announcement was pretty quick, let’s see if they can sustain the momentum. In the meantime, try not to beat each other up over the bicentennial, the prospect of early elections, and whether this CRL announcement should be a purdah violation.

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