On gateways

From the Red Line
Published in
9 min readJun 8, 2024

The prime complaint about the JRL is how it supposedly makes Singapore’s busiest MRT station even busier. I don’t think so.

There are two main groups of users at Jurong East, as with every interchange station — those who actually use the station, and those who are just changing trains. In terms of entries and exits, Jurong East is in fact Singapore’s busiest MRT station. In fact, it serves as a gateway to all of western Singapore.

Going through the station a lot recently sort of made me appreciate the JRL a bit more, but as always, policy must catch up.

Spread the load

The grim fact is that the station itself currently serves a lot of people. Apart from Jurong Gateway directly around the station, Jurong East station is also the main access point for bus transfers to Toh Guan and Pandan Gardens residential estates, as well as Jalan Buroh and Penjuru Road industrial estates, and the International Business Park. Perhaps we can also throw in Tengah too with Service 870.

It says something that literally almost the entire JRL East branch will serve those places I previously mentioned, and it won’t even cover Penjuru Road and Jalan Buroh. The JRL will only turn exiting passengers into interchanging passengers — if they continued on the JRL through Jurong East, they were likely previously switching buses anyway, and would thus not contribute to MRT crowds at Jurong East. When they say “Jurong Region”, it’s hard to imagine they were kidding.

If anything, the JRL’s main weakness is the lack of connections to the CRL— but this also has to be done smartly. While they could connect CR19 station to JE6 station and call it a day, that may still not deliver realistic benefit especially when cross platform transfers are available at Jurong East. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done, but it may end up as an informal transfer taking advantage of the grace period and the pedestrian network in the Jurong Lake District, like what we see in the CBD.

source jld.gov.sg

This may improve the case for the West Coast Extension — if anything, at least a first stage connecting the JRL to the CRL. CRL West Coast, as a new station, can provide for an integrated transfer much like the NEL-LRT transfers at Sengkang and Punggol stations. This makes it easier to build a high capacity and fast transfer instead of whatever black magic they’ll need to pull off at Clementi to connect the EWL and CRL. Better transfers may have a better chance of getting people to stay on the line to West Coast instead of getting off at Jurong East to take the EWL — especially for those working at the International Business Park or Jurong Lake District.

The ~3.4km gap between NTU’s JW5 station and the putative CRL terminal at Gul Circle can also be closed, to reduce travel times to NTU and the Jurong Innovation District instead of going 7–8 stops on the JRL. Using the spare platforms at Gul Circle avoids the need to build stations at all, only viaducts. Building this may attract NTU students and JID workers to also stay on the CRL instead of changing at Clementi and Boon Lay.

While Joo Koon station may be geographically closer, the greater strategic benefit of the CRL connection cannot be ignored, nor the land use savings and biodiversity benefits from co-locating the JRL remote stabling facility with the CRL depot, instead of cutting away the hill behind NTU.

Close the gap!

These projects and proposals put together should provide a greater incentive to stay on the CRL and avoid Jurong East; also avoiding changing to the EWL at Clementi too.

The greater system

We also need to address another reason why so many want to go to Jurong East as a destination in itself, or those who are changing trains to get to Boon Lay or Joo Koon. Of course, we can’t move JEM, Westgate Tower, JTC Summit, nor the future LTA-MOT Building. But what can we move?

Industrial areas can be awfully difficult to access by public transport, which usually means companies offer their own transport. These are usually worker shuttles from various points of Singapore — shuttles that compete for road space in Tuas with port bound traffic, and for drivers with other companies and school bus operations. Many of these services call at Venture Avenue in Jurong East , but it’s not only companies in the far West — I’ve even seen companies in the east of Singapore run buses from Jurong East station.

Purely by supply-demand economics, there will never be good public transport in industrial estates, as transport needs are met by privately hired shuttles instead; and as far as the LTA is concerned, passengers are magically appearing at train stations. CRL3 may be justified based on future developments and planned job densities around CRL3 stations; but like how the Tuas West Extension failed, CRL3 may fall flat too without significant re-examination of the transport network in the Jurong Industrial Estate. After all, according to URA’s Long-Term Plan, CRL3 will likely run along Benoi and Pioneer Roads, quite a distance from the EWL.

Our potential CRL3 stations? (source: URA SPACE)

The LTA may want to avoid drastic change, but let’s be honest — building a new rail line is drastic change already. What use is CRL2 West Coast/Jurong Lake District, or a CRL3 station near Yuan Ching Road, when company shuttles to industrial estates around Penjuru and Jalan Buroh still board from Jurong East and people still have to switch from the CRL to the EWL at Clementi, or ride the NSL all the way down through Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Batok?

If travel time is a concern, the CRL may be time competitive with peak hour expressway traffic. To be quite fair, as private bus companies raise charter prices, high costs may result in employers opting to reduce or stop private shuttles — an employee benefit, not a must-have — with workers expected to use public transport instead. So we may end up in this situation anyway.

Run a tighter ship

But there is another way. As part of CRL works, a large stretch of Loyang Avenue was closed. Since then, SBST has introduced LCS1 and LCS2. I’m not sure how well these services are used, as we haven’t heard much about them. On the other hand, Service 89e from Hougang/Sengkang to Loyang and Changi Airfreight Centre has grown from strength to strength, now with 13 and 10 departures in the morning and evening peak respectively.

Reduced road capacity in Loyang makes it untenable for nearly everyone to drive to work, or for many employers to offer private shuttle buses, which means workers in Loyang industrial estate and Changi Airfreight Centre have to use public transport. In fact, now that the market has been built, it’s not hard to imagine many 89e users switching to the CRL come 2030. Basic rail fares are still cheaper than express bus fares, and 89e’s limited stops in Loyang is no different from using Loyang CRL station.

This may be a model for the future; but it will require the LTA to dare say no. Requiring and gatekeeping applications to use pick up points at Jurong East, Boon Lay, Choa Chu Kang, and Woodlands creates a similar scarcity to the closure of Loyang Avenue — instead, they can be pushed towards Tuas Extension or CRL3 stations. They can even go further, and like Hong Kong’s Transport Department, require hirers to explain why scheduled public transport service is not enough to serve their locations. The feedback can then be given to public bus service planners.

We’ve seen some success here, with two separate initiatives to get school students on public bus services— the introduction of Service 983M connecting Choa Chu Kang South BTOs to Teck Whye Crescent schools, and SBST deploying ambassadors on Service 261 to encourage Townsville Primary students to use the public bus. These decrease reliance on school bus services, thus mitigating the impact of private bus driver shortages.

But public bus companies are also facing manpower shortages as well, which may at first glance limit our ability to act. That is not without solutions, but will require the LTA to challenge its unwillingness to disturb the status quo. It may be politically expedient, but is it the smart thing to do?

Everything in moderation

It will require clever network design and regulation to really make an impact on Jurong East congestion, and the future will rely heavily on rail projects in Jurong and Tuas like JRL Stage 3 and CRL3. It will be quite attractive in diverting transfer traffic away from Jurong East if done properly — people working nearer to Jalan Buroh and coming from the north can change at Choa Chu Kang and stay on the JRL most of the way, switching to buses at Jurong Pier or something instead of doing so at Boon Lay via Jurong East.

It used to be worse. Source dancvg on twitter (now X)

It is true that overcentralization has resulted in what we see at Jurong East and Boon Lay today. But we have seen steps to remedy the situation with the opening of Joo Koon ITH, so the LTA should build on that success. It can already do things at Tuas Terminal. New hubs at Gul Circle (as planned by URA) and hopefully Jurong Pier too should facilitate further decentralization away from Boon Lay and Joo Koon — take the train to Gul Circle or Jurong Pier instead. Perhaps something can also be considered at Yuan Ching on the old site of the Jurong Bus Interchange, especially if a CRL3 station is also placed at the location.

In fact, the JRL route between Choa Chu Kang and Boon Lay is significantly shorter than changing at Jurong East. The more incentive someone has to stay on the train, even despite the smaller station spacing of the JRL, the more time (and fare) savings there will be.

Finishing the CRL also provides an alternative to the NSL for Woodlands residents, where they can continue on the CRL to Bright Hill and change to the TEL there. This avoids the kind of bus dependency seen during Monday’s lightning strike and train disruption — while announcements were made to suggest routing by the CCL and TEL changing at Buona Vista and Caldecott respectively, it doesn’t seem to have reached the ground.

Assuming this happened at Jurong East instead, it may be for naught if everyone still needs to take rail replacement buses out of Jurong East, if the transport strategy still has everyone trying to get to one particular place for connections out of the public transport system. The words “hub and spoke” may be quite a bogeyman these days, but it’s important to not make the mistake of going totally in the opposite direction.

We just need more hubs; more gateways, and the CRL and JRL will enable such service planning. Perhaps on-demand bus service, if they can get that working again, may help resolve transit desert issues especially in the off-peak. But like it or not, industrial developments and how they interact with public transport (read: heavy peaks) will always gravitate towards a system of hubs and connections. Nor should Tanjong Kling or Jurong Pier workers be fighting for road and bus capacity in Boon Lay interchange with NTU students and Jurong West residents.

The JRL and CRL will resolve these issues; but only if we are willing to disrupt the status quo. At least we have a few years to prepare for it.

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From the Red Line

Sometimes I am who I am, but sometimes I am not who I am not.