From the Red Line
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From the Red Line

Underground, spinning around

I’ve been away for a fair bit with an overload of schoolwork and an underload of motivation, but still trying to catch up with the news.

Last week at the Committee of Supply, it was announced that Hume station will open in 2025, and that a shell station was already built. It’s not the first case (anyone remember Founders’ Memorial, earlier this year?). It won’t be the last either.

You can call such shell stations forward thinking or wasteful extravagance, it’s really up to you.

“elephants are white”

Back in August 2005, here in Gibson’s proverbial Disneyland with the death penalty, a bunch of white elephant cutout stands suddenly appeared near the closed Buangkok MRT station, causing quite a bit of embarrassment for the powers that be.

Putting aside the heavy handed way the issue was dealt with, we’re left with one question? Why was Buangkok (and Woodleigh on the NEL as well) closed? There simply wasn’t enough demand in the area to open the station. Then again, taxpayer money had been spent to construct and fit out the station, so all the fittings and equipment inside would just be gathering dust, they reasoned.

So a political promise was made never to do this again, and indeed it was remembered with the development of Circle Line stages 4 and 5 and other future projects. In the case of CCL4/5, two stations would remain closed even after the rest of the line opened. Caldecott would open with the Thomson Line whenever that line opened (they later changed their minds and decided to open Caldecott with the rest of CCL4/5), and Bukit Brown will probably only see the light of day when development around it gets heavier.

This was later repeated with Hume station, as well as Founders’ Memorial and Tagore stations on the Thomson East Coast Line. As for upcoming projects, it’s quite uncertain to me whether they’ll feature such provisions (for obvious reasons, they aren’t announced at this point), but we’ll see.

Dust off the old gal

According to the LTA and Janil Puthucheary, the time has come to open Hume, after much protesting and persuasion by residents. By 2025, of course and people can’t wait.

But hold your horses. If I had to guess, this is what Hume station probably looks like now:

A giant underground water tank in Kasukabe, Saitama, Japan. Source: Wikipedia

Now, the LTA probably aren’t fans of brutalism and rubbing rocks together (how else would you explain the semi-palatial designs of newer train stations?), so they’d probably insist that there’s plenty of things they’d need to do before they actually open the station, that’s why it’ll take 6 years. They’re not wrong. Electrical and mechanical services (so that people can actually walk around inside without needing a hard hat, safety training, and a portable fan), and all those other things you need to run a railway station should take at least a year to go in, judging by the state of the Thomson Line works which you can find on Nethaniel’s blog.

For some reason, work was still going on in mid-2017 in the Hume area. If they hadn’t added that at the last minute, the LTA would today have a defense saying that the exits of the station (so you can actually get inside) have to be built. However, Nethaniel says they’ve done half the work necessary, and from my own observation you should be able to access the station site through an emergency escape shaft.

Similar structures are, of course, built at Bukit Brown and Tagore, and would have existed at the Founders’ Memorial site had they not decided to open it, much like the case of Caldecott. You can go trekking to find them if you like.

Scare them a bit

What I’ve always thought of in almost two years of transport blogging is the degree of opacity the authorities have with regards to such infrastructure. Of course, there are national security reasons on why you wouldn’t want people to get their hands on blueprints of major interchange stations, for example, but I’ve found that the LTA tends to err a bit in the “you can’t handle the truth” direction.

On the other hand, I seem to remember a few times where they’ve brought grassroots leaders to the construction sites (with appropriate safety equipment, of course) and shown them around. Perhaps this could be done as well, to show why you need 6 years to convert an empty concrete box to a train station (though more realistically, about 4 and a half, given that this is government bureaucracy we’re talking about). Wait for maintenance hours, bring them down to the tracks near Hume, and show them just what needs to be done.

And, of course, if it’s possible to do things faster, see if they can do it. Government bureaucracy and material procurement lead times would probably mean work starts sometime next year, and then I guess what’s left depends on the state of the station. Surely you’d have to install lifts and escalators, do up all the architectural niceties and electrical work, so on and so forth. And if they really don’t need until 2025, I’d think that this may be a case of underpromising and overdelivering, given the LTA’s recent issues with meeting deadlines.

This won’t be the last time — it’s a good dress rehearsal for Bukit Brown and Tagore, and future enabling works should they want to add more stations elsewhere down the road, where such boxes have not been prepared.

Out of nowhere

But where can they do that? Two places come to mind — the jump in numbers between NE1 Harbourfront and NE3 Outram Park, and NS5 Yew Tee and NS7 Kranji. There’s also a few more possibilities — on the NSL (and JRL) outside Tengah New Town, and on the CRL’s non stop stretch through Paya Lebar Air Base after that goes.

The first one probably isn’t happening given that CC30 Keppel has been built next door to the planned site. It could happen, though, if a Harbourfront Congestion Relief Project is ever needed, much like the MTR’s North Point extension.

The second could happen, if Sungei Kadut gets busy enough that buses from Kranji can’t keep up with demand — but that’s probably a few decades off. As for the rest, we’ll see, especially given the LTA’s hyper-conservatism when it comes to construction.

Either way, let this case be a good lesson for them to learn in future.

EDIT March 22: What about Tuas South?

Reading the transcript of the Budget debate in Parliament about transport, I noticed that questions were asked about why Founders’ Memorial was being built but not the Tuas South Extension.

The simple answer is that there’s nothing yet. Contract T302 — at the time being such a shell station — was already planned for when the TEL stage 4 and 5 were announced back in 2014 (so perhaps the MP should have asked his question then?) On the other hand, nothing exists of the Tuas South Extension except platforms C and D at Gul Circle. And as I previously mentioned, no one even knows what that will be used for. JRL extension from NTU? Branch of the EWL? Some other line? Or even left to rot, like the spare platforms at Promenade and Punggol LRT?

As for actual ridership, there’s nothing there but a golf course and a park — not unlike Bukit Brown and Tagore which just have forest (and a few bungalows in the case of the latter) around it. Tuas, on the other hand, sees very heavily cyclic demand — the large TWE stations feel eerily empty during off peak hours. That’s even at a 10 minute frequency with every other train stopping short at Joo Koon.

A station could be worth it, but in the initial years maybe a form of BRT service to an existing TWE station would be enough. Maybe they’ll revisit this in the LTMP. But we’ll see.



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