Case Study

The MRT system, Singapore: an outstanding rapid transit system (1967 to the present and continuing)

The idea of the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT) in Singapore goes back to the very earliest conceptual plan designed for the development of the island state after independence. In 1962, Emile E. Lorange, in a study sponsored by the United Nations, made broad recommendations for an action plan for the highly crowded central area of Singapore but he said it should be seen within a larger regional context. The following year a team consisting of Otto Koenigsberger, Charles Abrams and Susume Kobe stressed the need for a unified approach to the location of jobs and housing, and to urban renewal. Further support came from a transportation study, also sponsored by the United Nations, conducted by Britton Harris and Jack Mitchell, that recommended that Singapore have a clear transportation structure plan before major development took place. The study also doubted that a road-based system would be able to handle all the traffic that would be moving along the central circulation route. This series of recommendations resulted in the initiation of a United Nations Urban Renewal and Development Project.

The project's goals were to: (1) establish a long-range physical plan for the republic, including a transportation plan, (2) recommend policies and schemes for the central area, (3) recommend the type of mass transport system to be used, (4) assist in the preparation of specific projects and (5) develop a fully operational agency that could develop the plan further, and implement it. Crooks, Mitchell, Peacock and Stewart, a consulting firm based in Sydney, conducted the study between 1967 and 1971 when the population of Singapore was 2.07 million people and that predicted (with reasonable accuracy) being 4 million in 2000. The long-range proposal for Singapore was presented in a concept plan.

The concept plan is simple but powerful (see Figure 10.12). It was selected from a number of possibilities based on the need for an efficient transportation system. It consists of a loop MRT with seven major nodes/new towns varying in size from 100,000 to 400,000 people, being plugged into it. Accompanying the MRT would be an expressway system, with graded interchanges, and other major roads. It was also recommended that a restriction be placed on the number of cars entering the CBD. (An Area Licensing Scheme now operates and charges a fee for cars entering the district.) The success in developing and implementing the plan has been due to the efficiency of the Singaporean civil service.

The concept plan had, and has, no legal standing. The master plan of 1958 had statutory authority and accordingly was amended (and has been every 5 years since) within the specifications of the concept plan. The concept plan was revised in 1992 and again in 2001, but the basic principles behind the 1971 plan have been retained. Queenstown (1965), the first of the new towns, had already been completed and the second Toa Payoh was completed in the year of the publication of the concept plan. It was not until 1981 that the Singapore government committed itself to building the MRT. Construction began in 1983 and

Figure 10.12 The 1971 Concept Plan for Singapore.

has been the largest construction project in Singapore ever since then.

The first 67 kilometres of the system with 42 stations opened step by step between November 1987 and July 1990 at a cost of 1990$S5 billion. A spur was built in 1996 to form a loop connecting Woodlands in the north to new towns and industrial areas in the southeast and southwest. The system (see Figure 10.13) now has a route length of 89.4 kilometres and has 51 stations (16 underground, 34 elevated and one - Bishan -at ground level). The lines run underground in the central area for 23.3 kilometres (14.5 miles), above the ground for 62.3 kilometres (38.7 miles) and at ground level for 3.8 kilometres (2.4 miles). The new 20-kilometre (12.5-mile) long, 16-station North East Line was completed in April 2003. It is predominantly an underground line linking the

CBD (Harbour Front) to the Singapore Exposition Centre and Pungol. It was built at a cost of 2000$S4.6 billion. The 2001 Concept Plan contains a new orbital route and a radial MRT network. The total length of the MRT lines will be expanded to as much as 500 kilometres (310 miles) in the future to keep pace with and shape the location of Singapore's growth.

Construction has not always been easy. Perhaps not typical, but illustrative nevertheless, has been the construction of the new Chinatown station. Tunnelling had to be below existing buildings and streets. Complex traffic flows had to be maintained at ground level and major utility lines - water, sewage, telecommunications and electricity -all had to operate while construction took place. Links to existing routes and platforms had to be built at interchange stations.

Figure 10.13 The structure of the present MRT lines.

Singapore's Land Transport Authority was created in 1995 and is now the owner and developer of the system. The operation and maintenance of the system is licensed to Singapore MRT Ltd., SBS Transit Ltd. and SLRT Pte. Ltd. under the Rapid Transit Systems Act. The goal of the organizations is to provide a service that can compete effectively with the private automobile as the transportation mode of choice. What differentiates Singapore's MRT system from many others is that its development has been linked to precinct/new town development every step of the way. The key agency in expediting the concept plan has been the republic's Housing Development Board (HDB), a statutory body established in 1960-1. It has had the responsibility for designing and building the new towns. The sheer mass of housing produced since independence led the way in deciding what elements of the transportation and industrialization programme should be implemented. The HDB has played the major role in determining what land should be made available for transportation routes, where MRT stations should be located, where expressways should be built and how the entire network of infrastructure - water, sewers, power and telecommunications - should be developed.

As time has gone by, more and more attention has been paid to the comfort level of users of the system. Special attention has been paid to the design of subways and stations. The goal has been to make the stations column-free and have sufficient gates to handle rush hour pedestrian traffic with ease. Ticket vending is automated. Extensive pedestrian networks giving as easy an access as possible to the stations have been built. Raffles Place and Orchard Stations have extensive pedestrian networks connecting the station to surrounding buildings. In addition, local bus routes and (in the case of Chua Chu

Kang, Sengkang and Pungol) light-rail systems are tied into the MRT stations.

Dover station (opened in 2001) is a recent addition. Its site was long planned but the station was not built until a critical mass of potential users existed. The adjacent, recently built polytechnic and new housing plug into the station making it economically viable. The station also represents a new design attitude (see Figure 10.14). The stations are to be more individualistic in appearance. Designed by RSP Architects and Planners, a Singapore firm, with Goh Hup Chor as project leader, it is an eye-catching structure that competes effectively with that by Norman Foster at the Expo (Singapore Exposition Centre) Station (1997).

Changing concepts of the public interest have posed great challenges for designers. The new demands, in terms of the functions shown in Figure 1.6, range from those dealing with access for the handicapped to those of attaining prestige through the employment of high-style aesthetics. The new stations on the North East Line have been designed to be barrier free to give access to people in wheelchairs and have been provided with tactile guidance systems for the blind. Travellators have been introduced to speed up pedestrian movement where underground links are lengthy. Art works by world-renowned artists are being added to the stations to provide a feeling of luxury. As Lisia Ecola (2004) has noted:

Singapore's MRT is simply the crème de la crème of transit: high-tech, spacious, efficient, and spotlessly clean. If Americans knew that transit could be this good, we wouldn't put up with anything less.

The catalytic effect of the MRT stations was both foreseen and exploited by planners and urban designers in Singapore. The construction of stations, for instance, led to a proposed surge of high-density, high-rise development in the CBD and on Orchard Road. The Jurong industrial area was not doing very well until workers had access to it via the MRT. Development around the stations is now being intensified. In 2001, the Ministry of National Development established new guidelines for stations to have convenient and comfortable underground links with shopping areas. An environment of which one can be proud is seen as essential for transit systems to compete effectively with the pleasure of driving oneself about the city. While the MRT is a good example of plug-in urban design, it can also be seen as an all-of-a-piece urban design or as a straight planning project depending on what about its development one stresses. It is the necklace on which the new towns and the central district of Singapore are strung.

Major references

Urban Form. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Chew, T. C. and C. K. Chua (1998). Development of Singapore's Rapid Transit System. Japan Railway and Transport Review 18: 26-30. Crooks, Mitchell, Peacock, Stewart (1971). Report. The Urban Renewal and Development Project, Singapore. Prepared for the United Nations Development Program Special Fund. Sydney: The authors. Vuchic, Vukan (1999). Transportation for Livable Cities. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University. SMRT. Moving with our customers. www.smrt.com. sg/smrt/index.htm

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