Singapore, one of the most densely populated islands in the world, boasts an excellent modern light-rail network. The system is run by Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), a company incorporated in August 1987, serving the city’s major high-density travel corridors.

The project

Until late 1997, MRT was a basic network of four lines, giving a total route mileage of 83km (50 miles). Of this, just over 60km (40 miles) is above ground, 19km (12.5 miles) underground, and 3.8km (2.2 miles) at street level. Before the extensions were inaugurated, the network had 48 stations, two-thirds at above-ground sections.

In 1997, two extensions were announced, to Dhoby Ghaut in the north-east of the city, and from Xilin Avenue, again north-eastwards, to a new terminal at Changi Airport.

The first, valued at around $5 billion (£3.2 billion), links the World Trade Centre in the south of the city with Punggol in the north. The timescale envisaged opening to the public during 2002. Singapore Bus Holdings (SBS) has won the operating contract.

Also in 1997, the announcement was made of the extension to Changi Airport, largely the result of persistent lobbying from the local members of parliament. This was a much more modest extension, expected to cost around $850 million (£550 million).

A 6km (3.8-mile) line branches off the existing east-west line at Tanah Merah. Two stations are served by this line, next to the new Singapore Expo exhibition centre, and an underground station serving the airport itself, just in front of its control tower.

Infrastructure

Because of the projected heavy use of the Changi Airport extension, stations are being equipped with escalators and long lines of fare gates to allow passengers fast movement.

The airport station will be directly linked to Terminals 2 and 3 via escalators and lifts, while the airport’s Skytrain system will take passengers to Terminal 1. The Airport line is being developed in partnership with the Singapore Civil Aviation Authority, the Public Works Department, and the Land Transport Authority.

The North-East Line was to become the system’s second ‘main line’ on its opening in 2002, and worked on by many members of the project team from the first main MRT system. Five hundred staff have worked on the 20km (13-mile) project, which is primarily underground and passes under major roads, rivers and canals.

Its complexity makes it the biggest and most expensive rapid transit project in Singapore for many years, and because of its importance, the extension was kept on track despite the major economic slowdown affecting the country during 1998.

This was largely thanks to the Government allocated substantial reserves, built up over several years, to the project. Twelve civil contracts were let for the construction work.

It was envisaged that the initial service would comprise one train every six minutes off-peak, doubled during peak hours.

Station building work is being closely integrated with existing structures, while at Dhoby Ghaut and Outram Park stations, where the system intersects other lines, subway links are provided to existing platforms.

Rolling stock

The new extensions were to be served by the existing rolling stock fleet, which was substantially expanded for the new Woodlands extension in 1994.

The fleet is 85 sets, each comprising six cars. The first phase of vehicles was built by Kawasaki of Japan, the second by Siemens of Germany.

Because of the capacity needed on this high-density system, the vehicles are substantially larger than conventional European underground stock. Powered at 750V DC, the units can reach a maximum speed of 80km/h (50mph).

Signalling and communications

The extensions to Changi Airport and the North-East Line have several state-of-the-art systems for operating ease, and passenger and staff safety. Signalling has an advanced diagnostic and monitoring system, vehicles and stations have passenger information displays and public address systems, as well as emergency links to the operations control centre.

The future

Dhoby Ghaut station has been chosen as the nerve centre of the MNRT network. The station, which is 200m-long, is the biggest and deepest on the system, and passengers will be able to transfer to other lines without having to reuse their tickets to open the fare gates.

When the MRT network is complete, Dhoby Ghaut is expected to handle a total of 20,000 commuters per hour in the peak.

It is proposed that many of the North-East Line’s 16 stations will become business centres, and four identified are at Dhoby Ghaut, Clark Quay, Harbour Front, and Sengkang.

The construction contract for new 5km Marina Line was let in September 2000 for completion in 2005.