Rail transport in Singapore
Rail transport in Singapore mainly consists of a passenger urban rail transit system spanning the entire city-state: a rapid transit system collectively known as the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system operated by the two biggest public transport operators SMRT Trains (SMRT Corporation) and SBS Transit, as well as several Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines also operated by both companies. In addition, local specialised light rail lines are in operation in places such as the Singapore Changi Airport and Sentosa.
A short remaining section of the railway originally built during the British colonial period is connected to the Malaysian rail network, and is operated by Malaysian railway company Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM). The Singapore section of the railway now serves only inter-city passenger services; until 2011 the railway also carried freight between Malaysia and the Port of Singapore at Tanjong Pagar. Two other international rail connections are currently planned: the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System.
The first railway in Singapore was built by the Tanjong Pagar dock company in 1877 and ran along their wharves. It was operated by two locomotives supplied by Dick & Stevenson. Next came the Singapore Steam Tramway in 1885. This closed by 1894 and the stock was disposed of to the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company and Penang Steam Tramway. The Singapore Railway Line was built from Singapore station, opposite Read Road at the southern foot of Fort Canning and ran to Woodlands Station which was located on the coast opposite Johore. It was mooted as early as the 1860s, approved by the Legislative Council in 1899 and completed in 1903 at a cost of $2 million. Management of the Singapore Railway operations, buildings and land were transferred to the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) in 1918 for over $4 million. The Malayan Railway Administration – predecessor of Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad – was established in 1948. The terminus in Singapore was the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
Plans to build a railway line through Singapore, primarily to service the New Harbour (later known as Keppel Harbour) were mooted as early as 1869 by Engineer W. J. du Port of the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, but they only built a short length of track which came into use in 1877. The project was approved by Governor Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell only in 1899 after then Governor Cecil Clementi Smith raised the need for it in an 1889 Legislative Council meeting. Construction works were then initiated, with the groundbreaking ceremony held on 16 April 1900. Chinese labour was employed principally.
C. E. Spooner, general manager of the FMSR, was appointed the supervisor of the project. Costing a total of $1,967,495, the Singapore-Kranji Railway Line, running from Singapore to Kranji, was completed in 1903. Opened in two phases, the first section was launched on 1 January 1903. It stretched from Singapore to Bukit Timah and consisted of four stations along the line: Singapore, Newton, Cluny and Bukit Timah. According to a newspaper report the following day, “a total of 557½ passengers were carried” on the opening day. The second section, which extended the line to Woodlands, was completed three months later when the Woodlands station was opened on 10 April 1903. In 1903, there were a total of 426,044 passengers. By 1905, this had increased to 525,553.
Soon after, work began on the extension of the railway line from a point near Tank Road where a new through station was built in 1906/7 to the wharves at Pasir Panjang. The extension was completed and opened on 21 January 1907. With the extension, the stations along the line were Woodlands, Mandai, Bukit Panjang, Bukit Timah, Holland, Cluny, Newton, Tank Road, Borneo Wharf and Pasir Panjang. The old Singapore Station was converted for use as a goods depot and plans to extend this line along Boat Quay to Anderson Bridge in the 1920s came to nothing.
For several years, the railway line operated two boats named Singapore and Johore which ferried railway passengers across the Johor Straits to visit the gambling dens in Johore. When the Johore Railway opened in 1909 these ferries carried railway passengers for connecting trains. With the completion of Causeway in 1923 a connection was made with the Johore Railway. Lodging flats known as the Kelantan flats in Kampong Bahru Road were built by the Keretapi Tanah Melayu and provided accommodation for the Malaysian Railway and Malaysian Customs. The Tank Road-Bukit Panjang line was dismantled after the completion of the line to Tanjong Pagar on a new alignment via a new Bukit Timah station.
The Admiralty Military Railway was a line that branched off the main line near Woodlands and was built in the 1930s to serve the Naval Shipyard at Sembawang. Three of the locomotives were 0-6-0Ts built by Hunslet in 1929 and numbered SL18-20. In November 1941 they were transferred to the FMSR as the second Class A, later becoming 331 class before being sold to the Port Of Singapore in 1946. In addition to the metre gauge line there was a standard gauge system and two of the locomotives which operated this system were returned to the UK in 1955. One of these, Hawthorn Leslie 3865 of 1936, an 0-4-0ST named "Singapore", has been preserved. This line was closed in 1959.
The Changi Military Railway was a 4-mile long standard gauge line built by the FMSR for the War Department, for the protection of Singapore's new Naval Base at Sembawang. The fortifications for the Naval Base were laid at the entrance to the Old Strait, at Changi, where one 15-inch gun, one 9-inch battery, one 6-inch battery and search lights were installed. The artillery installations were supplied with underground ammunition depots and loaded with armour piercing shells. On the beach, concrete machine emplacements and wire were installed. Airfields in Sembawang, Seletar and Tengah were to provide air cover for the Base. Bagnalls of Stafford supplied an 0-6-0ST, number 2547 of 6/1936, to the War Office department, Changi, Singapore. It had 16" x 22" cylinders and 3' 4" driving wheels. It was last seen derelict in 1947 but its fate is unknown. The railway ran from Fairy Point pier to the battery with a short branch to a depot. Further details are available from the Industrial Railway Society.
Other sidings involve the two branched off the main line between Tanjong Pagar and Tanglin Halt, the exchange sidings for the latter being adjacent to Tanglin halt. These were served by two Avonside Engine Company 0-6-0STs, 2030/1929 SL7 (yard No 144) and 2031/1929 SL8 (yard No 145), and a Bagnall 0-4-0ST 2770 of 4/1944, yard No 1729. Whenever these locomotives moved between depots they had to use the main line and a token had to be obtained from either Tanjong Pagar or Bukit Timah and returned promptly by road after the movement. A third line branched off south of Bukit Timah, near my old home at Jalan Jelita, ran westwards, then turned north and crossed Ulu Pandan Road and entered a depot at Buona Vista Battery (see map on Singapore Railway history page). There was a fourth siding to the ammunition depot at Kranji, closed in 1959 - I am not sure if this is the same siding which later served a Shell depot at Kranji. The line from Tanglin exchange sidings ran south and then west, crossing Portsdown road near a school and ending up in the military complex adjacent to Ayer Rajah road near the junctions with North and South Buona Vista roads. Details of locomotives can be found here. Part of the Ayer Rajah parts were later redeveloped into the new industrial park at Ayer Rajah in 1989.
The Sir John Jackson contract was to build the Naval Base at Sembawang and a large number of locomotives of both metre gauge and standard gauge were required. The construction required a huge quantity of granite blocks which were quarried from mountains in south Johore and shipped by rail down to the coast opposite Sembawang for loading into barges.
On 4 March 1966, the 19 km line from Bukit Timah to Jurong Port Road via the Jurong railway station, and Teban Gardens was officially built, this was a joint venture between the KTM and Economic Development Board. This has been closed down in 1986.
The Singapore railway is typical of British colonial railway systems, built to the metre gauge (3 ft 3⅜ in). Singapore had KTM’s only hydraulic buffer stops developed by Ransomes & Rapier, a British manufacturer of railway equipment. The Singapore station was also one of three major signal cabins along the West Coast Line until 1967, when a new station was opened in Butterworth, Penang. Singapore’s Tanjong Pagar station was also only one of three stations with hotels, the other two being Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.
The railway track in Singapore ran along the current Cuppage Road, along the Monk's Hill Road and toward a station at Newton on Gilthead Road close to where the Newton Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station now stands. The tracks travels towards the Bukit Timah Road, with a stop at Cluny Road and Bukit Timah before passing through the Bukit Timah village to Kranji and Woodlands. An extension for goods trains was opened in 1907. This connected Tank Road Station to the dockyard in Pasir Panjang, via the People’s Park area. There would be slowdowns at Bukit Timah and Kranji for manual exchange of tokens.
In 1970s, the electrification and double tracking was planned by the Singapore government to facilitate growth in public transit, and with the new commuter rail line, more new stations will be added and Metro-Cammell commuter rail trains will then be purchased similar to those in Hong Kong. One consequence is that whereas much of the track that is in the Malaysian railway is unfenced, with footpaths or roads alongside major villagers, the faster, quieter and more efficient railway requires the complete fencing of the railway from Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar, necessitating the construction of footbridges with both steps and sloping ramps at various village locations. A study from Harvard University had denoted stations such as Lower Delta, Alexandra, Buona Vista, Bukit Timah, Upper Bukit Timah, Bukit Panjang, Mandai West, Kranji and Woodlands Checkpoint with a possible extension to Jurong East and Tampines via the reclaimed land of East Coast. However, the idea was scrapped by 1990 as it was expensive to justify the idea and the two governments in Singapore and Malaysia wanted to move the railway station over to Woodlands Train Checkpoint, which was achieved on 1 July 2011. The section between Bukit Panjang and Bukit Timah Railway Station duplicates the Downtown Line Stage 2, which was opened on 27 December 2015.
Local urban rail network
Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)
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Singapore's public transport system has been reliant largely on buses, until the opening of the first section of the Mass Rapid Transit in 1987. Although buses still enjoy an average daily ridership exceeding the number carried on both the MRT and LRT systems (3.9 million on buses, compared to 3.1 million on the MRT and LRT in the year 2016), the Land Transport Authority plans to expand the rail system such that buses will eventually play only a feeder role to an extensive rail network.
The current MRT network consists of five main lines, for a total network length of 198.6 km (123.40 mi) and with 119 stations. The North South Line, East West Line and Circle Line are operated by SMRT Trains (SMRT Corporation), while the North East Line and Downtown Line since 22 December 2013, are run by SBS Transit. The Circle Line Extension from Promenade to Marina Bay began operation since 14 January 2012.
Light Rail Transit (LRT)
Light rail transit functioning as feeders to the main MRT network has been under study for some time, particularly since the existing urban configuration of self-containing new towns spread out in the suburbs meant it was feasible to consider having light rail systems connecting each town to the MRT station in the town centre, a role which has traditionally been provided by feeder buses. Thus, the first SMRT Light Rail (SMRT Corporation) operated LRT was opened in Bukit Panjang in 1999 to provide a connection to Choa Chu Kang in neighbouring Choa Chu Kang New Town. Although subsequently hit by over 50 incidents, some of which resulted in several days of system suspension, similar systems albeit from a different company were introduced in Sengkang and Punggol in 2003 and 2005 respectively, both operated by SBS Transit.
Singapore has had other various forms of light urban rail systems, such as the monorail system on Sentosa island, which opened in February 1982. This 6.4 km, 6-station system was closed in March 2005 and a new Sentosa Express system was built by December 2006. The Changi Skytrain, a people mover system shuttling passengers between the three terminals at the Singapore Changi Airport, was opened originally in 1990 along with Terminal 2 and upgraded in 2006 with the completion of Terminal 3. The Jurong BirdPark previously featured an air-conditioned panorail which closed in 2012.
KTM West Coast railway line
The sole mainline railway line providing direct international connections is the Malaysian West Coast railway line which runs across the Johor–Singapore Causeway from Johor Bahru to Woodlands Train Checkpoint, the southern terminus of the line.
The metre-gauge single track previously ran all the way to the Tanjong Pagar railway station in southern Singapore, running through Kranji, Bukit Timah and Buona Vista. The line was however closed on 30 June 2011 and train services, which were provided by Keretapi Tanah Melayu, ended at Woodlands instead. The railway tracks were progressively removed.
All train services used to cross the Causeway and end at Woodlands. However, from 1 July 2015, a shuttle service began running between Johor Bahru Sentral railway station (JB Sentral) in Johor Bahru and Woodlands. Intercity train services formerly serving Woodlands Train Checkpoint terminated at JB Sentral. The shuttle service will be replaced by the Johor Bahru–Singapore Rapid Transit System by 2024 when it is expected to become operational.
Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail
Plans to build a high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have been mooted in recent years. A proposal was brought up in 2006 by YTL Corporation Berhad, builder and operator of the Express Rail Link in Kuala Lumpur, however it was not further acted upon due to the Malaysian government's lack of interest at that time.
In 2013, the governments of Singapore and Malaysia officially agreed to build the Kuala Lumpur–Singapore High Speed Rail between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore by 2020 at a meeting between Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak in Singapore. The high-speed rail link will cut travel time between the two cities from seven hours on existing rail lines, to about 90 minutes. Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission chairman, Syed Hamid Albar, announced the stops in Malaysia for the high speed railway. The seven stops are namely, Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Muar, Batu Pahat and Nusajaya. The Singapore government proposed three possible sites for the Singapore station: Tuas West, Jurong East or the Downtown Core. In May 2015, it is announced that Jurong East is chosen as the HSR terminus in Singapore, 600 metres away from the current Jurong East MRT station. The construction of the railway is expected to start in late 2016. In May 2018, new Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Tun Mohammad Mahathir announced that plans for the line is abolished.
Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System
The idea of an MRT link across the border to Johor Bahru has been mooted since the first MRT line was built in the 1980s. In 2010 when the relocation of the KTM terminus to Woodlands was agreed, it was also announced that a rapid transit system would be built to enhance connectivity across the border and to relieve congestion on the Johor-Singapore Causeway.
The RTS is currently envisioned as a two-station line. Singapore RTS terminus will be at Woodlands North, providing interchange with the upcoming Thomson-East Coast MRT Line. The Johor Bahru RTS terminus will be at Bukit Chagar, next to Johor Bahru Sentral railway station and Sultan Iskandar CIQ Building. The two stations will each have combined Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) facilities of both countries, similar to the current arrangement at Woodlands Train Checkpoint. Passengers will clear both countries' border controls before boarding the RTS train, and need no further checks upon arrival at the other station.
The RTS link is planned to be operational by 2024. After the completion of the RTS link, train services to Woodlands Train Checkpoint will cease operations, completing KTM's withdrawal from Singapore.
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