Cross Island Line debate misses elephant in room

Christopher Tan Straits Times 16 Feb 16;

The proposed alignment of the new Cross Island Line, which could run through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, has sparked heated debate.

While we must do what we can to preserve our natural heritage, we should not shy away from taking hard decisions, if necessary. That has been the pragmatism Singapore prides itself on.

But is building an MRT line under Singapore's largest nature reserve necessary?

It is not.

Not only that, it is actually counter-productive to have a mass rapid transit line traversing an unpopulated, forested area.

The basic tenet of transport infrastructure like an MRT line must be for it to serve the masses. Going by this principle alone, the proposed alignment of the Cross Island Line is flawed.

By going through a tract of primary and secondary forests, the Land Transport Authority would not only do irreparable damage to a pristine habitat nestling around our reservoirs, but it will also be rendering up to 4km of the 50km rail project void of patronage and revenue.

The Nature Society's suggestion of an alternative route is sound, even if its primary consideration is to prevent the destruction of indigenous flora and fauna.

The route calls for the line to loop around the southern edges of the nature reserve. This actually will allow it to serve residents in Thomson, Lornie and Adam roads, not to mention the massive development planned for Bukit Brown.

By cutting through a tract of primary and secondary forests, LTA would not only do irreparable damage to a pristine habitat, but it will also be rendering up to 4km of the 50km rail project void of patronage and revenue.
By cutting through a tract of primary and secondary forests, LTA would not only do irreparable damage to a pristine habitat, but it will also be rendering up to 4km of the 50km rail project void of patronage and revenue. ST FILE PHOTO
Align it a bit farther south, and it can even serve Balestier, a bustling hub that does not have any MRT planned as yet.

Admittedly, a diversion will cost more than going straight through the forest. But then again, think of the larger benefit. The higher ridership and revenue that come with a line that serves populated areas instead of an uninhabited nature reserve will pay for the higher cost over the lifetime of the line. So, let's not be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
The LTA says the alternative route would entail longer travelling time, higher cost, more land acquisition, and possibly bigger engineering challenges associated with going through a more built-up area. These reasons hold little merit when compared with the benefits of serving a larger community.

And if travelling time were such a huge concern, surely we should look to things such as speedier trains, better synchronicity between train and platform doors, and a more sophisticated signalling system?

Admittedly, a diversion will cost more than going straight through the forest. But then again, think of the larger benefit. The higher ridership and revenue that come with a line that serves populated areas instead of an uninhabited nature reserve will pay for the higher cost over the lifetime of the line. So, let's not be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

As for land acquisition, that is something that is unavoidable whenever we build a new rail line. The Singapore Government has never been afraid to acquire land for the larger good. And since it is now paying market rate for properties, the pain of those affected is much less than before.

The same rationale goes for any noise, dust and inconvenience that arise from a major infrastructural project. You cannot make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Lastly, engineering challenges. The LTA has never shied from engineering challenges. In fact, from some of the tasks it has undertaken, it would seem that LTA's engineers love challenges.

They have diverted canals, moved rivers, excavated below viaducts, built tunnels that are just 70cm away from an existing operating tunnel, diverted a stretch of road more than 20 times, and built retaining walls that go 70m into the ground.

Heck, they have even built a 10-lane highway under the sea. And for the Thomson-East Coast Line, they are freezing the earth to prevent water seepage while constructing the Marina Bay station.

So, the proposal to have an MRT line bisecting our nature reserve has little to do with a lack of engineering confidence. It has even less to do with saving time or risking more land acquisitions. It may have something to do with keeping construction costs down, but that would be tragic, if true.

But for the LTA to even suggest an alignment that goes right past a population centre seems to suggest a failure on the part of planners to see the forest for the trees.


What about a third option?
Straits Times Forum 23 Feb 16;

It is heartening that the Government will take into account the diverse concerns of stakeholders in deciding the alignment of the Cross Island MRT Line ("Both possible alignments for CRL will be studied" by Mr Chew Men Leong of the Land Transport Authority; yesterday).

However, the Government should perhaps reconsider the entire alignment of the Cross Island Line (CRL), given the massive impact that this would have on the environment and on the lives of residents who could have their properties acquired.

I have noticed that if the 9km skirting alignment were to be adopted, the CRL could duplicate the Thomson-East Coast Line for some distance along Upper Thomson Road.

This may result in stations constructed along the skirting alignment being underutilised.

Given the duplications, perhaps the LTA should evaluate whether the alignment of the entire CRL should be changed to ensure that ridership will not be compromised, and that the environmental and social impacts of the construction of the CRL are reduced to a minimum.

For instance, areas such as Balestier, eastern Toa Payoh and Serangoon Gardens are still not reached by MRT, but could potentially fall within a new alignment of the CRL.

A possible realignment of the CRL through these areas may benefit more commuters while averting the impact of construction on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

Dennis Chan Hoi Yim


What about running MRT line above ground?
Straits Times Forum 22 Feb 16;

So far, all the estimates and costs of the alignment of the upcoming Cross Island MRT Line centre on an underground line ("$2b extra cost if MRT line skirts reserve"; Feb 22).

How about a feasibility study of an above-ground line along Lornie Road? Minimal land acquisition would be required.

With creative planning, the Cross Island Line might even provide passengers with a window to nature whenever it travels along Lornie Road.


Tan Lee Kheng (Ms)


Potential gains for residents along skirting alignment
Straits Times Forum 25 Feb 16;

Losing one's cherished home is never easy ("Cross Island Line sparks residents' fears"; Sunday).

Residents living along the proposed alternative Cross Island Line alignment skirting the Central Catchment Nature Reserve have understandably raised concerns that they may lose their residence or suffer disturbance if the MRT line is rerouted through their estate.

Balancing the painful individual loss of some against the common gain of many requires sensitivity and careful consideration.

This issue raises questions about whether a comparatively limited group of residents should be able to decide what is in our national interest.

After all, Singapore's natural heritage and our green lungs belong to all Singaporeans, and not just to estate owners along the alternative skirting alignment.

In addition, we must ponder why we are concerned only about residents potentially affected along the skirting alignment.

What about other residents who may be affected along the entire length of the line?

The Land Transport Authority has extensive experience building MRT lines through populated areas over the years, and I trust it will apply its best efforts to minimise loss and impact.

Not everyone along the skirting alignment will need to be uprooted.

A fair segment of the line will pass through spaces that are unpopulated.

Considering that new MRT lines usually result in a 10 per cent to 15 per cent increase in housing prices, most residents along the skirting alignment could stand to gain, not just monetarily, but also in getting easy access to public transport.

Conserving our green umbrella, which is our last bastion to fight the serious impact of climate change, such as rising temperatures, is a priceless gain for now and the future.

Teresa Teo Guttensohn (Ms)

Related links
Love our MacRitchie Forest: walks, talks and petition. Also on facebook.

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