Rail interchange upgraded; transportation issue much wider than that

Ex-transport minister Raymond Lim may be a little rueful that on Friday, 27 May 2011, when the modification to the Jurong East metro station finally opens, he is out of office. This project was launched under his watch after complaints crashed on him about congestion at that interchange station. On some days, escalators were so jammed they had to be turned off for safety reasons. The average commuter at peak hour had to let 2 or 3 sardine-packed trains pass before he could squeeze himself into one.

Will things get noticeably better from May 27th? Living as I do on the western side of the city, I’d be interested to know. This especially as, from what I’ve seen and read, the “improvements” sound a little illogical.

The Straits Times reported earlier this week:

Next Friday, a new platform will open at the busy Jurong East MRT interchange.

The platform will allow five new trains to be deployed on the North-South and East-West Lines (NSEWL) that use the station.

Passenger load [erm… Straits Times, I think you meant ‘passenger capacity’] on the two lines during morning peak hours will increase by 8 per cent to 21 per cent, depending on which direction a train is heading, and crowding at the station will be reduced.

By December, an additional 17 new trains will join the five, bringing the total number of trains on the NSEWL to 128.

Once those 17 trains are added, the number of passengers that can be carried on the two lines will increase by 15 per cent during peak periods.

Waiting time for commuters will also be cut. During peak hours, they need wait two to three minutes for a train compared to the current 2.5 to four minutes.

The new platform and trains are part of the $800 million Jurong East Modification Project announced in 2008 to ease crowding and increase capacity of the NSEWL.

— Straits Times, 17 May 2011, Shorter wait for MRT trains

The “need wait two to three minutes” statement is misleading. That’s the time interval between trains. It is significantly longer if you have to let a few trains pass without being able to get on.

So what is it that appears illogical? Well, it’s like this: At the morning peak hour, the most popular travelling direction is from the residential suburbs towards downtown. That would mean hordes from Woodlands, Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Batok coming down the North-South Line (the red line) and changing to the East-West (green) Line heading to Clementi and downtown. The problem is that the green line by that point is often packed with commuters who had boarded at Pioneer and Jurong West. So those coming in via the red line, as well as those who live in Jurong East itself arriving on foot or by bus have difficulty boarding the green line, going east. That is provided they are not stuck unable to even get onto the escalators.

As far as I can see, the modification involved adding a new platform to accommodate more trains (and people) coming in via the red line:

That being the case, it looks like the main “improvement” has taken the form of  more capacity to the incoming line, not the outgoing line. In the diagram below, the result is represented by the thickness of the arrows:

Does that reduce congestion or increase congestion?

* * * * *

It’s probably not as simple as that. The Straits Times reported that additional trains would also be added to the green line, allowing the system to clear more people out of the interchange. But I recall reading some time back that due to limitations of the signalling design, the present frequency of trains on the green line, at peak hour, is already at the maximum. It said then that the system could not accommodate trains more frequently than two to two-and-a-half minutes apart.

I find the latest news about improvements puzzling. Nor does it even make sense when you think a little harder. If indeed they could squeeze an extra run or two within the limitations of the signalling system, why did they have to wait until the red line modification was complete? Being a matter restricted to green line capacity, couldn’t they have initiated it earlier?

Times like these, I wish our newspaper reporters knew to ask these searching questions of our officials.

Anyway, we shall see. Let’s monitor whether people feel any improvement at Jurong East after a week.

* * * * *

Saturday’s Straits Times article about transport was quite fair to Raymond Lim in pointing out that many of the problems were inherited by him from his predecessors. The lead time for transport infrastructure is a very long one, longer than even housing — it takes 10 – 12 years to design and build a metro line or road tunnel, for example — and the crisis that hit him was largely due to inaction by ministers before him.

Lim’s predecessors as Transport Minister were Mah Bow Tan (Minister for Communications 1991 – 1999) and Yeo Cheow Tong (1999 -2006).

In 1996, when Mr Mah Bow Tan was Communications Minister and handled transport issues, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) released a White Paper entitled A World Class Land Transport System.

One aim was to create a denser rail network, and the LTA committed to launching one major rail project a year.

In 1999, Mr Yeo Cheow Tong succeeded Mr Mah at the helm of the ministry, which was now known as Communications and Information Technology.

Though Mr Yeo tweaked development goals, such as extending rail line targets, ‘he didn’t really follow Mr Mah’s plan very well’, said Associate Professor Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore.

Transport economist Michael Li of the Nanyang Business School noted that Mr Yeo had focused more on developing the air transport sector, through open-skies agreements and developing demand for services at Singapore’s airport.

— Straits Times, 21 May 2011, Raymond Lim ‘inherited public transport woes’

Yeo’s term was also the one in which civil servants miscalculated the number of Certificates of Entitlement (CoE) that were in effect, and as a result issued far too many new ones, giving rise to vehicular congestion on the roads soon after Lim took office. Lim then had the unenviable task of squeezing the number of CoE’s available, leading to skyrocketing auction prices.

But beyond a change in leadership at the ministry in 1999, there might also have been a fall-off in confidence around the same time. After the Asian financial crisis cut a swathe through regional economies in 1997 – 1998 came the dotcom meltdown in 2001. Since then, Singapore’s economy has swung wildly from boom to bust. Every time a bust comes along, planners instinctively cut back on investment, either because of funding shortfalls or because they gauge that capacity may not be needed so soon.

‘After the 1996 White Paper was introduced, the Government became more reactive instead of proactive in urban transport development,’ [Michael Li, Nanyang Business School] said.

Some have said that the 2004 Nicoll Highway collapse during the construction of the Circle Line reinforced this cautious approach.

But a decade ago, transport planners may have also expected far slower growth in Singapore’s population.

In 2000, Mr Mah as the National Development Minister projected that the population could possibly rise from 3.9 million in 2000 to 5.5 million by 2040 or 2050.

By last year, however, Singapore’s population had already surpassed five million, largely because of a greater influx of foreigners over the decade.

— ibid.

The worries over economic performance perhaps also led to a decision to open the floodgates to immigration, in the hope that having more hands on deck would help keep the economy afloat. We know the strains that this move placed on public transport. This only shows how interlinked these problems are.

* * * * *

I recall that around twenty years back, planners had foreseen that transport would become a huge problem, as residential estates spread further and further out. There would be strongly uni-directional traffic flows at peak hours.

They said the smarter solution was to avoid having to move people around so much. People should live nearer where they work, rather than have to commute 60 – 90 minutes to work or college each morning (and back in the evening). When you think about it, it’s a no-brainer:  it’s a greener and more family-friendly solution.

However, since not enough flats could be built near the jobs downtown, then the jobs (and downtown) would have to move to where people lived. The plan, as sketched, was to create new downtowns in Jurong East, Tampines and Woodlands; that way too, people would head in different directions at peak hour, rebalancing the directional load on trains and buses.

As anyone who lives in Singapore will know, there are no downtowns in these regional centres. Instead we’ve spent loads of money building a new downtown in Marina Bay adjacent to the old downtown, further reinforcing the directionality of traffic, making for even less efficient use of infrastructure.

It’s time to get serious about implementing the master plan. As of now, the only effort being made is at Jurong East, though how long that will take, I don’t know.

It’s also time to rethink the sacred cow of home-ownership. The fact is, people switch jobs. Unless people can easily move to live closer to their new job, any hope of reducing commuter load will not be realised. As economists have known for eons, home ownership is a serious drag on residential mobility. Once committed to a huge purchase, it is very difficult to consider selling and moving. It gets impossible at certain times when prices dip below the historical purchase price of a home; who would want to sell at a loss? Therefore, a high ratio of renters in a population allows greater ease of matching people to jobs.

In any case, as I argued in an earlier article, everyone who is living in public housing today is deluding himself, thinking he “owns” his flat. He does not. What actually is happening is that he has paid 99 years’ rent in advance. In that case, if we’re actually renting anyway, why can’t we pay a month at a time? That allows people to move easily, enabling them a wider choice in the job market. People will naturally choose to live closer to their jobs, thus reducing commuter load.

* * * * *

As the above shows, solving our transport problem requires creativity and thinking out of the box. It is not enough to throw money at the problem, launching one project after another. For example, the Jurong East Interchange modification project cost S$800 million and took two years to build, but now that it is completed, will be operated only two hours each weekday morning to relieve the peak load. Around December, it may open for two or more hours in the evening to cope with the evening rush. In other words, nearly a billion dollars have been spent for a project with relatively low utilisation.

Surely we can do better. Surely we can go back to first principles in urban planning, in the economics of housing, and come up with a more wholistic solution.

53 Responses to “Rail interchange upgraded; transportation issue much wider than that”


  1. 1 Ivy 22 May 2011 at 12:00

    Great analysis. The answer to your rent question is simple. Because Singaporeans can’t pay rent with their cpf.

    • 2 yawningbread 22 May 2011 at 13:04

      Bingo! Spot on! Thank you for that beautiful sound bite. Indeed, I have also argued before that this entire home ownership scheme has the effect of transferring private savings into state savings in exchange for a piece of paper of diminishing term/value.

  2. 3 lamdana 22 May 2011 at 12:31

    Alex, you should be appointed Advisor to the Transport Ministry – with additional portfolios of course – following on the spirit of reformation!

  3. 4 Singaporean 22 May 2011 at 12:39

    Very good article, Alex.
    I can only hope that our local papers can publish such insightful pieces, rather than the pro-PAP fawning trash that they do now. Calling them journalists is an insult to the profession.

  4. 5 Heng-Cheong Leong 22 May 2011 at 13:08

    Some of the public transportation decisions made by Raymond Lim’s ministry:
    Not linking the Downtown Line directly to the North-South Line, but relying on the Bukit Panjang LRT for transfer;
    Using trains with smaller capacity for Circle Line and Downtown Line;
    Transferring bus route planning from private companies to the government.
    The impact of these decisions will surface by the next two election cycles.

  5. 6 K Das 22 May 2011 at 13:40

    Alex always has good ideas and excellent assessment of issues. His thoughtful comments on the limitations and failings of the modified Jurong East metro station is a case in point. He comes off as one born to crticise. I hope he would put his creative thoughts in writing and forward it to the relevant Ministry or government agency first and thereafter post them on his blogsite.

    I also fully agree that the ex-Transport Minister, Raymond Lim inherited many of the problems from his predecessors and the crisis that hit him was largely due to inaction by ministers before him. As far as I can gather, he is a man of intellect, honour, passion and idealism. He was formerly with a think tank, the name of which, I cannot recollect (Round table?) and I am sure he did not become a minister for power, perks and money. I am pretty sure he had fresh and novel ideas that were but subsumed by group think within the Cabinet and this could have hastened his desire to leave the Government.

    Let us not vilify good people needlessly. It is not fair to them.

    • 7 tk 23 May 2011 at 10:24

      K Das,

      Have you ever filled out a feedback form or written to a government agency?

      All you get back is a form letter saying ‘Thankyou for your feedback, we have looked into your query and nothing can/will be done. Please do not hesitate to contact us again.’

    • 8 Poker Player 24 May 2011 at 11:52

      “I hope he would put his creative thoughts in writing and forward it to the relevant Ministry or government agency first and thereafter post them on his blogsite.”

      These people are paid salaries to come up with solutions. They can’t launch a browser and go to his blog? There are many reasons why they behave so high and mighty – one of them is citizens who think it is OK.

  6. 9 Dan 22 May 2011 at 13:42

    All the hot air years ago about decemtralising the CBD was not acted on. Instead we have most commuters going the same direction on trains during the peak hours. Hopefully the full completion of the Circle Line will alleviate this problem but then again, the Circle Line was years behind schedule not withstanding the Nicoll Highway collapse. It’s quite a usual case of the various ministries not working closely and coordinating planning, acting on their own and suffocating public resorces. All this planning will not work if we still have lemmings like commuters route, probably just jump off the cliff at the end of your journey.

  7. 10 Rabbit 22 May 2011 at 14:24

    All the ministers may not be communicating or co-ordinating well among themselves. The next question is, what is the Prime Minister for? Every project has a leader and the leader should know what is forthcoming so that he can bring his team together to minimise problems caused by them. When you have a minister who said he is “surprised” by such outcome, and the PM claimed he did not expect such an impact on society and his father proclaimed to be forcaster. The whole team didn’t quite gel together and yet they probably can come together well in charting masterplan. Ironical issn’t it?

  8. 11 TWOG 22 May 2011 at 14:31

    Alex,

    I think the MOT and Raymond Lim may be unfairly blamed for all that went wrong with our transport system.

    This is from an insider, Donald Low’s article:

    “The same conclusion applies to our transport policies as well and in particular, the development of new MRT lines. Throughout the early 2000s, MOF routinely turned down requests from MOT and LTA to finance new rail lines. These decisions (many of which I was involved in) were made on the basis of the government’s recent experiences with the Northeast Line. Government had approved the NEL on the premise that there would be new, large public housing estates in Punggol and Sengkang. These projections were made during the fast growth years before the Asian crisis. But the late 1990s and early 2000s turned out to be much more sluggish economically than planners had expected. The formation of new households slowed, and the new estates of Punggol and Sengkang failed to take off as government had originally anticipated. This made the NEL less viable commercially. This experience led MOF to apply a large discount on the ridership projections from LTA/MOT in their subsequent rail proposals. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that this was an overreaction by MOF.”

    http://www.transitioning.org/2011/05/21/post-ge-what-went-wrong/

    • 12 Gard 22 May 2011 at 23:40

      Thank you for the link on Donald Low’s article. It was insightful. At the same time, the comment following up was equally telling:

      “Dear Mr. Donald Low,

      Are some of the views you held which were expressed in the article above formed after the GE results were known or before ? If some of those views had been formed even before the GE I wonder why you have not express it in the open before. I have often wonder in Singapore there are quite of number of people like you whom I consider as elites remain quiet most of the times. It can’t be everything our government says or do you people totally agree without even murmur a single word.” – KM Tang

      My comments would be, if what Mr Low has chosen to write them back in early 2000s, it would have been equally apt. The terms ‘knowledged based economy’ and ‘globalisation’ with its implications was already very much in the lingo of political leaders (Read Goh CT’s speeches then). I would be more interested to hear his comments/criticism on the Economic Strategies Committee 2009 proposals.

      As for the transport issue, I would argue that certain technological advances have lessened or will tend to lessen the commuter problem – if only employers are willing to take the step (and government is one big employer and enabler). Telecommunications and cloud computing allow people to ‘work away from work’; data mining gives individuals’ (including taxi drivers) information to make better travel decisions. But don’t count on the support of profit-making corporations for these initiatives.

      • 13 twasher 23 May 2011 at 01:08

        I do not know when Donald Low left the civil service. He would have been unwise to write something like that when he was still in the civil service, as it would be a breach of contract.

        I think this is a general phenomenon—the people in the best position to have enough access to information to offer a critique of the system that is heavily based on facts tend to be civil servants. But they are barred from expressing their views. So the blogosphere ends up being clogged with speculations and valiant attempts to extract conclusions from meagre statistics (like Leong Sze Hian does).

      • 14 patrick 24 May 2011 at 11:00

        very recently. as recently as end of last year he was still working in CSC. was surprised when he took to the pen publicly before I found out he’s already left the service.

  9. 15 George 22 May 2011 at 14:39

    You know what, the circle line is not going to solve problems very much. Take for example, the Buona Vista station – several huge blocks of apartments and commercial premises are going up right opposite the MOE. Many are nearing completion.

    No prize for guessing what the commuter traffic would be like when these projects are coincided to be completed with the completion of the circle line expected sometime in the second half of this year.

    The same may very well be happening in the vicinities of all the train stations in the rest of the Circle Line AND the Downtown Line! An immediate review of the URA Master Plan is not fast enough! Same old story of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Group think is inevitable under the old regime. Will it be much different with the ‘new’ cabinet?

  10. 16 sharn 22 May 2011 at 14:53

    >> But I recall reading some time back that due to limitations of the signalling design, the present frequency of trains on the green line, at peak hour, is already at the maximum. It said then that the system could not accommodate trains more frequently than two to two-and-a-half minutes apart. <<

    Maybe this tender will reduce the headway (time) between trains, to fit in those 17 trains? So seems that the 2-3 min between trains will only materialize in Dec 2011.
    http://www.lta.gov.sg/tender_info/notice/tenders_notice_mar11_1652anb.htm

    For now, at least there's more standing room!

  11. 17 bootlace 22 May 2011 at 15:38

    Has anyone considered having a hydrofoil ferry service that
    does a hook down n from Jurong to downtown?

    • 18 ymac 23 May 2011 at 12:07

      the idea of using water transport has been around since the first Concept Plan, conceived in the 1960’s. putting up a mass transit network and decentralization of the populace was also in the first Concept Plan.
      one reason why satellite towns like Tampines and the proposed Jurong-E are not magnets is they only put in the hardware and no software: there are no pubs, discos & other fun stuff in Tampines.

  12. 19 market2garden 22 May 2011 at 16:02

    A New North-West Line needed to address the congestion and in anticipation of 6.5 millions population.
    Areas –
    Chua Chu Kang .. Bukit Batok West .. Jurong Gateway .. Pandan Reservoir .. Portdown .. Purmei .. Shenton Way .. Marina Sourth
    In between, there could be routes to connect to existing stations of EWL and NSL.

  13. 20 yh 22 May 2011 at 16:28

    Alex,
    I think the extra platform helps in reducing the amount of time required for passengers to get onto the trains. Currently, trains are often held up before Jurong East station, waiting for passengers to get onto the trains ahead. Not sure how much it will help as frequency of the train is still bound by the upper limit you mentioned. Why couldn’t they just make the train longer? The length of trains need not be limited by the length of platforms.

    I’m not sure why the decentralization that we learnt about in Secondary School Social Studies did not actually take off. Now we have the ridiculous situation where old retired couples are living near the city while most young couples have to travel from Punggol, Sengkang and Jurong (where new flats are built) into the city every morning.

    Worryingly, each ministry seems to be operating independently from the others. Why are limitations of our transport system and public housing not considered when population was increased?

  14. 21 Robert L 22 May 2011 at 17:36

    YB is quite correct in saying that thinking out of the box is required rather than throwing more chunks of money at the problem and watch it grow even bigger. (Okay, I added those last 6 words.)

    For example, we can easily make it mandatory that all schoolchildren will be allocated (offered) a school within 1 or 2 kilometres from their home. This will immediately cut down the long transport time for those families who are not choosy in selecting schools. It will reduce the crush on the transport system.

    Best of all, it will have TWO most important associated impact.

    (1) Parents don’t have to worry over getting a place for their children. They don’t have to volunteer their time for school activities, or donate money to the schools (which is kind of a bribe really). It will promote childbearing.

    (2) Children will gain back valuable time in rest or recreation instead of lost in commuting.

    • 22 twasher 22 May 2011 at 19:13

      It’s not that simple. If you want to make that mandatory, then you have to ensure that there are enough schools in all the neighborhoods to satisfy the anticipated demand. For example, it means that all children living close to an elite school will be offered a place in that school. Seems that that would imply overwhelming demand for such schools. It would probably also lead to skyrocketing housing prices in that region. In the long term, this means that the people who live near such schools will be even more skewed towards the high income sector. This accentuates existing inequalities in our education system (c.f. the concentration of elite schools in the Bukit Timah area).

    • 23 William c 22 May 2011 at 19:23

      Totally agree in schooling pt. Remember, come 2016, all schools to be on mornings sessions. That is just another incoming storm if not handle well now.

      • 24 Whos afraid of the astroturfers? 23 May 2011 at 00:44

        Agree. The idea though with good intentions, is not quite workable. The current root cause is the explosive population growth that the current housing and transport infrastructure is unable to handle optimally. So, who’s to blame for this? I leave it to you to think about.

        My proposal would be to immediately curb the in-coming flow of FT as much as possible, even if its at the expense of temporary economic stagnation. Then the transport and housing load will ease off for awhile and perhaps the government will be able to use the bought-off time to properly plan and execute solutions to this BIG MESS!

    • 25 Robert L 23 May 2011 at 20:50

      This is in response to twasher’s comments.

      When we think out of the box, we need to break free from the status qou. The present status is that we have elite schools and bright students from all corners of the island commute to those schools. This also serves to perpetuate the stranglehold of the status of the elite schools – the elite schools remain elite because they get all the bright students.

      When we change the system, by guaranteeing a place within 1 or 2 kilometres of students’ homes, there will surely be bright students whose parents prefer to opt out of the race for elite schools. This will be especially true for those parents who take advantage of the easier environment to have more children in their family. When more bright children enter the neighbourhood schools near their homes, the standards of these schools will rise. A day will come when the distinction of the elite schools becomes blur, and this would not be a bad thing.

      Since in this alternative future, we have these bright students spending less time in commuting, we will also therefore see an overall increase in standards of our children’s performance.

      Of course, I’m not saying that the picture I’ve painted is so natural as to be certain to happen. I do suggest that it is a distinct possibility and it is up to us to make it happen. The question then becomes: do we want the existing elite schools to draw students from all corners of the island, or do we want the quality of neighbourhood schools to catch up so that students do not waste their time commuting?

      And so after we have stepped out of the box, we return and come back to our original target to reduce the congestion of the transport system without throwing ever more money at the problem.

      • 26 twasher 24 May 2011 at 01:36

        You seem to be assuming that ‘brightness’ is innate and not affected by choice of school. I beg to differ. Children who are sent to neighborhood schools that are currently disadvantaged in terms of resource allocation have a much lower chance of succeeding in the education system, compared to children who go to richer schools. Far from helping to level the playing field, your proposal will make the playing field more uneven to begin with. It will be even harder for families who are currently poor to break out of the poverty cycle because these families almost all live in areas that are served by schools with much fewer resources than the elite schools. Even if their children start out ‘bright’, if the rest of their classmates come from problematic backgrounds, there is a ceiling to how much they can learn, because teachers have to go at a pace that suits the majority of the class. Not to mention other factors like quality of teachers, availability of enrichment programmes, etc. Your scheme would work only if all schools start out with the same resources and same student demographics. They do not.

      • 27 twasher 24 May 2011 at 01:42

        By the way, it is true that at the secondary level onwards admissions is determined by grades. But this is not so at the primary level. At the primary level, a poor family can still submit a ballot to an elite school and their child will have as good a chance of getting in as any other family living the same distance from the school. Your scheme will essentially guarantee that starting from the primary level, the elite schools will get a disproportionate share of rich students. They already do because of the balloting system that favours students who live in the neighborhood, and your scheme is just an exaggeration of that. The number of poor families who live within 2km of RGPS (for example) is miniscule.

  15. 28 WeiHan 22 May 2011 at 19:49

    The difference between renting a flat and owning one is that when price of flat goes up, the one owning flat will be benefited (well..in a way..of course people will argue that he can’t sell etc…) while the one renting flat will not and may even have to bear the cost of rising renting cost.

    Actually for the Woodland-CCK-JE line, in the evening, alot of people get off at CCK after boarding at JE. They need to get down into the details of what is happening to soothe some of this problem. A frequent direct bus staright from JE interchange to CCK interchange may encourage alot of people to switch to this bus route instead of squeezing the train. BUT…the key point is that the bus need to be DIRECT from JE to CCK and it needs to be FREQUENT.

    • 29 calos 22 May 2011 at 20:57

      “The difference between renting a flat and owning one is that when price of flat goes up, the one owning flat will be benefited (well..in a way..of course people will argue that he can’t sell etc…) while the one renting flat will not and may even have to bear the cost of rising renting cost.”

      The distribution of the total social product is ultimately a political question. Much of the discussion is otherwise ideological smoke and mirrors. A first step towards nullifying one aspect of your “difference” might be a heavy and decisive increase in the tax on capital gains. As for rentals, with the state as landlord for all HDB units rents could be determined by considerations of economic justice and efficient planning – rather than the travesty of both which occurs under the PAP’s cult of trickle-down property-owning neo-liberalism.

  16. 30 skeptic 22 May 2011 at 20:30

    27th May is also the start of the June school holidays. Of course the human jam will be noticeably lesser. What good timing for the public servants in charge.

  17. 31 CLass 22 May 2011 at 21:20

    ST reporters are press release and press conference hacks. They lap up everything given to them. They have come through a “spoon fed” education system and expect to remain spoon fed upon joining the workforce.

    I’m sure that you’ve been at government agency press conferences, where if someone (usually not from the mainstream media) asks something that is a little more probing than the typical so-how-long-did-the-project-take-to-complete question, eyes start to roll. These reporters are unthinking, unquestioning and uncritical, and everyone, from their employers to government agencies, prefer they stay that way.

    The result is the kind of garbled junk that appears in the first ST extract (and in many reports all through the year) above. I read this report on the Jurong East station upgrading earlier in the week and was wondering what these idiots were on about; having (like you) read reports not long ago about signalling issues — which directly affect train frequencies — that would take a few more years (and billions (I stand to be corrected on this figure) extra in investment) to complete.

    It truly is an odious state of affairs.

    That said, great analysis and insight Alex.

  18. 32 claren e 22 May 2011 at 22:35

    But I can’t see myself and my family moving around when I change jobs…..

    • 33 yawningbread 22 May 2011 at 22:54

      While you may not, but others may. Also, are you seeing it from the perspective of “owning” your flat? What if you tried imagining that you only rented your home, would you feel so attached to it?

      Policies should be built around objectively observable social behaviour and the relatively readiness of renters to pull up and go somewhere else is well-documented.

      • 34 azureoct 24 May 2011 at 23:32

        but how will it work out if, for e.g., I work in Changi and my hubby works in Jurong?

  19. 35 wikigam 22 May 2011 at 23:02

    1) it is another ” Bottle Neck” for Jurong East Interchnages.

    2) LTA should speed up to finisih Circle Line at first.

    3) Incorrect sequence of building the MRT trains. Currently building downtown MRT link from Bukit Panjang to Rochor , Bugis to chinatown and river vally to expo . The downtown links should schedule to build after North-East link from woodland to tampines .So resident from woodland to yishun can by pass city hall to tampanis.

    • 36 sieteocho 23 May 2011 at 08:33

      Why not take the Seletar / Tampines expressway between Yishun and Tampines? In any case for MRT you already have the circle line and you don’t have to go through city hall. Just use circle line. Yishun – Bishan – Paya Lebar – Tampines.

  20. 37 Ben 22 May 2011 at 23:19

    Hi Alex,

    The purpose of JEMP is to alleviate overcrowding at the station by providing a platform for northbound train passengers to clear the platform faster. You are right that bulk of the passengers are going towards city. The other purpose is to shorten the traveling time for passengers on the southbound train. The improvement to waiting time and passenger capacity of east west line can only occur when more trains are added to during peak hr. And this will have to wait till december.

    • 38 yawningbread 23 May 2011 at 00:36

      You sound authoritative, so what’s your source?

      But it begs more questions: If the objective is so small (relieve overcrowding on platform) why spend $800 million? The amount can buy us 800 double-decker buses. If we had maybe 100 – 200 of them running express services, wouldn’t they do the job just as well?

      • 39 Chee Ken Wing 23 May 2011 at 03:43

        YB, Ben is just repeating what is already public information. I did a search on the JEMP and LTA clearly indicated the purpose of the additional platform as early as 2008. See this press release: http://app.lta.gov.sg/corp_press_content.asp?start=1964

        Having an additional platform is critical to speeding up the turnaround time for trains. It works hand in hand with an upgrade of the signalling system. The current signalling system needs to be upgraded and supported with additional platforms at the end of each line to reduce the turnaround times.

        That’s why it is “worth” paying $800 mil for an additional platform at Jurong East, and not say at Woodlands or Marsiling. Trains need time to turn around at each end of the line, which affects waiting time throughout the line. There are other stations where trains can turn around too (I think Yishun is one), but Jurong East is by far the most natural of them all.

        Fyi in case you’re wondering, I’m not an authoritative source either. I just happen to know authoritative sources. I like the way you analyzed this piece of news since it obviously has a PR spin to it that masked the fact that there won’t be any marked improvement until the additional trains are introduced to the network.

      • 40 sieteocho 23 May 2011 at 08:23

        The objective is not small. It was mentioned previously that Jurong East is the bottleneck of the entire NS line. You can’t have trains arriving at the NS line in 1 minute intervals because of Jurong East.

        The whole point of relieving the overcrowdedness on the platform is so that trains can move out of Jurong East at a faster rate, so that we can have trains on the north south line arriving at a higher frequency. We are talking about increasing the capacity of the north south line, which is easily 1/3 of the whole MRT. $800M to increase the capacity of a $???B system is not too bad.

        Increasing the number of buses on the roads is helpful but people take the MRT because everybody knows it’s faster than the bus. So it’s not as though those people will take the bus instead. Plus your analysis did not include the running and fuel costs of the buses. Which is substantial.

        That said, the quality of reporting in the Straits Times article is really abysmal.

      • 41 Yixin 23 May 2011 at 11:18

        Just a note on language – despite not being a prescriptivist, I find the the usage of the phrase “begs the question(s)” jarring, given its roots in logic.

        Wikipedia provides some context (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question), although the online Economist style guide is more trenchant (http://www.economist.com/research/styleGuide/index.cfm?page=673903).

      • 42 Ben 23 May 2011 at 12:01

        Hi Alex,

        I am not an authority on this issue, neither am I working in the government sector. I am involve in some of the civil contracts as a private sector consultant.

        It is simplistic to argue that $800M can buy 800 double-decker buses to get your point across. I would like to highlight some points for your consideration below:

        1) Overcrowding is a very serious problem on the Jurong East MRT Interchange. I can say that some commuters would have been pushed onto the tracks if not for the installation of platform screen doors.
        2) Bus transfers can only be a stop-gap measure in this case since few commuters would want the additional hassle of using a bus service to bridge over NS and EW lines. How many people would want to inconvenient themselves by alighting at Bukit Batok Station to take a bus to Clementi Station and continue their MRT journey even if the bus service is free?
        3) Long term operating and environmental cost is definitely lower if we can make full use of the Rapid Transit System.

        Proper planning must be in place to avoid having to upgrade existing infrastructure since it is definitely going to cost more than to build a completely new one. One such example is the provision of Punggol MRT station to become a future interchange. Having said that, there are also many instances where the government failed to plan ahead.

        Public transport infrastructure always need to be planned ahead of population growth to avoid costly upgradings. Upgrading works are always costly because:

        1) Design and construction of new structures must not compromise existing ones.
        2) Construction of new structures must not affect existing traffic flow.
        3) Safety of general public must not be compromised.

    • 43 Whos afraid of the astroturfers? 23 May 2011 at 00:52

      Stupid people at the top made stupid decisions and didn’t mind even if its 1 billion dollars. We’ve got lots of money to spare anyway. They CAN’T think out of the box because they are too used to living in the box. Oh wait, maybe its because these decision makers have cobwebs for brains instead?

  21. 44 Gazebo 22 May 2011 at 23:36

    i think the problem’s root lies in the PAP’s steadfast refusal to invest in the nation. instead they subject everything to pure financial analysis. NPV. IRR. in the end, we will always be left with the easiest and least risky solution, which may not always work in the long run. this is the classic Goh Keng Swee mentality which still continues to plagues the entire PAP. he who infamously did not even want to build the MRT system!

    i think it is ironic that the PAP lovers’ favorite line is that PAP always implement long term policies. i think quite on the contrary, they always implement short term policies, and then just keep patching them if problems occur in the future. they choose to not invest in the people, but rather keep piling on the reserves, and rub their hands in gleeful secrecy.

    the transport system reflects this woeful attitude of the ruling party. we must put a stop to this. stop treating investment in the nation and its people as wasteful and irresponsible. it isn’t. investing in lehman brothers mini-bonds is irresponsible. building a world class, non patch work, transportation system isn’t.

    • 45 twasher 23 May 2011 at 01:01

      I agree. Goh Keng Swee also introduced streaming in order to ‘save costs’, ignoring the huge opportunity costs in prematurely condemning people who would otherwise be late bloomers.

      They act like businesses with respect to long-term investments. It’s well known that private firms will tend to under-invest in risky long-term ventures like research in the pure sciences, which is why governments tend to step in to provide funding for less applied research. The problem is that the government wants research (and education, transport etc.) to fulfill short-term KPIs just like businesses want their research ventures to produce short-term profits. So MTI for example got impatient with AStar after less than a decade of heavily investing in it, and recently changed the funding model to focus more on the applied side. Which is defeating the purpose of government funding, since the whole idea behind long-term projects like research is that the private sector under-invests in them. There is no need to provide additional funding for the kind of research that has obvious short-term returns. And it’s just unreasonable to expect substantial financial profits from research in the basic sciences within a decade of starting out from almost nothing.

  22. 46 Daniel 23 May 2011 at 09:32

    I have seen in other cities where passengers alight on one side of the train and other passengers board on the other side after a slight interval. Quite simple and ingenious solution to the slow alighting and boarding procedure we see here. But I am very sure our transport experts will not throw in more money to shave off maybe 10 seconds of time. Just squeeze the peasants in, it is just whether they want to board the train or not, sounds familiar?

  23. 47 Chow 23 May 2011 at 10:07

    I would think that the main purpose of the platform extension is to alleviate the overcrowding. It’s as others and Alex have put it: signalling will still not allow for trains to pull in at other stations any faster as they still have only one platform. What it means is probably that more passengers can board the trains on various platforms and these trains would either wait their till cleared to depart or move at a reduced speed till the signaling issue is resolved.

  24. 48 david teo 23 May 2011 at 11:26

    I think you’ve hit the mother load here!

    It is Urban Planning and not really transportation which is the problem. Most people in other countries think we have a really good system, which i do not disagree with. However, I do think Singapore has to observe and maybe pick some alternative models of transport, such as bicycles lanes and alternative routes like a Public Transport Corridors(re-use of the train line would be good).

    My sentiments exactly. Instead of urbanising the regional downtown areas, Marina Bay was developed. Obviously with the Increased amount of HDB going up in these areas to New Citizens, Grid-Lock and Packed trains are going to be the norm.

    The problem with Singapore is that it sticks to this Image of City centre to draw in tourists and financial instituitions. Skyline which is advertised in every tourism brochure has to be dynamic and impressive. Its just very superficial, of course they can’t show it. Our towns lack interest, with the monotonous modern residential blocks and shopping mall developments. We have very dense neighbourhoods, however in this neighbourhoods, the street edge is non-interactive.

    However i wonder, if development changes by taking on a more urban traditional neighbourhood concept by focusing on commercial regional development, whether the city as
    a whole will take on a fresh image.

    One which speaks of a city full of pedestrianised and cycling friendly towns with multi-connections instead of just unilateral traffic. It might just ease alot of tension that goes on in our everyday lives.

  25. 49 yawningbread 23 May 2011 at 12:29

    Sieteocho wrote (23 May, 08:23): “We are talking about increasing the capacity of the north south line,”

    That sounds more logical. Which means the main beneficiaries will be those at Yishun and Ang Mo Kio, other stations that are now congested.

    It also means there is a small PR disaster in the making. The LTA and the newspaper reports keep focussing on the modification relieving congestion at Jurong East, when it may do so only marginally. Raising expectations for the minor beneficiaries, and saying nothing about the major beneficiaries — that’s one hell of a way to win hearts!

  26. 50 Maybe 23 May 2011 at 18:38

    I thought it might have been possible to build a third track on the EW line, and use it for express services during the peak hours. Stopping only at the important stations – Jurong East, Clementi, Tiong Bahru, Tanjong Pagar, Raffles Place etc.

    But that would probably be too difficult given the current infrastructure.

  27. 51 Raymond 24 May 2011 at 20:55

    Hi Alex,

    I read your article with interest. What I felt with regards to the JE upgrade is a classic example of bottleneck – too many people meeting at the same point. As you had mentioned, having that additional line is unlikely to help.

    It goes the same for building more MRT lines. After the circle line was opened, it got faster to travel from point A to point B in general. But on crunch periods, Paya Lebar became the bottleneck point (commuters taking train from 8-830am on weekdays on the east side found it hard to take the train from Bedok to Eunos).

    It’s time for Singapore to think out of the box on the transport problem. I would think that the solutions to our transport problems lie outside of the transport system itself. E.g., Having mobility as you have mentioned, reducing the foreign intake, rewarding companies for staggered working hours (instead of 8-9am starting timings) could facilitate the crunch. I have my doubts whether our Ministers are willing to innovate and take such political risks to push such potential solutions though.

  28. 52 Wee Fook Oon 24 May 2011 at 22:48

    Hi Alex

    A very insightful and comprehensive analysis. Looking forward to more of such from you. A long term holistic and multi-ministerial approach to urban planning is needed.

  29. 53 normalsing 24 August 2011 at 13:49

    Alex,

    Good time for you to revisit your assertions in the articles here now that the line is in operation for a while. I will like to see what you see in reality now and how it operates considering that it works slightly different from what you envisioned.


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