Singapore's Circle Line Next Step for a Network of Automatic Metros

Singapore Transit Plans

Project will be world’s longest driverless underground line when completed next year, and more lines will follow.

Yesterday, Singapore opened the first phase of its future Circle Line, which will ring the downtown core and provide easier connections among the city’s existing and future metro lines. Once completed in 2011, the circumferential route will have cost around $5 billion U.S. to construct and will run 33.3 km, making it the longest automated, fully underground rapid transit corridor in the world. The portion of the line opened yesterday, at 5.7 km, will connect the North-South (Red) and North East Lines (Purple). Singapore’s push to expand, starting with the Circle Line, will eventually double the city-state’s metro network with some of the most advanced public transportation technologies offered in the world and provide a model for other cities building such lines.

Singapore’s projects are constructed by the nation’s Land Transport Authority, which then leases out operations to two private operators. Since the country’s independence from Malaysia in 1965, it has proceeded with an ambitious urbanization scheme involving the construction of mass transit lines and large (banal) apartment housing estates. That process, in addition to an aggressive pursuit of foreign investment, has made the country the fourth wealthiest in the world by GDP per capita.

The government’s recent plans have focused on augmenting rail services, which already provide the vast majority of commutes, so that more can benefit from train service. Today, about two-thirds of transit riders rely on slower, less effective buses. Unlike the first two lines built — the red North-South line and the green East-West line, which are mostly elevated on concrete viaducts — the new projects are being constructed fully underground. As a result, they can be built with far less intrusion on the urban landscape and can operate less visibly in neighborhoods. In addition, tunneling the corridors makes full-scale automation more simple.

Indeed, the first product of this method of transit construction was the North East line, which opened in 2003. That project will be joined in 2011 by the full Circle Line, in 2016 by the Downtown Line, in 2018 by the Thomson Line, and finally in 2020 by the Eastern Region Line, doubling total metro route miles on the island to about 250 km, with an expected daily ridership of 4.6 million, slightly less than the population of the country. The Downtown and Circle Lines are currently under construction.

Singapore’s massive investment in new rapid transit is one element of the nation’s strong efforts to encourage public transportation use. Since 1975, the city has also operated a congestion charge downtown, a system that has been relatively effective in limiting automobile traffic even with the island’s increasing wealth and car ownership. In addition, the decision to build high-density, focused neighborhoods near transit stations has ensured that most people, even those far from the downtown core, aren’t isolated from the city’s urban life. The construction of more heavy rail lines will shore up missed connections.

7 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Singapore’s subway development is deeply overrated. The Circle Line will never form a complete circle; the full plan is for it to be a spiral. The Downtown Line will cross itself. Neither of the lines will provide relief to the overcrowded Orchard stop, serving the city’s main shopping intersection. And the existing lines rarely get you to where you want to go, which is why the government built light rail loops to shuttle people from their housing projects to the MRT. Often to get from point A to point B, you need to take a bus to the subway to another bus, all three of which will be overcrowded.

  • jon

    considering they didnt have any subway until about 20 years ago, I’d say its pretty remarkable what they have now and what they will have in the next 20 years.

    here in the US we are lucky if we can build a single light rail line in a timeframe of 15 years and yet singapore is building a huge underground rapid transit network in that same timeframe.

  • Ned

    Singapore’s MRT is a nice, clean, straight forward system. Though the number of new lines are a bit of overkill considering the population density of the island as compared to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

    The new Circle Line will actually be quite useful. I always am at meetings in the Suntec Centre and really hate the walk to City Hall MRT – especially in the tropical heat. It will be really nice when the new stations open there.

  • I went to college at NUS, and was intimately familiar with the crush-loaded 95 and 96 buses shuttling people from campus to Buona Vista and Clementi, the two nearest MRT stations. Buona Vista is located in front of an unwalkable office park; Clementi is located in between housing projects, with no significant retail or office space in sight. The new Kent Ridge station is going to be located on the outskirt of campus, rather than in its center or at least its main entrance.

    And Dhoby Ghaut, the transfer point between the North-South, Northeast, and now Circle Lines, is a minor mall located between open fields. Orchard and Somerset, which are closer to the main shopping and job centers, are not getting more service.

  • soo munwai

    @alan levy.
    Building the circle line and other lines are not overkill. It has been done precisely to ease congestion on the existing lines. Some of the passengers on the existing lines can get to the outer lying satellite towns by avoiding the downtown stations. Getting to Bishan directly from Bouna Vista is also faster by 14 mins, within 26 mins. It is also in line with the government’s plans to attract more foreign investment and immigrants.
    The transport infrastructure is far from and still too slowly developed. The mentality of many, including the government and foreigners, is that the population is too small. When Singapore’s population jumped to the current 5 million plus since 2006 due to the government’s liberal immigration policy, the government was cuaght off guard, resulting in the current bad situation of extremely overcrowded trains. You sometimes have to wait 3 trains later before you could get onboard during peak hours. It also resulted in great votes lost during the recent elections. The huge surplus immigrant population cannot be sustained with the current transport infrastructure and mindset about public transportation. Having learnt from their mistake, the government has even brought forward the timetable for completing construction of the future lines.

    • I’m not saying those lines are overkill – I’m just expressing skepticism over the government’s choice of where to build them. For example, it prefers building a new downtown in Marina Bay to serving the existing downtown more, leading to the awkward self-intersecting shape of the Downtown Line…

  • Hinn

    Hi alon actually it doesn’t really matter that circle line isn’t a circle…however I do agree that some stations on the line aren’t that well sited. I think part of the problem is that the main method of construction is cut and cover thus most of the time the tunnel route has to follow major roads. Dhoby ghaut is not a minor area at all, the government has quite major plans for that area hence it makes sense that there is a major interchange there. My main gripe about the mrt system is that trains do not come frequently enough. Also certain details such as the train stop signage hasn’t been very well designed. I agree with you it’s not the best train system out there , it’s overcrowded and the info systems are not well integrated between sbs transit and smrt, but I would have to disagree with you on the placement of stations, I think the station positions do make quite a lot of sense if one takes into account future developments in singapore

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