SINGAPORE: Singapore already has an extensive rail network underground to transport people, but now it hopes to dig deep into its subterranean spaces to move goods.
JTC Corporation has called a tender for feasibility studies. It is asking for at least three tunnel alignments to link the future mega-container port in Tuas to the industrial estates at Tanjong Kling, Jurong West and Gali Batu. This includes looking at the depth, space allocation and maintenance.
The project - a first for Singapore - is expected to facilitate the movement of goods from point to point without relying on roads, therefore potentially relieving traffic congestion.
Assistant Professor Walter Theseira, transport economist at the Nanyang Technological University, said: “They want to move as much as possible underground, where the trucks are not competing for regular road spaces with buses and car drivers and so on.
"When you have a lot of heavy vehicles on regular roads, they add a lot to congestion, but they also pose some safety concerns. These are why if we can use something to help reduce the traffic load, that will be a good thing.”
The move is expected to optimise use of surface land for industrial purposes and other supporting facilities. Experts believe the underground goods movement system will be automated, with conveyor belts and self-driving cars being possible options. They said Singapore is ready for such a system given its experience in tunnelling work.
Said Prof Theseira: “If you look at the tender proposal, the term that the tender uses is a goods movers system, that's a clue that they might also be considering a system which is also being proposed by several European countries - that's basically an automated tunnel system where goods can be transferred from point to point without human intervention or people driving the vehicle, for example."
Mr Chong Kee Sen, president of The Institution of Engineers, said the system is “environmentally clean”, in the sense that “it minimises the environmental impact when you transport things on surface ground”.
He said: “Depending on the feasibility studies and the studies of the various consultants, it could be a mechanised system - not really a system where drivers are driving trucks underneath. It could be a train system where goods are being brought from one place to another place.
“In the Jurong area, we probably have relatively better soil conditions but you might still encounter soft spot or soft clay in the way so you probably have to be careful - like all tunnelling projects - you have to manage those.”
Besides the tunnel, there are also plans to construct another cavern in Jurong - this time, in Jurong West. Factors being considered include the ventilation system for the underground facility and the industries that can be housed there.
“Presently we are using these caverns for storage - like for Jurong island caverns, we store petrochemical products or oil, but this particular one in Jurong West and even Tanjong Kling will also most likely be for warehousing use,” said Mr Chong.
Mr Chong added: “In caverns, you have to go into quite a deep depth and then you are actually making a cavity within the rock mass, so the first concern and challenge is ensuring that you have a cavity that is structurally safe. And the other thing, of course, will be the infiltration of water into the cavity as it is - so these are the main significant challenges in terms of having caverns.”
The tender for the entire project closes on Jun 12, 2015.