SINGAPORE: A central stretch of the Rail Corridor officially reopened on Monday (Mar 22), featuring restored landmark bridges and elements such as new entry points and a pedestrian underpass.
The enhancement works along the 4km stretch – which runs between Hillview and King Albert Park MRT stations on the Downtown Line – make the area more inclusive and accessible, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and National Parks Board (NParks) in a media release.
It is part of the 24km-long Rail Corridor, a former railway line that runs from Woodlands in the north to Tanjong Pagar in the south.
Enhancement works for the section began in 2019, while public consultations on land use began as early as 2011 after Malaysia returned the land to Singapore.
BETTER ACCESSIBILITY AND INCLUSIVITY
Speaking at an event to mark the reopening, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said authorities crafted plans for the area after thoroughly studying feedback.
He noted that some people had expressed concerns about making their way “across uneven slopes, informal paths and overgrown vegetation” to get to the corridor.
“Some also commented that after heavy downpours, certain stretches would become muddy and waterlogged,” he said.
To improve this, there are now eight new or improved entry points along the stretch.
One such entry point is the Upper Bukit Timah Truss Bridge near Rail Mall. Visitors used to have to climb a “badly eroded slope” there to reach the Rail Corridor, said URA and NParks in the release.
This has been replaced with concrete steps that resemble timber sleepers on rail tracks.
Three of the points also provide barrier-free access for families with prams and wheelchair users. They are near Bukit Drive, near Jalan Anak Bukit and Mayfair Park Estate, and near the Bukit Timah Railway Station.
In addition, trails have been strengthened with new materials and finishes.
For example, a grass and gravel finish is used in certain areas, making paths more durable while maintaining a rustic look. The paths are also sloped so rainwater can drain to the sides.
In more urban areas where residents tend to enter the Rail Corridor, the trail is finished with an earth-coloured porous material.
It allows rainwater to quickly seep into the ground, eliminating the need for drains nearby, while creating “safe and comfortable access” for different users, the release said.
Following public feedback, a 3.6m-wide pedestrian underpass was also created next to Hindhede Drive.
This enhances safety for pedestrians, who used to have to share the road with motorists.
The four bridges within the Rail Corridor (Central) – including two iconic conserved truss bridges at Upper Bukit Timah Road and Bukit Timah Road – were also restored and refurbished.
Repairing the bridges’ steel decks meant having to carefully remove and reinstall the tracks’ components. Works also involved removing old rust and paint, adding new protective layers and sealing gaps, among others.
To make these bridges safer, railings were also introduced.
In addition, ballast stones on the ground were re-laid to form a flat, even path on both sides of the tracks, making it more accessible for cyclists, wheelchair users or families with prams.
During a media preview, CNA observed a handful of cyclists crossing these bridges with ease.
The paths also look very similar to what they were before – which was the goal, said Mr Dennis Tan, a senior architect from URA.
“It is important, as we develop the Rail Corridor … that we also don’t change the look, feel and character of (it),” he said.
STRENGTHENING ECOLOGICAL CONNECTIVITY
Mr Lee added that the authorities want the Rail Corridor to serve as a corridor that connects adjacent green spaces.
Specifically, the Rail Corridor (Central) is near several other green spaces, such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Dairy Farm Nature Park and Bukit Batok Nature Park.
“In Singapore, there are many roads that intersect a lot of forested areas. The Rail Corridor is one stretch that has very little intersections and wildlife can move from one place to another place safely,” said Ms Sharon Chan, director of the Central Nature Reserve at NParks.
To “rewild” this part of the corridor, about 1,600 native trees have been planted in this section, the agencies said.
Restoring this belt of native forest will in turn provide “an important passage, habitat and source of food for Singapore’s native fauna”, they added.
To minimise disturbance to animals’ nocturnal rhythms, there is no night lighting along the trail. Instead, there are reflector poles that double up as distance markers for users.
MORE SECTIONS TO BE COMPLETED
Nature enthusiasts can look forward to more enhanced sections of the corridor in the coming years.
Parts of the trail along Rail Corridor (South), which are undergoing improvement works, are slated to reopen by the end of this month.
This will provide the public with a continuous trail from Rail Mall to Spooner Road.
Improvement works along Rail Corridor (North) – from Hillview to Woodlands Road – will start later this year, and are due to be completed by 2022, the agencies said.
Restoration works on the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station and the Railway Station Staff Quarters will also be completed in 2022.
These will be reopened as a heritage gallery and food and beverage space, said Mr Lee, adding that there will be opportunities for Singaporeans to be involved in shaping these spaces.
He added that when the Rail Corridor is completed, it will provide Singaporeans with a seamless, connected corridor that will be part of the islandwide network of recreational routes.
“(These routes) will connect communities and bring about a sense of space many times beyond our small island-city state,” he said.