SINGAPORE: Six years after construction began, the first stretch of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) will open by end of January next year.
This stretch comprises three stations in the north of Singapore - Woodlands North, Woodlands and Woodlands South.
Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan announced this on Thursday (Sep 19) during a visit to the Mandai Depot, which will house the trains for the upcoming line.
He added the opening is likely to be in time for Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan 25 and 26 next year.
The opening of the first section was originally scheduled for the end of 2019, but was delayed to allow more time for testing of the various systems on the line.
The nine trains for the first stage - manufactured in China by a consortium of Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries and China's CSR Qingdao Sifang - are being tested and commissioned, Mr Khaw said.
The line's signalling system, developed by French firm Alstom, has been installed and is also currently being tested.
Full testing of systems on the TEL - Singapore's sixth MRT line - will be carried out during this year's December school holidays, said Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.
He added: "We will also use December to organise station and train visits for the local residents who have put up with construction all these years, to thank them."
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Mr Khaw noted the first few days of travel on the TEL will be free, to allow commuters to familiarise themselves with the stations and the interchange to the North-South Line at the Woodlands station.
The 43km-long TEL is expected to be ready in 2024, and will have 32 stations when completed. The line will be operated by SMRT.
A COMPLICATED PROJECT
Mr Khaw said the construction of the fully-underground TEL was a "complicated project", which required tunneling through different rock and soil conditions.
The construction of the Woodlands North station was particularly challenging, he added, noting excavation works required the detonation of more than 100,000 cubic metres of granite - the equivalent of 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
This was achieved using electronic detonators, which allowed the detonation to be carried out safely and quietly, without disturbing students and staff at the nearby Republic Polytechnic.
Meanwhile the rest of the TEL is at various stages of completion.
The six stations making up the second phase, stretching from Springleaf to Caldecott, are about 90 per cent done, with structural work for the stations and tunnels completed.
The third phase - comprising 13 stations from Mount Pleasant to Gardens by the Bay - are about three-quarters completed.
The fourth and fifth stages meanwhile are about 50 per cent and 35 per cent completed respectively.
COSTS OF RAIL INVESTMENT
MRT stations today are better designed, with more thought put into convenience for commuters, such as the provision of entrance and exit points, he said, though he added this has come at a cost.
Comparing the cost of building an MRT station today versus three decades ago - when the North-South and East-West lines were built - Mr Khaw said the difference in costs was like "chalk and cheese", adding these costs must be justified by the benefits they afford to commuters.
He noted the greater emphasis on rail maintenance has resulted in enhanced rail reliability across Singapore's rail network, with the North-South Line now clocking 1.4 million km between delays of more than five minutes.
In 2015, the NSL only managed to hit 121,000km between such delays.
Mr Khaw noted construction of the 43km long TEL began in 2013 under his predecessor, former Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, and will only be completed in 2024, when someone else is likely to helm the Transport Ministry.
This, he said, was an example of the long-term planning and infrastructure investment for future generations by the authorities.
"Even as I speak, we have already started the work for our seventh line – the Jurong Region Line – and the eighth line – the Cross Island Line," he added, noting the expansion of Singapore's rail network means 64 per cent of all households here are now a 10-minute walk away from a train station.
Mr Khaw said he was confident the target of having 80 per cent of households within a 10-minute walk of a station - set by Mr Lui six years ago - could be met by the target date of 2030.