SINGAPORE: The Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link moved a step closer to reality as work on the Singapore station of the rail link began on Friday (Jan 22).
The RTS Link Woodlands North station would be constructed underground at a maximum depth of 28m, with an underground link to the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) building, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Together, the facilities will be about 10 times the size of a typical MRT station, said LTA.
They will be connected via an underground concourse to the existing Woodlands North station on the Thomson-East Coast MRT line.
RTS Link tunnels will be connected to a viaduct running 25m above the Straits of Johor, connecting the Woodlands North station to the Bukit Chagar station in Johor Bahru.
The project had originally been scheduled for completion in 2024, with the Malaysia and Singapore governments signing a bilateral agreement to build the link in 2018.
However the project was suspended a number of times after the Pakatan Harapan government came to power in Malaysia later that year.
The project officially resumed in July last year, with a bilateral ceremony to mark the occasion held on the Causeway. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Muhyiddin Yassin were both in attendance.
Several changes to initial plans were made, including that the RTS Link would use light rail transit (LRT), instead of sharing trains and other systems with the TEL.
In November Japanese firm Penta-Ocean Construction was awarded a S$932.8 million contract to build the Woodlands North station, tunnels and CIQ building in Singapore.
A second civil contract for the viaduct is expected to be awarded in the first quarter of this year.
Malaysia began construction work on the rail link - which will replace the existing KTM shuttle train service - in November last year.
The project is estimated to cost RM10 billion (S$3.25 billion), with Singapore bearing 61 per cent of the cost.
Speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for the upcoming Woodlands station, Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung said the 4km link would offer significant economic and social benefits.
He expressed confidence that the project would be completed on time, by end-2026.
Mr Ong said the RTS Link would offer an "attractive alternative" to the Causeway - which, before the COVID-19 crisis, was one of the busiest land border crossings in the world with more than 300,000 crossings per day.
"With a capacity of up to 10,000 commuters per hour per direction, the RTS Link can potentially shift thousands of motorcycles and cars off the Causeway, while providing a faster and more comfortable commute," he said.
The CIQ facilities for both countries would also be co-located at both the Woodlands North and Bukit Chagar stations, meaning commuters can clear immigration for both countries at the point departure, without having to do so again upon arrival, he noted.
The expansion of the TEL would connect the RTS Link to the city centre and other parts of the island, said Mr Ong, adding that there would "eventually" be a transport hub connected to both the Woodlands North RTS Link and TEL stations.
Such transport connections would support plans to transform Woodlands into a "key growth hub" in the North of Singapore, similar to Tampines in the East and Jurong in the West, he said.
The Woodlands Regional Centre would have 700,000sqm of new commercial space and more than 100ha of land for development, he added.
"In the coming years, Woodlands will be revamped, revitalised and rejuvenated. There will be a new buzz here ... and the RTS Link when operational will serve as a key gateway to all these exciting developments," said Mr Ong.
Ground conditions for the new station are expected to be challenging due to the presence of granite, part of the Bukit Timah Formation, said the LTA.
As such, construction would involve the use of high-capacity drilling machines, extended piling works and rock demolition during excavation works, it explained.
"As construction activities will take place near an operational MRT station and live utilities, these activities will be carefully managed to minimise impact to the general public and ensure the structural safety of the surrounding infrastructure," said the LTA.