High-speed rail: Experts tip Tuas West or Jurong East for end-point

A city terminal would give travellers convenient access to the business district, but cost and construction problems make that the least likely of three options for the end-point of a high-speed rail link with Malaysia.

That leaves Tuas West and Jurong East as fairly evenly matched areas to house the terminal, experts say. The former is close to the border with Malaysia and a cheaper alternative to connecting with the Central Business District. However, some feel Jurong East is shaping up to be a major regional centre that is not as costly and disruptive an option as the city centre, or as far-flung as industrial Tuas West.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had named the three locations as possible stops for the planned high-speed rail link with Kuala Lumpur.

Professor Lee Der Horng, a transport researcher from the National University of Singapore, said a terminal in Tuas West is an "intuitive" choice, as the planned line is likely to have a station in nearby Iskandar. There is also vacant land around Tuas Bus Terminal and it is more financially feasible because the line could run overground instead of under it.

Mr Khoo Hean Siang, former executive vice-president for trains at SMRT, also favours Tuas West for its lower cost and land availability. He said a viaduct could be built for the line to cross the Johor Strait.

Transport consultant Tham Chen Munn suggested Jurong East offers a happy medium. "It's developed well as a regional centre, with amenities already there," he said. "You don't look at Jurong as one end of Singapore, and there are enough modal choices to travel to other parts of Singapore."

He noted that people would flock to a shopping centre built above the station in Jurong East, but "if you put the same thing in Tuas, who's going to go there?"

However, Prof Lee said Jurong East is already quite built-up. An above-ground line would "separate" the western part of the island, while going underground will take longer and cost more to build. As for the long commute from Tuas West, he said the terminal could be linked via the upcoming Tuas West extension to the future Cross Island Line, which might have an express train option to save travel time.

However, Suntec Real Estate Consultants director Colin Tan still argued in favour of the city centre, saying it would be ideal for businessmen. He noted that travel time from Tuas West to the city will be significant - possibly close to an hour by train.

"If the station is in Jurong East or Tuas West, businessmen will have to spend additional time commuting to the city," he said. "Time is money for them."

Despite the convenience a city terminal would bring, engineering experts caution that it will be challenging to construct.

"It's always hard to go through the city centre," said Mr Lim Peng Hong, former president of the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore. "There are too many obstructions along the way and I don't see any space where you can do a viaduct."

Mr Khoo said the line would have to go deep underground, to avoid utility tunnels and MRT tunnels, which would raise costs.

One suggestion is to use the vacated rail corridor, but Mr Tham noted that the additional land needed may be an issue: "The corridor is narrow and quite dense, and many people are looking forward to a green corridor."

roysim@sph.com.sg