Thomson-East Coast MRT line may be extended to airport

Works for the East Coast stretch of the Thomson-East Coast Line were launched at a ground-breaking ceremony yesterday. If plans for an extension to Changi Airport materialise, there will be a direct train connection from the airport to the city.
Works for the East Coast stretch of the Thomson-East Coast Line were launched at a ground-breaking ceremony yesterday. If plans for an extension to Changi Airport materialise, there will be a direct train connection from the airport to the city.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) could be lengthened to provide a direct train link between the city and Changi Airport.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed yesterday that the Government is studying the feasibility of extending the 43km MRT line, which is expected to open in stages from 2019 to 2024.

"It would provide a direct connection from the airport to the city," said Mr Khaw during a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of works for the TEL's East Coast stretch. MRT commuters currently have to transfer to an airport shuttle service at Tanah Merah station on the East-West Line.

Plans to extend the TEL were considered by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) as far back as three years ago. If they materialise, the TEL will carry on from its last eastern stop at Sungei Bedok Station to the future Terminal 5 and to the existing Changi Airport MRT station that serves Terminals 1 to 3, and Terminal 4, which opens next year.

The LTA said that, if the extension is given the green light, it will come into operation "in tandem" with T5, which will be completed in the second half of the 2020s.

Studies will also look into linking the proposed 50km Cross-Island Line (CRL) with T5 and the new industrial zone serving the airport.

Mr Khaw said that this would complement the future high-speed rail (HSR) link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, as the CRL will be linked to the HSR's Jurong East terminus. A traveller could travel from KL Sentral all the way to Changi Airport using the HSR and MRT, and vice versa, he said.

On Tuesday, Singapore and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding for the 350km HSR, which will take commuters to Kuala Lumpur in 90 minutes when it is launched in 2026.

Mr Khaw, who also announced the start of construction for the East Coast Integrated Depot and the Downtown Line 3 extension to Sungei Bedok, said extending the TEL and CRL would allow commuters "to get from all parts of the island to the airport with no more than one transfer".

While construction of the 22-station, 30km Thomson stretch of the TEL is in full swing, yesterday's ground-breaking kicked off works for the East Coast segment, made up of nine stations.

The entire East Coast stretch is being built on reclaimed land, and this poses a challenge, said LTA group director for the TEL and CRL Ng Kee Nam. "Due to the extremely soft seabed underlying the reclaimed land", he explained, the earth-retaining walls will go underground to 60m - the height of 20 storeys - instead of the typical 25m.

Mr Ng said that a part of Tanjong Rhu station's tunnel will be built just 40cm above the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway tunnel. "We have to install steel sheet piles into the ground to retain the soil to ensure stability of both tunnels," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2016, with the headline 'Thomson-East Coast MRT line may be extended to airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe