Old MRT train seats get new lease of life at Yishun void decks

Stripped from old MRT trains, 20 seats have been placed around the neighbourhood, providing extra spots to rest. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
The chairs are located at Nee Soon Town Council, Block 290, Yishun Street 22. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Walking around Yishun, one can come across green, red or blue chairs that evoke familiar memories but seem out of place at first glance. Stripped from old MRT trains, 20 seats have been placed around the neighbourhood, providing extra spots for residents to rest.

The project is one of the first community uses that public trains past their shelf life have been put to, in a tie-up between Nee Soon Town Council and the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The 10 sets of two-seater train seats and system maps give the Housing Board void decks a different flavour, recycling materials that would otherwise have been sent to the junkyard.

The move also gives a new lease of life to Singapore's old trains, which some believe are now an important part of the country's history. The first MRT trains started services on Nov 7, 1987.

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng attended the event at Nee Soon Town Council in Yishun on Saturday (March 26), where he unveiled and installed a set of MRT seats.

He said: "Finding new ways of using old items is a great way to save the environment. These new upcycled seats are a practical and eye-catching addition to our neighbourhoods."

Human resource administrator Chelvi, who goes by one name, is proud that her town council is the first to launch such an initiative in the heartland.

She said: "I was excited to sit on the seats when the MRT first started, and now that they are in the heartland, it brings back childhood memories. I hope more seats can be placed in communal areas so everyone can gather and relive good memories."

"This initiative also gives us ideas at home - we can recycle more and do some do-it-yourself projects," the 52-year-old Nee Soon East resident added.

Another Nee Soon East resident, Mr Ge Ge, 39, an electrical engineer, said: "Recycling is important. We have only one Earth, and with more waste, we must conserve our environment for future generations."

"Keeping our world clean and green consists of big and small actions, and everyone has a part to play," he added.

Finding a new home for old trains is not easy. So far, only a very small proportion of the 106 MRT trains, which served on the North-South and East-West lines, and another 19 LRT trains - on the Bukit Panjang LRT line - have found new homes.

The chief issue is their size, which makes it difficult for heritage institutions to take them in. Their old condition also makes it expensive to renovate.

Transforming old MRT seats into community chairs in Yishun Street 22. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Discussions between the National Heritage Board and LTA are ongoing, and the board will provide updates when details are available.

There is currently no MRT museum in Singapore, making logistics for display and upkeep of old trains often problematic for the entities that LTA has approached.

This means that the trains have often had to be stripped apart. North West Community Development Council, the Singapore University of Technology and Design and the LTA are currently involved in a project to incorporate train parts in a library that they are setting up at a void deck in Bukit Panjang.

Mr Elmar Koentarjo, LTA’s deputy director for asset engineering (rolling stock), said train parts such as brake pads and wheels will be transformed into art at Jurong Region Line stations when they open in 2027.

"These are iconic trains which have been serving commuters since 1987 on Singapore's first MRT line," he added.

"They played a significant role in our land transport history, and we believe the trains can still offer value in other ways even after they have been retired."

Mr Elmar, who attended the event in Yishun on Saturday, said: "I am very happy to see the adoption of these seats in the community, and the residents are very happy too."

"LTA is upcycling as much as we can, and we will continue to do more outreach to town councils and schools," he added.

Charity Rainbow Centre will take six sets of refurbished two-seater MRT seats to teach students with disabilities how to navigate public transport in a safe environment.

This gives the void decks a different flavour, recycling materials that would otherwise have been sent to the junkyard. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Ms Tan Sze Wee, executive director of Rainbow Centre, said the seats enable the centre to create a more realistic set-up so students can learn the appropriate social behaviours.

"Some of these behaviours include not rushing to find a seat in a crowded train, respecting reserved seats and giving up seats to the elderly and pregnant women. Teaching these skills enables our students to travel independently and safely, which elevates their quality of life as they can be more connected to their communities," she added.

For now, the most welcoming homes for whole train cars are tertiary educational institutions, which have been using them for education and training.

The Institute of Technical Education, for instance, has spent $50,000 to renovate an old cabin, which it uses to teach students about air-conditioner and light maintenance.

Four decommissioned train-cars have also been donated to the police for training.

LTA said it continues to welcome any suggestion to recycle Singapore's trains and their parts. People can write to lta_train_repurpose@lta.gov.sg

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.