SINGAPORE - The Woodlands North MRT station, meant to connect to the delayed cross-border Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Singapore and Johor Bahru, welcomed visitors on Saturday (Jan 11) as Singapore’s newest MRT line officially opened.
The MRT station will be adjacent to the RTS Link Station “if and when” it materialises, said Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan on Saturday when he opened up three stations on the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) a few weeks before passenger service starts on Jan 31.
For now, people will be able to visit the Woodlands North, Woodlands and Woodlands South stations to familiarise themselves with the various entrances, exits and amenities.
Those who went to the open house on Saturday got to ride the trains between the three stations for free. The Woodlands North station is among the biggest of the 32 stations on the TEL and was designed with the RTS Link in mind.
In a speech as he declared the stations opened, Mr Khaw said Woodlands North station was “sized accordingly, to accommodate the peak hour traffic travelling between Singapore and JB via the RTS Link”, and will be connected seamlessly to the RTS Link station at the basement concourse level.
The RTS Link agreement, first signed in 2018, has been delayed several times after Malaysia requested a suspension to review the project in 2019.
Malaysia has since proposed amending the scope and structure of the RM4 billion (S$1.3 billion) project to cut costs, and both sides are discussing the changes.
Mr Khaw’s comments on the RTS Link came a day after his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke disclosed in a Facebook post that both sides were committed to concluding the agreement by April this year.
The 4km cross-border RTS link from Woodlands in Singapore to Bukit Chagar in Johor was envisioned to help alleviate congestion on the Causeway.
As he opened the three stations in Woodlands Town in Stage 1 of the TEL, Mr Khaw thanked residents in the area for their patience and understanding since construction started in 2014.
“Now it is time for you to enjoy the fruits of your patience,” he said.
The comment resonated with Julianah Daud, 47, whose flat is located beside the new Woodlands station.
The quality control inspector at a printer factory, who works night shifts, stacked a mattress against her room window to dampen the noise from the construction in the past few years.
“I’m very relieved that it’s open, and also excited. I felt like can’t wait any more,” she said, laughing.
Singapore’s sixth MRT line will span over 43km and have 32 stations when completely open by 2024. It will be the longest MRT line, linking up neighbourhoods such as Thomson, Toa Payoh, Marine Parade and Bedok to the Central Business District.
While the $25 billion construction cost is a “financial burden on tax payers... it is money well spent”, said Mr Khaw.
TEL, which runs parallel to the the two oldest lines - the North-South and East-West MRT lines - will provide additional capacity and resilience, he added.
When fully operational, the TEL is expected to serve approximately 550,000 commuters daily in the initial years with this number rising to a million in the longer term.
For a start, fewer commuters are expected and trains will be running at a frequency of 10 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes at other times from Woodlands North to Woodlands South stations.
This is slower than on the other lines which have a train frequency of about three minutes during peak hours and up to seven minutes off-peak.
The Land Transport Authority said that as ridership increases the frequencies for both peak and off-peak hours on Stage 1 of the TEL will be reviewed and adjusted.
Mr Khaw said opening Stage 1 first would allow the operators to run in the new systems, and was also a “no-brainer” as residents would be able to benefit immediately from the shorter commuting time.
The Woodlands North station leads directly to Republic Polytechnic, for instance, and Mr Fabian Fong, 21, who is studying for a diploma in engineering systems and management, is looking forward to taking the TEL to school.
“The exit of the station is right outside our polytechnic so on rainy days we won’t have to walk outside and get wet anymore,” he said.
Cleaner Soh Ah Lye, 56, hopes the TEL will bring him shorter travel times, especially to the beach.
He now takes a bus from his home in Marsiling to Marine Parade and the trip takes him an hour. He hopes it will be much shorter on the TEL. “On the bus you can get stuck in traffic jams, but not in the MRT,” he said. “Unless there is a glitch.”
Mr Khaw also said on Saturday that he has asked the Land Transport Authority for a briefing on the progress of the rest of the TEL and will share more details in due course.
He quipped: “Like many of you, I am keen to know the estimated completion date of Stage 2. Stage 2 is of personal interest as Lentor Station is near my house.”
Stage 2 comprises six stations from Springleaf to Caldecott, with two interchange stations - Bright Hill that will link to the future Cross Island Line and Caldecott that will link to the Circle Line.
Saturday’s open house not only attracted Woodlands residents but Singaporeans from other parts of the island and train enthusiasts such as Presbyterian High School student Isaac Kong, 15.
The secondary four student, who has memorised the MRT system map, was eager to see the inside of the new stations as well as ride on the driverless trains with his father.
“I have been checking the train map updates,” he said. “I hope to try out all the MRT lines.”
Visitors got to explore the various parts of the stations, such as the shelters in Woodlands station for use during times of emergency.
The station is the 49th MRT Civil Defence Shelter and has the requisite hardened boundary walls, floor and roof slabs which can withstand blast and fragmentation effects.
Correction note: This story has been corrected to say that the Woodlands North station leads directly to Republic Polytechnic.