Commentary: Glamour heads to Jurong East at high speed

A high-speed rail station in Jurong East will be another jewel in the crown of what was once an unlikely urban area, but which is now getting shinier by the day. ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

A high-speed rail station in Jurong East will be another jewel in the crown of what was once an unlikely urban area, but which is now getting shinier by the day.

The area is part of a bold mixed-use precinct dubbed the Jurong Lake District. It spans 360ha - the size of Marina Bay - and it will be the biggest commercial hub outside the Central Business District (CBD).

For those still unconvinced that this sleepy hollow in the west will be a bustling live-work-play district of the future, a high-speed rail station should put the doubts to rest. Besides the obvious advantage of a doorstep access to superior-to-air cross-border connectivity, it adds much needed glamour to the area.

Why? Well, simply because high-speed trains are still relatively rare and, by that token, futuristic and exciting. Since Japan started running its shinkansen 50 years ago, only 15 other countries have built high-speed rail lines. (In contrast, 126 metro systems have been built in 50 countries over the same period.)

Air travel is passe, but the image of a sleek, wind-cheating bullet train hurtling at speeds of up to 400kmh fires the imagination. Japan recently set a new record with a magnetic levitation train that breached 600kmh.

Door-to-door, high-speed rail travel is often faster than flying for journeys that are less than 500km - not to mention more comfortable, safer, less carbon-intensive and, often, cheaper.

Train stations are also far less intrusive than airports. They take up a fraction of the space necessary for an airport, and do not pose the kind of developmental restrictions in their vicinity that airports do.

Stations can be built below ground, so that surface development is not impeded. In fact, it is even possible to have an underground train depot.

So a high-speed rail station is definitely good for Jurong East. But is Jurong East good for a high-speed rail line?

From a purely accessibility point of view, the area is far from ideal for such major transport infrastructure. More often than not, high-speed rail lines connect city centre to city centre.

But who is to say Jurong East won't be a city centre of the future? In fact, by the time the line is up and running (possibly nearer to 2030 than 2020), the entire Jurong Lake District might rival Singapore's present downtown.

The area is a catchment for more than one million residents in nearby towns. Currently, there are some 3,000 companies in nearby Jurong, Tuas and one-north.

The area is served by three MRT stations, with an integrated bus interchange coming up next to the Jurong East interchange.

Development plans include 500,000 sq m of office space, 250,000 sq m of retail, more than 1,000 new homes, and 2,800 hotel rooms (with recently opened Genting Hotel Jurong making up the first 557).

The Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, next to the Jurong Community Hospital, opens next month.

Future MRT lines like the Cross Island Line and Jurong Region Line will complement the North-South and East-West lines that currently serve the area.

"Smart city" experiments are to be carried out in the area, with more than 1,000 sensors installed to control and monitor everything from traffic to street lights, and crowded buses.

For the "chill" factor, Singapore's first Olympic-size ice-skating rink is in JCube - a cube-shaped mall that also boasts the first Imax cinema in the suburbs.

Then, there is the sprawling Jurong Lake Gardens - an amalgamation of Jurong Lake Park, Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden. Waterfront homes and water sports will be par for the course in the reconfigured Jurong Lake. The Ayer Rajah Expressway may even be realigned to free up more space for this.

In short, the Government is pulling out all the stops to make Jurong Lake District not just a CBD clone, but a place that is unlike any here - one that is self-contained, highly wired, well connected and, above all, fun.

Malaysia is doing the same for its end of the line. It is putting its high-speed rail terminus station in Bandar Malaysia, a 200ha site away from Kuala Lumpur's centre. It is also envisioned to be a mixed-used district with malls, condominiums, colleges, parks and offices served by a new (and re-routed) mass rapid transit line, even if plans are mostly still on the drawing board.

So the Singapore-Malaysia high-speed rail line will in fact join two new city centres. Hopefully, both will be equally developed when trains start rolling.

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