SINGAPORE - The first stage of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) - Woodlands North, Woodlands and Woodlands South - will commence service in late January, before Chinese New Year.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced this on Thursday morning (Sept 19) during a visit to the line's Mandai Depot. Chinese New Year falls on Jan 25 and 26 next year.
There will be a few days of free travel for commuters before the opening so that they can familiarise themselves with the new stations and the connection to the North-South Line, he said.
In January, Mr Khaw said the first stage would open before Christmas this year.
"TEL's construction started in 2013, when the transport minister was Mr Lui Tuck Yew. When completed around 2024... it will be a different transport minister," he said, adding that "I will be using it as a passenger".
Singapore's sixth MRT line will be 43km long with 32 stations stretching from Woodlands North to Sungei Bedok. Eight of the stations are interchange stations which will link to the East-West Line, North-South Line, North East Line, Downtown Line and the Cross Island Line.
"This will make our rail network more interconnected and resilient, offering commuters more options," Mr Khaw said.
The line will be built over several stages, with each stage having its own opening date.
"This way, commuters can benefit sooner - they need not wait for the entire line to be done first," he added.
The nine trains for Stage 1 are being tested and commissioned at Mandai Depot.
Full testing of the entire system will be done during the December school holidays.
The TEL project is complicated, Mr Khaw said.
The line is fully underground, and requires tunnelling through very different soil and rock conditions.
The construction of Woodlands North station - one of the three to be opened in January - was particularly challenging, Mr Khaw said.
More than 100,000 cubic m of granite had to be detonated during excavation works - enough to fill 40 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
By using electronic detonators, the Land Transport Authority and its contractors completed the detonations safely, without causing too much noise to the nearby Republic Polytechnic.
Mr Khaw said: "The TEL is an example of how we plan long term, and invest in infrastructure for future generations. Even as I speak, we have already started the work for our seventh line - the Jurong Region Line - and the eighth line - the Cross Island Line."
He noted that in 2013, then Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew committed to bringing 80 per cent of households within a 10-minute walk of a train station by 2030.
Mr Khaw said: "We are now at 64 per cent. I am confident that this 2030 target can be achieved."
During the visit, the minister also thanked SMRT and its staff for their efforts in raising rail reliability.
"When your friends are sound asleep, you are inspecting the tracks, to ensure safe and reliable journeys for our commuters," he said.
The efforts are paying off with the North-South Line mean kilometres between failure (MKBF) now at 1.4 million train-km, the East-West Line at 800,000 train-km, and the Circle Line at 808,000 train-km.
The MKBF is an international performance indicator for rail reliability that measures how far trains travel before incurring a delay lasting more than five minutes.
Mr Khaw said: "It is now running more reliably than last year, but we will only see its full potential when the trains and signalling system are fully renewed by 2022. I seek commuters' patience and understanding."