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S’pore MRT network has fundamental design problem

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S’pore MRT network has fundamental design problem

Post by Darkmen on Wed Sep 04, 2013 1:27 pm

After enduring yet another day of super-crammed condition on the NS and EW MRT lines, it dawns on me that maybe our MRT system has fundamentally been wrongly designed.

I compare Singapore’s planned MRT network in 2030 with what London and New York now already have. Notice the big difference : There’s a lot of REDUNDANCY planned for both London and New York. In Singapore, we are essentially not planning for any.

Take the London tube for example. Notice that many of the stations are served by duplicate lines? For example, the green and yellow lines run parallel for much of the trail. If a particular line has a breakdown, you can think of many relatively convenient ways to get from one place to another, via other lines; without resorting to flooding the streets with pedestrians anxiously looking for a bus or a taxi. For example, between Kings Cross and Gloucester, the most direct line is the blue line. If it breaks down, you can take the pink or orange line from Kings Cross to Edgareware, then change to the green or yellow line to Gloucester. See : pink OR orange line, green OR yellow line. Redundancy.

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Similarly, the NY subway is built with high redundancies. Red lines 1, 2 and 3 run parallel for much of Manhattan. Between Grand Central and Wall Street, you can take the purple or grey line and change at Times Square, then change to either the red 2 or 3 lines to Wall Street. Or take the green lines 4, 5 or 6 down south and change to other lines to Wall Street. Notice : There’s numerous options.
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Now, look at our MRT network. If there’s a breakdown on the EW line, how is a person to go from Tampines to Raffles Place in 2030? How many options are there? Just one, essentially. What about between Clementi and Raffles Place? What if there’s a breakdown in the EW line on the west side? Well, the only way it seems will be to change at Buona Vista, then take a humongous detour up north via the Circle line almost to Woodlands, then take the NS line down south. Not exactly a viable option.
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So the irony is this : By doubling the MRT network (and of course, increasing the population to 6.9 million), more and more people will be reliant on the train system. Which means that more and more people will be stranded with no real alternative rail-route, in the event of a breakdown. Which means more and more people will be flooding the streets desperately flagging down taxis or squeeze into over-packed buses.

To me, this is the basic design flaw in our transportation planning. We do not build in redundancies. In fact, the Govt went out of its way to REMOVE redundancies. When the NE line was launched, SBS and SMRT deliberately removed numerous bus routes that track the NE line. So passengers are forced to take bus, change to train, take bus. No wonder many complain that their commute times can be as long as 1 hour or 1 hour+ each way, each day.

In announcing the doubling of the MRT network, our Govt even boast that by 2030, 8 in 10 households will be within 10 minutes walk of a MRT station. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that this means more people will be packed onto trains. And God bless you if there’s any breakdown. Because there’s no redundancy in the network.

In other words, we have been measuring the wrong metric all along. How many % of households is within 10 minutes walk of a station is just 1 piece of the puzzle. Its arguably more important that the frequency of trains be very short and there’s redundancy in the system. We have none.

But that’s the basic problem isn’t it? The transport system is designed by those who least use it, or least rely on it. Even New York’s mayor Bloomberg uses the MTA to commute to office daily. They pick a metric that only sounds good on paper. And by the time the track is built, 10-20 years down the road, they’ve been rotated or promoted to other positions. And its some other Minister’s problem. And he then promises to fix it 10-20 years down the road.

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