What can Melbourne learn from Singapore’s skyrails?

While I was in Singapore for my holiday, I had a good look at the MRT, and I wanted to specifically post about the MRT’s elevated sections.

I’m not the only one to ponder a comparison to the proposed Dandenong line skyrail… Channel 9 recently featured this story, which is worth a look:

Apparently about 30% of the Singapore rail network is elevated. Most of the rest seems to be underground; I didn’t explore all of the network, but I didn’t see any ground level lines; it was either above or below.

The network has only been built since the 1980s, so it’s not like Melbourne where some sections of elevated rail have been there for a century — eg around Glenferrie, Balaclava, Collingwood and other inner suburbs.

That said, in some areas of Singapore, the rail line came first, before surrounding development. In others, it was inserted into existing suburbs.

Of the initial lines authorised in 1982, the plan was for 42 stations, of which 26 were planned to be elevated. With a current focus on more lines through the central city area, some of these have been all underground, but other suburban line extensions and stations continue to be built as elevated.

How does it look? Here’s a short video:

Elevated structures and trains

In most cases they seem to have designed each individual track on its own structure. Melbourne is planning this too, to maximise the amount of light and rainfall that can benefit flora below.

A key difference is that Singapore trains are powered by third rail, so there is no overhead wire and stanchions as we will need in Melbourne. This reduces the overall visual impact when trains aren’t passing. (Singapore does have a high speed rail line to Malaysia planned; this will have overhead electric power, but I’m not sure if it will have elevated sections.)

Singapore has no diesel passenger or freight trains, though they do use diesel powered maintenance trains.

Near Redhill station, Singapore

Looking around Redhill, just east of the station the train goes underground, and the clearances here over parkland weren’t particularly high. On the other side of the station, double decker buses could get under the track, so I assume it meets some kind of minimum standard.

Melbourne’s planned elevated lines are planned to be much higher than the standard 4.3 metre road clearances, partly to allow more light, and also presumably to be clear of the existing tracks they are replacing, to minimise service disruptions during construction.

Near Redhill station, Singapore

Picnic under the tracks, near Redhill station, Singapore

Parkland

At Redhill, there is parkland around the station. A few hundred metres away is high-rise residential (common in Singapore, but quite unlike most Melbourne suburbs).

It was Sunday, and in the park I actually saw one group having a picnic very close to the rail line. Other groups were using the park nearby. Evidently the trains are just accepted; it doesn’t stop people making use of the space.

There was no litter and no graffiti on the concrete structures. But the whole of Singapore is like that.

It may have been clean, but I’d have to say it didn’t look beautiful — unless perhaps you’re a fan of concrete.

Redhill station, Singapore

In this location, apart from growing grass underneath, little had been done to beautify the area. Plain concrete and (on parts of the station structure) metal and glass. It was a similar case at other stations I saw: functional but not beautiful.

They do better if they try. Elsewhere in Singapore, murals and tree planting has occurred to minimise the visual impact of rail construction.

Notable at Redhill was a playground underneath the tracks. Nobody was using it when I went past; signage indicated it was a private playground linked to nearby condominiums.

Playground under the tracks, near Redhill station, Singapore

Redhill station, Singapore

Redhill station, Singapore

Stations

As far as I saw, Singapore station design (whether elevated or underground) is almost universally island platforms. This is particularly useful at terminal stations where the next train departing might use either side. It also makes better use of space when coping with tidal peak loads.

At all the stations they seem to provide full rain coverage (they’re dealing with tropical weather, remember, but this would benefit Melbourne too on rainy and stinking hot days) and platform screen doors (which were retrofitted last decade). Fans were fitted to many station ceilings to provide some level of cooling.

Access to/from the platforms was mostly by escalator, with lifts and some stairs also provided.

Redhill station, Singapore

Tanah Merah station, Singapore

All stations appeared to be staffed, with station offices and fare gates at ground level. There was rarely a staff presence on the platforms, though CCTV was common.

The concourse levels generally were pretty open, maximising visibility, with retail such as convenience stores. Some stations had other small retail outlets built into them. Toilets seemed to be provided at all stations.

Singapore MRT: Redhill station

Redhill station, Singapore

No stations that I saw seemed to have any car parking at all – in Singapore, cars are an expensive status symbol, not a virtual necessity as they are in many Australian suburbs.

Bus interchanges and bike parking were prominent. The distance from the station entrances to the bus stops varied – for some only a short walk, for others a bit longer.

Not that it seemed to matter; the bus/train combo seemed very popular, though given surrounding residential towers, I’d bet the majority of passengers walk to the station. (They do in Melbourne too.)

Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Development around elevated lines

At Redhill there were roads and parklands providing a buffer between the railway line and nearby residential towers.

But at the eastern end of the line between Tanah Merah and Pasir Ris it’s a different story – a mix of high-density residential towers and medium-density houses – a fair way from the suburban density common in Melbourne suburbs, but closer to it. And many of those homes are very close to the railway line, separated only by a walking path, similar to that planned for the Dandenong skyrail.

In these sections there is some use of privacy screens, though it’s not universal. Where they are in place they seem quite effective at blocking the view to the immediate area.

Elevated track and privacy barrier, East West line, Singapore

Pasir Ris station is a terminus. Beyond the platforms at ground level is a bus terminus and bus parking, but the tracks actually extend beyond this, providing a small amount of stabling. This extends across a road into a nearby park, with maintenance cranes at the very end of the track.

It looked like a bit of an odd addition to the park; none of this was in use when we were there; I wonder how often it gets used?

Maintenance facility in peak, near Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Pasir Ris station, Singapore

Conclusion

At first glance the Singapore designs are far more similar to the proposals for the Dandenong line than the existing Melbourne elevated rail sections, which tend to be embankments with little or no access underneath.

There are key differences of course; Singapore has no overhead wires and no regular diesel services.

Singapore also has little serious political opposition to the government — in the current parliament the government holds 83 of the 101 seats. This is obviously quite different in Melbourne.

That said, in Singapore they can’t get away with anything — I was told there is a lot of political pressure around train crowding. But they probably have more leeway to push through projects that negatively affect a minority of people, as long as the majority benefit. In Melbourne this is a much harder sell.

And certainly the older Singapore elevated rail sections aren’t beautiful. For it to work in Melbourne, it needs to be much better than this.

Near Redhill station, Singapore

Lots of other cities have elevated rail (including Melbourne), and some of it is quite new. To claim it is outright “the wrong way” to grade separate level crossings is, in my view, completely wrong.

The trick for Melbourne will be for the government to ensure the project lives up to its promises: to minimise construction disruption, minimise tree removal, reduce train noise, ensure resident privacy, prevent vandalism and graffiti (a far harder task than in Singapore) and deliver the best project possible…

And politically, they need to show the broader community the benefits of getting this done — the reduced delays to motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, buses, emergency vehicles, and the increased rail capacity it can bring — before the November 2018 election.

Things I learnt about the Singapore MRT (and a comparison with Melbourne)

See also: my other posts from Singapore

This post pulls together some things I saw on my on my holiday, together with information gleaned from a briefing with the Singapore Land Transport Authority (organised by chance courtesy of the Victorian Government when some of their people discovered they’d be in Singapore at the same time I was), together with information trawled off the web.

MRT and Metro

Singapore: MRT stands for Mass Rapid Transit. It’s Singapore’s train network, which started service in the 1980s, which is why everything seems so new. Surprisingly however, they do have wooden sleepers on some parts of the network, which are steadily being replaced with concrete, and other upgrades are underway.

Melbourne: Metro is a brand name owned by the Victorian Government. The network we have now dates back to 1854, and has gradually been extended and updated, though there’s an awful lot of very old equipment.

Singapore MRT vs Melbourne Metro

Network

Singapore: Five lines, with more under construction, all completely independently run. All double track all the way. Consistent train lengths on each line – not all long trains, either – the Downtown line runs 3-car trains, but frequently. (For this article, I’m not counting the LRT – Light Rail Transit, which is a feeder to the MRT. I didn’t look at this during my visit.)

Melbourne: Fifteen lines including branches. (Sixteen if you count the part time Flemington line, seventeen if you count the V/Line metropolitan line to Wyndham Vale). Lots of junctions, shared track, single track, intertwined drivers, services, fleets and other resources. Mostly consistent train lengths these days, since the ridiculous practice of running half-length trains on weekends and evenings was removed. The PTV Network Development Plan is geared at separating out the various lines, though progress is very slow.

Singapore: System length 171 km, with 101 stations (according to Wikipedia). Many interchanges between lines. A mix of radial “compass” (east-west, north-south, etc) lines and other connections. No central terminus.

Melbourne: System length 372 km, with 207 stations (Wikipedia) – so the overall station spacing is similar, though it probably varies more widely. Limited interchange between lines. All lines are radial. Central terminus station (Flinders Street) where everything stops and waits, and no timetabled through-routing can be guaranteed.

Singapore is catching up to us. They plan to get to 360 km of routes by 2030, and at the rate they’re building, it looks like they’ll get there.

Singapore: Jalan Besar station under construction

Singapore: Lines have names, colours and initials on the map, and stations have numbers (as well as names) along each line, making navigation easy. Plus every train stops at every station (though in some cases trains do terminate before the end of the line).

Melbourne: The current map has colours for zones that mostly no longer matter. Lines have names which are confusing thanks to branches, and stations have names only. Stopping patterns on some lines vary wildly (just look at the Ringwood line during PM peak; a real mess). There has been a new, much better map in the works for some years.

Singapore MRT: SMRT status screen

Operators

Singapore: The various lines are run by different private operators: SMRT and SBS Transit (a subsidiary of ComfortDelGro, which runs some buses and taxis in Melbourne). The government says having two operators is to foster competition. This seems to work okay given the lines are completely independent.

However there is (I’m assuming mandated by the government) a high level of integration, including fares, with some stations providing paid area interchange between different operators’ lines. And you’d barely notice that there are two operators, let alone that they are private — the facilities and most of the signage seem to be identical. (One exception that seems to have snuck through is the SMRT status screen shown above.)

Both operators (or related companies) also run bus routes, LRT lines and taxis. I’m told it’s possible the MRT will be nationalised in the future, but for now the private operators continue.

Melbourne: One private operator: Metro Trains Melbourne. This is probably for the best given the intertwined nature of the system (having two companies didn’t work well), though the Five Group Railway plan ultimately seeks to completely separate the various lines.

Singapore MRT: Little India station

Singapore: The government’s Land Transport Authority builds the lines and pays for them. The operators run the lines, and are expected not get any subsidy – just fare revenue.

Melbourne: The government’s various authorities build the lines and pay for them. There’s a very messy franchise agreement which I suspect nobody outside government really truly understands (even if you can get to read it; it’s currently not available online), whereby MTM gets paid.

The city

Singapore: Wikipedia says the metropolitan population is about 5.5 million over just 719 square kilometres. Density 7697 people per square Km. The density has to be seen to be believed. Imagine the dense areas of South Yarra, across much of the metropolitan area.

Plus cars are constrained through limited registration and road pricing. Obviously this all means mass transit and high frequency services are a lot more viable, and it really shows.

Singapore’s Land Transit Authority reckons current public transport mode share is about 60% of trips. They’re aiming to increase this to 75% by 2030!

Melbourne: Serves a metropolitan population of about 3.7 million people over 2543 square kilometres; density 1450 people per square Km. The densest parts of inner-suburban Melbourne rival “suburban” Singapore, but outside about 5km from the CBD, we’ve really got nothing to compare.

Services

Singapore: Frequent service all day, every day. Peak frequency is around 2-3 minutes. I never waited more than 5 minutes for a train, even fairly late at night, though the official page says frequency may be as low as 7 minutes. As noted, the high metropolitan density helps makes this viable.

Melbourne: Every 3-20 minutes at peak, every 10-20 minutes off-peak, 20-30 minutes evenings. We may not have the density nor the operational line separation to support 5 minute services all day, but given suburban traffic congestion, we can at least get to 10 minutes all day every day, which would make the system a lot more usable than it is now.

Singapore: Last trains around midnight. No all-night services on weekends.

Melbourne: Last trains around midnight, but hourly trains on Friday and Saturday nights.

Fares and ticketing

Singapore: Fares are per kilometre. They seemed really cheap to me (bearing in mind the Singapore dollar is worth about the same as the Australian dollar). But no season passes/periodicals – they used to have them, but phased them out.

Melbourne: Basically one flat fare zone. Both systems obviously have their pros and cons, but this makes short distances relatively expensive, and heavily subsidises long distance trips. Option of Pay As You Go (Myki Money) or Pass.

Singapore MRT: General Ticket Machine

Singapore: Re-usable EZ-Link card, like Myki but faster. Not perfect though; for instance the first app I found for checking the balance won’t work without a local mobile phone number… a tipoff pointed me to another. Ticket machines at every railway station, some bus stops and interchanges. The machine I used didn’t seem to spit out unwanted receipts.

Retailer, Online topup (note how they explain actually getting the funds onto your smartcard) and Auto Load options. Refundable “standard ticket” option.

Melbourne: Myki, kind of like the rest of the world’s PT smartcards, but slower. (Finally this is improving with the new readers.)

The trains

Singapore: Acceleration and speed on all the trains seems quite good. The East-West line covers 49km and 35 stations in 70 minutes (eg average speed 42 Km/h), with a maximum speed of 80 Km/h. It probably helps that they don’t have to stick to a public timetable.

Melbourne: Acceleration and speed is mixed, with varying types of trains on most lines resulting in a lowest-common-denominator timetable, with lots of padding. The Frankston line covers 43 Km and 27 stations in 73 minutes (eg average speed of 36 Km/h). Maximum speed generally 80 Km/h, but reaching a max of 95 south of Mordialloc.

Singapore: Interior of Downtown line train

Singapore: Lots of doors and lots of standing space on the trains, hardly any seats. Lots of places to hold on.

Melbourne: Previously designed to maximise seats, this has been curbed recently, allowing more standees and greater capacity, but most models of train still have too few places to hold on. The new model trains will change this.

Singapore: Bayfront MRT station, showing platform screen doors

The stations

Singapore: Every station that I saw had platform screen doors, made possible by all stations being underground or having full-length platform shelter; consistent train fleets; automatic train operation (some lines with drivers, some without) to stop consistently in the right place. This in turn makes possible markings on platforms showing people where to stand, which cuts dwell times.

One interesting side-effect of the full height platform screen doors in the underground stations: you don’t really see the trains or the track. The trains arrive behind the partially-covered glass and the doors just open. It feels more like a giant horizontal elevator than a train.

At aboveground stations the doors are half-height; you can see over them, but couldn’t easily climb over them. (See the video above, which shows how they work.)

Melbourne: No platform screen doors yet. The first will be on the new underground stations on the metro rail tunnel, which will run only specific train types. No suburban stations have full-length platform shelters, but having seen them in action, it emphasises to me that the rebuilt Dandenong line stations should have full-length platform shelters to help facilitate them in the future.

Singapore MRT: Redhill station

Singapore: Every station appeared to be staffed, with fare gates. Platform despatch staff were spotted at busy stations at peak times. No visible security or ticket inspector presence that I saw, but this may reflect the overall law-abiding nature of the country.

Melbourne: About every third station is a “Premium” fully staffed station. Fewer have fare gates, though the policy now (which is coming into play with the grade separations) is to install fare gates at newly built Premium stations. Some platform despatch staff at busy stations at peak times. Authorised Officers (ticket inspectors) roam the system, and Armed PSOs are at most stations after 6pm.

Singapore MRT: Redhill station

The tracks

Singapore: No level crossings. All lines that I saw are underground or elevated.

Melbourne: Lots of level crossings, and it’s only in the last few years that there’s been a serious effort to start getting rid of them.

Singapore: Powered by 750 volt DC third rail, except the North-East Line which is 1500 volt. So much for the theory that all modern systems run 22,000 volt AC.

Melbourne: Overhead wire 1500 volts. The metro rail tunnel and Sunbury to Dandenong line will introduce 3000 volt power.

Singapore: Redhill MRT station and bus stop

Connections

Singapore: There doesn’t appear to be any timetable co-ordination with buses (arguably pointless when trains run so frequently). But many stations have bus connections, and these are well signposted, with some major interchanges having extensive bus parking and passenger waiting areas. Many bus routes aren’t spectacularly frequent, with services “every 13-19 minutes” being fairly common. That’s still better than most Melbourne routes though.

Melbourne: Some attempts at timetable co-ordination. Connections are generally well signposted, but at some locations little thought has been given to getting the buses to stop close to the station exits. Most routes every 30-60 minutes, only a few are more frequent.

Singapore: Tanah Merah station, interchange for Changi Airport

Singapore: Lots of interchange stations. Between lines, this usually involves lengthy connecting corridors. How lengthy? Think Platform 1 to Platform 13 at Flinders Street. Notably for the Changi Airport branch line, there is cross-platform interchange in both directions, but not with timed connections… but it doesn’t matter thanks to the high frequencies.

Melbourne: The structure of the network doesn’t really lend itself to interchanges, yet, though some exist for the branch lines (eg Alamein, Altona Loop) as well as between Direct and City Loop trains (North Melbourne, Richmond). The infrastructure could be improved in this respect; even at recently rebuilt stations like Footscray, it often requires exiting the paid area to change trains.

Singapore MRT: bicycle parking

Bikes

Singapore: Only folding bikes are allowed on the trains outside peak times. Bike parking is provided at some stations, and some of it puts ours to shame – see photo.

Melbourne: Bicycles permitted on trains (but discouraged in peak hours). Parkiteer bike cages at some stations, but there are some huge gaps in the network, for instance on most lines there are almost no cages in zone 1.

Singapore MRT: Foldable bicycle dimensions

Wheelchairs

Singapore: Platform and carriage door heights are closely aligned, so wheelchairs, prams and wheeled luggage can be easily wheeled aboard without help or ramps.

Melbourne: Most platforms have a considerable gap. Harrington Humps have been installed at some stations, but most of the time the driver has to deploy a portable ramp, slowing down operations.

Singapore: MRT station toilet cleaning schedule

Cleanliness

Singapore: Trains and stations spotlessly clean. It took me a week to spot any litter. This is no doubt reflective of Singapore society as a whole, which has a reputation for being very law abiding (though I saw a fair bit of jaywalking.)

Melbourne: Trains and stations often littered and tagged. Some efforts have been made to keep them clean, but it’s an ongoing challenge. Siemens trains in particular are notorious for dirtiness.

Shutdowns

Singapore: Almost no planned disruptions to train services. All works are carried out at night. The only concession to this is earlier closures and later Sunday morning starts. On the Thomson East Coast Line under construction, I was told interchange tunnels would be built under tracks up into the centre of the existing Orchard Station platforms, all without interrupting train services.

Melbourne: My station is closed for 3 months to remove the level crossing, and the trains will be interrupted for five weeks straight. Nuff said?

Singapore MRT: early closure/late start for works

Singapore: Sign showing LRT disruption

Singapore: Unplanned interruptions to service seem to be rare, but not unknown. One night I saw signs indicating an LRT disruption, and it made the papers the next day.

Melbourne: Melbourne, sadly, is notorious for delays and cancellations.

Singapore MRT: Exam notice

Politics

Singapore: I don’t know if there are any organised user groups, but I’m told the political pressure is immense to keep improving the system. Crowding can be severe at peak times.

Melbourne: Lots of political pressure, such that during the last state election the debate was around which rail tunnel to build. Crowding can be severe at peak times on some lines. Active user group that really needs your membership.

Singapore MRT: Queue for fare gates at VivoCity/Harbourfront station

Can we get there from here?

Can we learn from cities like Singapore? Can we improve Melbourne’s rail system to be more like Singapore’s? You bet. Reliability in particular can be improved, but so can frequency.

There’s a limit — Singapore-style density is unlikely in many Melbourne suburbs in the forseeable future. And we may not want trains with virtually no seats, given long trip distances.

But we can do a lot more to grade separate level crossings, operationally separate rail lines for efficiency, improve interchange facilities, improve train designs and efficiency… and the clincher, the most important aspect for a more usable system: run more frequent trains at all times.

As I’ve said many times, ten minute services are possible on most of the rail network with the track infrastructure and fleet we already have. There are impacts for driver numbers and maintenance capacity, but the government should push ahead with it.

Singapore day 7: heading home

Our last day in Singapore.

After breakfast we headed for the pool for a while. It was warming up but not too hot, and very nice in the water.

Then a moment of panic. Where had I put my room door key card? It was in my bathers pocket, and… oh. There it is. On the bottom of the pool. Fortunately it seemed intact and it still worked.

Shangri La, Sentosa, Singapore

We packed up our bags for the evening flight, and checked out. I hope we’ll be back – staying in a resort for a couple of days is a pretty good way to relax, and not extraordinarily expensive.

We caught a taxi to a hotel back on the Singapore mainland, in Havelock Road. I only had a vague idea where we were going, but it was a long way from an MRT station, and impractical with luggage.

At the hotel we met my extended family, including the newlyweds J+V, for a family lunch. Buffet of course.

We still had many hours to kill, but decided to head to the airport and dump the luggage. I’d never tried Uber before, but thought we’d give it a go. I’d signed up and installed the app in advance.

It all worked super smoothly. All the things you could wish for in a taxi app they’ve put in the Uber app: it knows where you are for the pickup; it shows you the vehicle licence plate and the driver’s name and tracks their progress towards you.

Salim was our friendly driver, and got us quickly and safely to the correct airport terminal. We chatted on the way, and it sounds like Uber in Singapore faces a similar debate with the taxi industry as everywhere else.

The fare? Only S$4 — how could that possibly be enough for the driver to make a living? No wait, it was $19 minus a $15 credit for joining with a promotional code. It still seemed very reasonable.

We were many hours early, but rearranged our luggage to hold onto our carry-on, and checked everything else in.

To fill the time we caught the MRT to Pasir Ris, a terminus station adjacent to the large Pasir Ris Park, and had a walk around.

Mangrove forest, Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

Pasir Ris bus terminal, Singapore

Under the railway station was a bus terminus, including facilities for drivers while their buses layover. (I’ve got a post about elevated rail in Singapore coming up.)

Inside the park we detoured through the “mangrove forest board walk”, a nice contrast to the manicured gardens in the rest of the park, then headed towards the water.

Shanty town, off Singapore

At the water, you can see across to Pulau Ubin, an island off Singapore. You can also see what appear to be a couple of floating shanty towns. Well, not towns, maybe houses. I don’t know, they were too far away to see properly, but appeared were something of a contrast to the perceived modernity of Singapore. Can that really be right? Wouldn’t they be more practical closer to the shore?

Update: they are traditional floating fishing villages! See comment from Eugene, below.

Back to the train, and back to the airport — one remarkable sight: a piece of litter on the train. Every other train and station we’d seen was spotlessly clean, and litter-free.

Singapore train - a rare piece of litter

Australia display, Changi Airport, Singapore

I wanted to change from shorts into jeans for the flight back, so found myself a toilet cubicle to get changed. Changi is a very modern airport, but this turned out to be a squat toilet… I got changed, but decided not to use it.

Before too long it was time to go through Passport control, then security, and board the plane.

We flew back through the night. Not much sleep, and they said we’d arrive even more early than the appallingly early scheduled 5am time.

Melbourne Airport

It was before dawn when we arrived. There were minimal queues getting back in through Immigration.

Eventually home, I meant to lie down for an hour or so, but woke refreshed three hours later.

Back in cold, windy, wet Melbourne. I was already thinking about my next holiday.

Singapore day 6: cable cars, giant lions, and lazing on the beach

We awoke in the resort on Sentosa, with one more full day before heading back to chilly Melbourne.

Breakfast buffet. I totally ate too much, and I didn’t even get to have an omelette (made fresh by chefs in the buffet area).

But anyway, time to explore!

View from the cable car at Sentosa, Singapore

View from the cable car at Sentosa, Singapore

Sentosa island has two cable car lines. One goes east-west across it, the other heads north across the water to the mainland of Singapore. We went across the island first, looking down on the various attractions, theme parks, hotels…

Near the eastern end of the cable car is the Merlion, a 37 metre-high symbol of Singapore, a guardian of prosperity. This particular one was apparently sculpted by an Australian.

Merlion, Sentosa, Singapore

The area around the Merlion definitely had a kind of Luna Park feel to it. The monorail from the mainland (which connects the giant VivoCity shopping centre to Sentosa) zoomed past every few minutes.

Most of the time when I spotted the monorail trains, they were overcrowded. In the evening when a lot of people were heading back to the mainland, there seemed to be long queues on the station platforms. Their capacity isn’t great. Like the cable cars, they’re really a toy, not a mass transit solution.

Not impressed.

After a look around, we caught the cable car back halfway and switched to the other one to go to the mainland. This took us way up high over the water and shipping, but what really got me feeling a little giddy was after a station in the middle, it went even higher over roadways and forest, up the mountain to nearby Faber Point.

View from the cable car to Sentosa, Singapore

View from the cable car to Sentosa, Singapore

View from Faber Point, Singapore

At Faber Point was a glorious view over the Harbourfront area, and a nice breeze to cool us down – it was getting pretty warm by this point, and the cable cars aren’t air-conditioned.

We caught it back to the middle station at Harbourfront, which as the name might indicate is all about shipping. Walking around there we encountered a load of passengers about to board a cruise ship, all pulling their suitcases along.

Into the VivoCity shopping mall, not looking quite as frantic as the day before, and we caught the MRT one stop, then changed to the East-West line and hopped off at nearby Redhill. I wanted to look at an example of an elevated railway station – M didn’t really care, she just wanted to stay out of the sun.

Redhill station, Singapore

I’ll write all about that later, but from there we went back to VivoCity and after some hunting, found some lunch in a faux hawker stall.

Lego cable car, Sentosa, Singapore

The cable car was more crowded heading back to Sentosa. At the interchange station they had a cable car museum, including a slightly odd fully-sized cable car made of Lego.

We got back to the hotel. When we’d first arrived at the resort, I’d noticed a warning on the hotel window about roaming monkeys on the balconies. I read it but thought little of it.

Warning notice, Shangri La resort, Sentosa, Singapore

But now I looked out to see… a monkey! I grabbed my phone and got a photo, then dashed back for my “real” camera to find it had gone.

Monkey at Shangri La resort, Sentosa, Singapore

I went out onto the balcony and looked around. Other people on nearby balconies were looking as well. One said it had climbed all the way to the top of the building, but I didn’t spot it again.

We got changed to have a laze on the beach, accompanied by drinkies. My sister and her family were heading to the airport to go home, so we said goodbye to them.

It was pretty hot, but pretty relaxing at the same time. It’s quite luxurious having your drinks served to you on your beachfront lounge chair.

Drinkies at Shangri La, Sentosa, Singapore

After some serious relaxing for a while, we went back to our room, then headed for dinner.

Famous dumpling house Din Tai Fung (which also has an outlet in Melbourne’s Emporium) is back near the Merlion, so we caught the cable car back there (for an extra dollar, we’d paid for two round trips… at this point evidently enough boxes had been ticked on our tickets that had the cable car ticket checkers seemed to start to eye us with a little suspicion… clearly we weren’t going to get away with any more rides than we had paid for).

Din Tai Fung at Sentosa, Singapore

There was a 25 minute wait at Din Tai Fung, but we happily took the time to look around and fill in the menu/order form, and the food when we got in was totally delicious.

A relaxing cable car ride back (“Where are you going?” “Siloso beach”) and back to the hotel for one last night in Singapore.

Singapore day 5: Boring tunnels and resort islands

About a week before leaving for Singapore, I’d been in a meeting with some people from the Victorian government, talking rail tunnels and level crossing removals.

I mentioned I was going, and asked what I should look at. Turned out they were about to send some of their people off overseas to exchange ideas with counterparts in various parts of the world – including Singapore, on a day I’d be there. And would I be interested in tagging along? You bet I would!

So it was arranged, on Saturday morning I headed for a hotel off Orchard Road for our meeting. We were taken to the nearby Orchard station site for a briefing and a tour.

Thomson-East Coast Line MRT construction near Orchard station, Singapore

Much of what I saw has been included in my post about the Singapore MRT, but some other things worth noting:

  • The Thomson-East Coast Line is designed to relieve other lines, as well as speeding up travel times to key destinations
  • Blasting for underground tunnels includes going underneath a hospital. Timing is worked out to not clash with MRI sessions. They’re also tunnelling close to the Prime Minister’s house.
  • Each station on the line is separate contract, but the whole Thomson-East Coast line is costing S$24 billion. It has a projected daily ridership 400,000, which isn’t too much lower than the ENTIRE Melbourne rail system.
  • Underground stations are developed with provisions for development above, but there’s no real certainty it will happen – it’s up to property developers. From what I saw around Singapore, development around and above stations is common, but not universal.
  • Part of the project includes a triple deck train depot (to save space – approximately 60 football fields – we’re not the only city that measures land area in these terms) combined with an adjacent bus depot, to store 220 trains and 550 buses.
  • Importantly, they make a big effort to keep people informed. There’s a construction blog, and an education centre for hosting briefings like ours.

We looked at the tunnel boring machine (TBM) on the site, which was very impressive, and not at all boring.

Thomson-East Coast Line MRT, Tunnel boring machine, Orchard station, Singapore

Thomson-East Coast Line MRT, Tunnel boring machine, Orchard station, Singapore

Model of a rectangular tunnel boring machine to be used on the Thomson-East Coast Line MRT construction

Interestingly the Singapore project is using a new development in TBMs… a rectangular “box jack” TBM. This got the Melbourne people rather excited – parts of the Melbourne metro rail tunnel project would benefit from emerging technology like this.

This of course is the whole point of getting our people heading around the world to look at others’ projects – the exchange of ideas could be of huge benefit.

Alas I couldn’t stay for the whole tour – they went on to look at a lot of different parts of the network.

Parliament, Singapore

Singapore river

I headed back to the hotel. We had to head to the island of Sentosa for the wedding.

But first we walked down to the river, past the Singapore Parliament building, and found lunch in the back of the museum: a rendang burger and crisps. Yes, crisps. And a Nutella milkshake. Nom nom nom.

Old Parliament House, Singapore

Man pushing bicycle cart, Elgin Bridge, Singapore

Back to the hotel and we picked up our bags and caught the MRT to Harbourfront, exiting to the huge VivoCity shopping centre above. It’s like Chadstone with a railway station.

Ah. Saturday afternoon. Peak shopping time? Huge crowds, both coming off the train and throughout the centre itself, made progress with luggage a bit slow.

Harbourfront station, Singapore

Our destination was a hotel on Sentosa, a resort island on the south-western side of Singapore. It’s an island dedicated to recreation – with beaches, amusement rides, cable cars, theme parks, restaurants and hotels.

We eventually found the stop for the shuttle bus to the hotel. Of the various transport facilities I saw in Singapore that weren’t under construction, it was the least well-appointed. I wonder if that was because it was provided by private enterprise, not the well-organised Singapore government.

With the assistance of some fellow shuttle bus riders (no don’t get off here; that’s the hotel staff entrance), we arrived at the very fine Shangri La resort and checked in.

We headed up to the room, with me desperately trying to Google whether I should tip the porter/bellhop or not – before he arrived with the bags. (The conclusion, as far as I could make out, is that you never tip in Singapore, except in the case of porter who bring your bags up to the room. Lucky I had a $2 note handy.)

Shangri La resort, Sentosa, Singapore

Shangri La resort, Sentosa, Singapore

Shangri La resort, Sentosa, Singapore

We went to explore the resort. Of course it’s right on the beach – with a view of numerous container ships sailing past – but also has swimming pools, and numerous other facilities for either active (swimming, table tennis) or passive (lazing around sipping drinks) recreation.

And so to the real reason for being in Singapore: the wedding of my cousin Justin and his fiancee Valerie.

It started in the afternoon, and the reception went into the evening. The rain held off, and I’m not going to drone on about it, but it was all perfect, and a pleasure to be there.

Wedding, Sentosa, Singapore

Cleaning up after the wedding, Sentosa, Singapore