Khaw says, LTA doesn’t know about the cost of the skirting option for Cross-Island Line yet

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) does not know the exact cost of the alternative option to run a 9km route skirting the nature reserve for the Cross Island Line (CRL), says Minister for Transport on Monday in Parliament.

This comes after the much-publicised claim that the alternative route for CRL would cost $2 billion. LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong had written in a letter to Straits Times on 22 February and said, “Besides land and home acquisitions that could affect families, the extra works could incur $2 billion more in expenditure,”

The government is to choose between the two alignment options for the CRL that will connect Changi and Jurong, spanning 50km in length; the 4km route that cuts through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) by way of an underground tunnel through boring and the second option, a 9km route that skirts along the perimeter of the reserve also via an underground tunnel. The CRL is targeted to complete around 2030.

6 mins extra if opt for alternative route

Member of Parliament from the Yishun GRC, Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang had asked the Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, about the main factors taken into consideration when deciding on the possible underground alignments in the vicinity of the CCNR for the CRL.

He also asked if the Ministry would consider the alternative alignment along Lornie Road which will allow the MRT line to serve more residents and commuters in that vicinity and will result in the protection of the nature reserve and primary forest.

In reply, Mr Khaw said that the alternative alignment to skirt around the nature reserve for the CRL will cost commuters six minutes of additional travel time. He said: “Some people say it’s just six minutes, but I’m not sure we can just brush aside the extra six minutes just like that because for MRT commuters, even an extra half a minute is terrible.

“We know this because when a train gets disrupted and there’s a one-minute delay, within that minute, they can send out maybe 100 tweets to flame LTA or SMRT. So one minute is a lot of time, let alone six minutes. That’s why in the rail industry, they define disruption as anything that causes a delay of more than five minutes and six is more than five.”

LTA “estimated” the increase of building cost for skirting option?

Mr Khaw added,  “The skirting alignment on the other hand, is about 9km long… and because it is 9km long, it will require longer tunnels. And therefore, it would require ventilation shafts, ventilation facilities on the surface whereas the earlier option, because it is short enough…you do not have to build all those…exhaust ducts…These options could incur around 2 billion dollars in expenditure, 2000 million dollars and could result in land acquisition.” (emphasis by Mr Khaw)

However, Mr Louis Ng dispelled Mr Khaw’s claims about the LTA’s estimate cost and the possible acquisition of property with his follow up question.

Mr Ng had asked Mr Khaw about the total cost of the MRT line, which buildings would the government need to acquire and what is the percentage of increase for the project cost, if LTA were to use the skirting alignment.

In response to Mr Ng’s queries, Mr Khaw answered bluntly, “The answer to Mr Ng’s two questions is I don’t know. I don’t know yet. Because as I said, this is a massive project and usually it would easily take four, five years for all the important studies to be made…”

“If we are allowed to proceed with the site investigation, we will be doing much more public consultation and that will allow us LTA to firm up many of the answers to many of the questions that have yet to be answered. Such as, who are affected, how much will it cost, etc etc.” said Mr Khaw.

LTA will “consider” releasing information if it thinks information is related to public

Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), Mr Leon Perera asked if the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) could be made readily available online by default in the future and whether would the Ministry of National Development (MND) publish all documents that it uses to determine the option for CRL; documents such as cost estimation, environment impact and community impact.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of National Development, Mr Desmond Lee replied Mr Perera’s question, saying that MND will consider about his recommendation. MND will work through phase 1 of the EIA and consider at what level would the information be useful for the public.

Safeguards to ensure no damage to reserve

Mr Leon Perera also asked Minister of National Development about the main environmental impact the EIA has identified about the site investigations preceding construction of the CRL through the CCNR and how the Ministry intends to mitigate them. He also asked how is the ‘moderate’ impact from the CRL determined and what is the reasoning for why this is acceptable.

Mr Desmond Lee said that the EIA has assessed the impact to the CCNR to be minimum after stringent mitigating measures are factored into the assessment.

Measures include the use of enclosures around boring machines to reduce engine noise and tanks to collect any discharge.

Mr Lee explains that for the site investigation, boreholes about 10cm in diameter will be drilled into existing trails to extract vertical columns of soil samples. To minimise damage and disturbance to the forest, 16 boreholes will be drilled, instead of the earlier estimate of 72, confining the boreholes to existing trails will prevent surrounding vegetation from being affected.

He added that drilling machines will also be modified to reduce noise and prevent spillage of slurry and fuel . Restrictions will be placed upon the site investigation works to limit disturbance to the flora and fauna of the CCNR.

Ironically at the same day of parliament sitting, Minister for Communications and Information, Mr Yaccob Ibrahim was asked about the frequency of incidents where contractors cut telecommunication cables during roadworks.

He said that there were 18 cases of such incidents between 2013 and 2016 and that it is carried out by third party contractors. This is despite contractors were being tasked to make sure that there is no cables at the worksite and 16 of the cases had the cables clearly indicated on maps. The contractors were fined between $68,000 and $570,000 for the damages.

Editor’s note – For those who cannot catch the irony, MND is depending on the “expertise” of contractors to limit the damage to the CCNR during the course of site investigation. The incidents by the third-party contractors clearly show that accountability by the authorities will only be limited to issuing fine to the contractors. Therefore, in the case of the CCNR when damage is done by errant contractors, nothing much the authorities can do to repair damage, apart from fining the contractor.