Despite the concerns and debates, the site investigation works of the Cross Island Line are now being started in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) area.
This investigation, which was due to begin last December, is to study if the Cross Island Line could pass under the CCNR. It was delayed because of ‘extensive discussions’ between the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and National Parks Board on measures to reduce the environmental impact of the works.
Dr Goh Kok Hun, deputy director of geotechnical and tunnels at the Land Transport Authority (LTA), stressed at a press briefing yesterday that stringent measures are adhered during the investigation works to ensure that the site investigation works are done in the best possible manner.
Dr Goh made a demonstration on how the works are being done at one of the sites at the CCNR and he said, “Other than significantly reducing the number of boreholes required from 72 to 16, we have also limited the boreholes’ locations to existing trails and clearings like this within the CCNR.”
“Workers have to observe stringent requirements stipulated under the Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan while carrying out their works,” Dr Goh said.
The mitigation measures to avoid disturbing wildlife in the area include erecting noise barriers, keeping works only between 9am - 5pm, and keeping investigation works to public trails.
Also, before actual works started, off-site trial runs of borehole operations and geophysical surveys have been conducted to familiarise workers with the requirements of working in the reserve.
Shawn Lum, Nature Society president said that these mitigating measures are the result of three years of engagement between the LTA and other stakeholders.
There has been ongoing debate about whether the Cross Island Line should cut through the CCNR, Singapore’s last remaining primary forest, or whether it should take a detour around it. The direct alignment option through the CCNR is shorter, running for 2km, while the skirting alignment will run for 9km under homes and businesses.
Nature Society Singapore (NSS) and many eco-activists are opposed to the direct alignment option, noting that it will hurt the nature reserve and there are no guarantees that the mitigating measures for the site investigation works will not have an impact on the environment.
The NSS has warned specific concerns, including the soil investigation, bore holes along the alignment, erosion risks, slope failure and siltation risks, and toxic materials used in boring operations. NSS also said that mitigation does not equal no impact in its position paper that stated the soil investigation activities will already cause tremendous permanent damage to the habitat.
Dr Lum, a senior lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment, is still hopeful that the new rail line will go around the reserve.
"The skirting alignment would not just be beneficial for the environment, it would also allow for wider ridership for the MRT line," he said.
Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan had 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," Mr Khaw said.
What he didn’t remember is, an unexpected delay is very much different than an already known expected travel time, not to mention a wider MRT line could give wider ridership.
The soil investigation works are expected to be completed by the end of this year. A Government decision on the route of the MRT line will be made after the studies on the total impact of the project is finished.