Saturday, January 19, 2013

Half empty or half full?: A look at the media reports on Singapore's expanded train network

When two newspapers from the mainstream media carry the same newspoint in their standfirst - that 80 per cent of homes will be within a 10-minute walk from a station - you can tell this is one message officialdom wishes to propagate to Singaporeans.

If media relations is measured by putting ticks in boxes, then the Page 1 treatment that The Straits Times and the Today newspaper gave to the event must make the public relations (PR) team that penned the news release really proud.

But apart from telling people that the Singapore government has foresight - which is a point we already know - reports that our rail network will grow from 178 km to 360 km by the year 2030 are nothing to celebrate about.

And here's why: If you draw a range ring round your home equivalent to a 10-minute walk, which works out to around 900 metres, and you find no vacant plots of land or plausible places to site a new train station, then you can draw three inferences from this assessment.

The first inference: The station may be underground and still within 10 minutes' walk from your doorstep. This, by the way, is the best case scenario.

The second: You fall within the 20 per cent of commuters who will not be able to reach a station on foot within 10 minutes.  

The last inference is more ominous: Someone is going to have to lose their property in the name of progress. For property owners mortgaged up to their eyeballs with multi-year bank loans, having their property acquired will probably dash their Singaporean dream of home ownership.

So is the glass half empty or half full?

Until engineering studies are completed and more details are released by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the government body that will plan and commission tenders to build the rail lines, it is premature to say either way.

Will the new stations be underground or elevated?

What is the exact route that the rail lines will trace?

How much land will be acquired for this rail network?

You will probably get better odds in a casino than betting that real estate in *insert your location of choice* will shoot up in value, thanks to the upcoming train stations.

The bold (or foolhardy, depending on your POV) may make a purchase now and stand to repent regret years later.

It will be a cruel joke if the bet property speculators make, based on their freelance assessments of possible station locations, ends up unerringly accurate but is perhaps too precise. This means their guesstimate is correct but their property ends up being acquired.

Your property could remain intact and still see a drop in market value. This could happen if an elevated line runs within spitting distance of your balcony or bedroom window, or if some part of your front yard or estate is gobbled up for nation-building (go ask residents who sacrificed for the North-East Line).

What's more, the long gestation period for this project - the last station is due to open 17 years from now - means Singapore will probably undergo several economic cycles during that timeframe. Can you weather the chop?

It is also important to remember that rail lines threaded around our island have to end up somewhere. Land will also be needed to stable all that rolling stock and for maintenance bays and train marshalling yards.

To be sure, land banks around Singapore will give LTA planners some room to manoeuvre. One hopes they execute their urban planning with a heart by keeping land acquisitions to the absolute minimum and not by bulldozing their way across the island, erasing homes and places we cherish.

Forward planning is all well and good.

But until plans for the rail network are firmed up and publicised, you can bet a fair number of homeowners across the island will be kept on tenterhooks, hoping that the dreaded land acquisition notice will not be pasted on their front door one day.

Caveat emptor


Anonymous said...

The Singapore government has foresight????? Really?

How then did we end up with not enough homes, not enough hospitals, not enough etc etc etc even as we took in 2 million, and apparently intend to welcome another 2 million?

Will the new train lines actually be able to cater to all the extra people, plus all the extra riders who once owned cars but can't afford them now, plus the passengers who will travel more because travelling by public transport is more convenient, plus the growing number of tourists (about 1.2 million a month Now and growing)?

When the first MRT lines were built, the eventual ridership far exceeded projections. This Spore govt - which has foresight, you say - forgot that the convenience of being able to travel would generate more travel.

Meanwhile, they are using that argument Against building more hospitals. If we build more hospitals, claim these guys you say have foresight, more people will want to go to hospital!

Anonymous said...

And if the population keeps increasing, how is it possible for the mean distance from home to station to decrease?