PM Lee Hsien Loong at the opening of Downtown Line 2 on 26 December 2015

26 December 2015

 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Merry Christmas to all of you!

Very happy to join all you, residents and commuters this morning, to officially open the 12 stations of Downtown Line 2 (DTL2). Every MRT line that we build takes a long time, and takes multiple terms of Government and multiple Transport Ministers to complete. Therefore, every time we have an opening ceremony we must remember previous Governments and previous Ministers. This line has taken 15 years from the concept to the opening. It required hard work, perseverance and meticulous planning. There were many moving parts to coordinate and many unpredictable challenges to overcome. So today, we are celebrating many years of hard work and planning put in by all – the policy makers, engineers, transport staff and construction workers.

From Concept to Reality

The whole DTL was first mooted as the Bukit Timah Line in 2001 by former Transport Minister Yeo Cheow Tong. It was studied further and evolved into the longer DTL, to link up Bukit Timah to the city and then to the East. The ground-breaking was done six years later in 2007 by then Minister Raymond Lim. Former Minister Lui Tuck Yew then shepherded the final stages of construction. Two years ago, we were very happy that he and I together went to open DTL1 in 2013, also around the Christmas period. We are very grateful to former Minister Lui for his vital contributions to keeping the project on track. In 2013, one of the major contractors went bankrupt and we feared that the project would be considerably delayed. Tuck Yew personally intervened, quickly brought in new contractors, took care of displaced workers and ensured that the construction programme carried on with minimum delay. The recovery process was so successful that we managed to fully recover the initial delay of six months. Therefore, we are here today to open DTL2 as promised by end 2015.

But of course, the successful completion also depended on the workers and engineers of this project, who had to overcome difficult terrain and cope with the complexities. For example, when we surveyed the route of the tunnel, we found out that in Bukit Timah the tunnel goes through extremely hard granite. We could only tunnel one metre a day, instead of the usual eight to ten metres. Some of the boulders we had to break up and clear were the size of double decker buses. We also had to work with urban and transport planners to find ingenious ways of constructing some of the stations, particularly Rochor Station, given the limited space and the Rochor Canal which was above it. In fact, LTA had to divert the road more than 30 times over the last five years. Even Rochor Canal itself had to temporarily give way to construction. Thank you to all who have played a role in making DTL2 a reality!

Benefits of DTL2

The direct train connection to town provided by DTL2 is something that residents in Bukit Panjang and Bukit Timah have long been looking forward to. Families and nature lovers will also be able to get to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Botanic Gardens and Jacob Ballas Children's Garden more easily. The line is close to 30 schools located along the DTL2 route, all within a five to ten minutes of a station. Students, particularly the older ones, will benefit from DTL2. Some school principals have told us that the older students are going to volunteer to guide and walk the younger students to school from the MRT station so that parents can have peace of mind that your kids are getting to school safely on the MRT.

But most importantly, I hope with the DTL2 and several additional bus services, residents will feel they have more options instead of having to drive. The LTA's tagline for the public communications campaign for DTL2 is to "Give Your Car a Break" and we hope that you would give your car a break too. Hopefully, the morning traffic jams on Bukit Timah Road can become a thing of the past.

Liveable home

In fact, this is something that we hope to do across the island. In the last decade, we have been investing heavily to make public transport accessible, comprehensive and convenient – to become your transport mode of choice. With the Bus Services Enhancement Programme, we now have more than 700 additional buses on the road. From next year onwards, we will be opening a new MRT line and extension almost every year so that by 2030, 15 years from now, our rail network will have doubled to 360 km, comparable to London, New York and Tokyo. By then eight in ten homes will be within a ten minute walk of a train station.

Between now and 2019, which is over the next four years, we will also be adding 99 new trains to the stock. We are also improving the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system. The Sengkang-Punggol LRT system is currently being upgraded and the Bukit Panjang LRT system already has double carriages. I just checked with the MP just now and Eng Hwa tells me it has improved and he is very grateful. Equally importantly, we are investing heavily in infrastructure and maintenance to reduce train disruptions, to make for a more reliable public transport system. We are good notwithstanding the incidents we have from time to time but we are far from as good as we want to be, as we can be and as some others are. We want to be world class and we are working hard to get there.

It is not just more trains and buses. We are making improvements to all aspects of your journey. More sheltered walkways, cycling paths and park connectors, to make the last mile of your journey a convenient one. We are also introducing new technologies and schemes such as real-time tracking of buses, like putting out publicly, public transport data and the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for apps, so people can make use of the data and tell you when your bus is about to come, when you must wake up and hurry up and when you can take a bit more time and have another cup of coffee. We are even exploring autonomous vehicles because they are up and coming and the technology is improving, and we are finding it a great challenge to find enough bus drivers and train drivers. Trains are already driverless but buses, one day, these things will happen.

We are doing all this because an excellent public transport system is a big part of a more beautiful and liveable home. Public transport is the most efficient way for our people to get around in a compact city like this. And also because the public transport network is a community space and a shared experience. Every day, 2,000,000 people take the bus or the train at least twice a day or more – to get to work or school and then back again. How we travel every day plays a significant role in shaping our experiences, our perceptions of Singapore, and influences how liveable our city is and how pleasant our lives are. So it is important that we have a transport system that everyone will not only use, but also enjoy using.

Ultimately, we aim to make Singapore a safe, green, car-lite city. Car-lite and not car-like. Where all of us can get around the island conveniently, and connect with our friends and families seamlessly. This includes the vulnerable and elderly who need help getting about. So all of us can get to where we need to be, do the things we need to do and live well in a world class city.

The DTL2 opening today, is one more step towards becoming such a city. We know what we want to do, and how to do it. So let's board the train and start our journey together.

Thank you.