I’m grateful to my son, Conor, for showing me the fine city of Singapore over Christmas 2013. He was there to delight the city state’s citizens with his acrobatic skills in the show, LightSeeker. You might catch a glimpse or two of him in the pictures below. And, if you find yourself at all intrigued by the handstand in a station do check out #whereihandstand.
Now, of course, I couldn’t go all that way without taking a peek at the metro system, known as the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). The most striking thing from a London perspective is how quickly the whole thing has been built with the first section opening only in 1987 and since growing into a comprehensive system of 104 stations with 153 km of underground and elevated track. The whole system is very clean and orderly: eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum (possibly) and carrying the very whiffy durian fruit are banned throughout and subject to stiff fines. There is no graffiti and, in fact, vandalism is so rare that occasional incidents make the news, the most famous incident being that of a Swiss citizen who managed to tag a train in the Changi Depot in 2010. Imagine making your way all the way from Switzerland to do that. For his trouble he got himself jailed and caned and the MRT Corporation was fined S$50,000 for letting the blemished train into service. Also noteworthy is the fact that fully automated driverless trains are in use on at least some lines. I was intrigued too to read in the Straits Times of a re-signalling project currently underway on the East West Line aimed at increasing train frequency to 36 per hour. The cost of the project is running at S$2m (apx £1m) per kilometre. I wondered why a similar project with similar aims currently underway on London’s sub-surface lines is costing £2.2m per kilometre. You do get a certain sense that Singapore as whole is run like a highly efficient commercial enterprise, leaving those responsible for commissioning such things as signalling in London very much in the shade in terms of hard-nosed business skills. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe London is just more complicated but I do suspect that our fares are not always wisely spent.
On the whole, stations on the MRT are not all that interesting architecturally or otherwise. They are lovely and cool though, even the overground ones with partially open sides and huge ceiling fans. The emphasis is on efficiency and speed rather than decoration. An exception though is the spectacular Norman Foster designed Expo Station on the extension to Changi Airport. I have included a few pictures below. Changi Station itself is also very impressive, coming in in tenth place of the world’s fifteen most beautiful subway stops according to the bootsnall website. As I mention over in my Kennington entry I am a bit doubtful about this website.