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Tue 22 Jan 2013

LTA's proposed Cross Island Line (CRL) cuts through the Central Catchment Forest Reserve

Category : news

Last Thursday, LTA unveiled “Two new rail lines and three new extensions by 2030″. This significant announcement doubles the rail network from 178km to 360 km by 2030, putting some 80% of households within a 10-minute walk of a rail station.

LTA: Rail Network Expansions, announced 17 Jan 2013
Map of Rail Network Expansions, announced 17 Jan 2013

Of these proposed new lines, the 50km Cross Island Line (CRL) was the biggest surprise, and also of greatest concern. The CRL begins in Changi and moves westwards through Loyang, Pasir Ris, Hougang, Ang Mo Kio, Sin Ming and through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve to Bukit Timah, Clementi, West Coast and Jurong Industrial Estate.

LTA Cross Island Line
Map of Cross Island Line released by LTA, 17 Jan 2013

Singapore still has a mosaic of small secondary forest patches. The largest of these are hemmed in to five major areas - the Western Catchment (military use), Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (BTNR), Central Catchment Nature Reserve (CCNR) and the islands of Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong (military use). Of these, the oldest patches and some of the least impacted forest areas are found in BTNR and CCNR, the green heart of Singapore.

Map of Singapore showing locations of major forest fragments (Map prep by Marcus Chua)
Map of Singapore showing locations of major forest fragments (map by Marcus Chua)

The Central Catchment Nature Reserve is a rectangular area in the centre of Singapore island bound by four roads: Mandai Road in the north Upper Thomson Road in the east, Lornie Road in the south and Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE) in the west. This reserve encloses four large reservoirs - MacRitchie Reservoir in the south, Upper Peirce Reservoir and Lower Peirce Reservoir in the central west and east respectively and Upper Seletar Reservoir in the north.

NParks - BTNR and CCNR
Map of BTNR and CCNR from National Parks Board webpage

Adjacent to CCNR in the south west is the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Isolated from the larger CCNR since 1986 by the BKE, the construction of an EcoLink was announced in 2009 to link BTNR with CCNR once again later this year.

Shortly after the LTA announcement about the new rail lines last week, singeo provided a Google Earth overlay of the LTA map which I downloaded and examined.

CRL, BTNR and CCNR
The CRL (in red) through southern CCNR

Route of LTAs proposed Cross Island Line (CRL) through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve
Route of LTA's proposed Cross Island Line (CRL) through the
Central Catchment Nature Reserve; click image for larger view.
Google Earth overlay by singeo and Google Earth placemarkers by chionh

This line will cause concern amongst local naturalists, who will have to examine the issue and ask questions.

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve are precious spaces. These are being carefully managed to cope with preservation of biodiversity for future generations, and we are also the planet's custodian for rare endemic species found nowhere else in the world.

Understandably, the forest is under pressure for recreational use. As in many other cities, Singaporeans seek relief from the confines of our urban space in the forest. Over the years the mountain bike community has grown, as have the number of trail runners and hikers. Outdoor education of our students is increasingly understood to be important.

Just last week, DBS Vickers suggested the expected Population White Paper to be unveiled by government will raise the population target of Singapore to 7 million [link]

This will bring further pressure to our heavily used forests. As an open ecosystem, man's activities in one area will affect other parts, often in ways we do not entirely understand.

Thus when I examined the map, some immediate, obvious questions came to mind. If the CRL is an underground line, could we mitigate impact during and after construction? The questions are,

  • What sort of forest is in the area? Is it former plantations, old secondary or primary forests? What sort of animal life use these areas?
  • Which specific parts would have to be cleared for construction and for maintenance?
  • What impact does the construction of an underground MRT line have above ground?
  • How will underground drilling affect the hydrology of the surrounding area?
  • How will underground aquifers be affected and will headwaters of our delicate freshwater stream ecosystems be affected?
  • Will the effects underground tunnelling be expressed downstream in any way?
  • After construction, what impact would be forest be subjected to for tunnel maintenance?
  • What have we learnt about impact to geography, hydrology and geology from the construction of other MRT lines?

A close examination of the issues would be helpful and there is much to ask and understand. This sounds like a proposal for an honours thesis!

Posted at 1:24PM SGT by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news