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Singapore MRT trains at Ang Mo Kio. Photo by Mark S. Feinman, September 1995.

Mass Rapid Transit

Singapore MRT Ltd (SMRT), a private company incorporated on August 6th, 1987, is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (or MRT). SMRT is also required to replace their operating assets when deemed necessary. Their mission is to enable mass transportation in major traffic areas to satisfy public travel needs safely and reliably at a competitive fare. Approximately 2,600 people work for SMRT.

The basis of the MRT was a 4 year study that began in 1967 that done by the Singapore government and the United Nations Development Program. It forecast that a rail system would be needed by 1992 and roads necessary to accommodate increasing traffic patterns could not be built because there simply wasn't enough land to build them on. Later studies recommended 2 basic lines - one running east-west and the other north-south. The government even hired an independent team from Harvard to review the assumptions made by previous studies. The Harvard group recommended that an all-bus network be examined as an alternative (anyone in the US surprised by this one??). A rail vs bus study concluded in 1981 determined that the rail system was crucial to meeting anticipated transportation requirements; an all-bus system would compete for already overcrowded road space.

At the time of initial construction, the MRT was considered the largest public works project in Singapore's history. Initial groundbreaking was Oct 22nd, 1983, and the first trains started running on November 7th, 1987. The first 67 km of the MRT system, containing 42 stations, opened in stages. The first 6km stretch was between Toa Payoh and Yio Chu Kang. By December of 1987, trains ran via Orchard Road and Raffles Place to Outram Park. In March of 1988, trains ran to Clementi. The entire 67 km was operational by July 7th, 1990, and was built at a cost of $5 billion Singapore dollars. An additional 16km was added on February 10th, 1996, that connected a spur line at Choa Chu Kang with the original North South line at Yishun. The North-South line became a semi-loop around the island via Woodlands. This addition was built at an additional S$1.2 billion.

The current MRT consists of two lines - an east-west line from Pasir Ris to Boon Lay and a semi-loop from Jurong East to Marina Bay via Woodlands. It was designed to link housing areas with the central business district. Accessing the CBD in Singapore during rush hours by automobile requires a special permit because of traffic congestion, an interesting way that the Singapore government tries to promote the use of rapid transit. The fare structure is zoned with fares ranging from S$0.60 to S$1.80.

The MRT operates every day from 5:30am to 12:30am. Peak periods are Monday to Friday from 8:00am to 9:00am and 5:15pm to 6:30pm. and Saturdays from 8:15am to 9:00am and 1:00pm to 2:30pm. Rush hour headways are as follows:

  • Yishun to Marina Bay: 2-4 minutes
  • Pasir Ris to Boon Lay: 2-4 minutes
  • Yishun to Jurong East: 5-6 minutes

Off-peak headways run an average of 6 minutes. Total number of trains in operation: 75/day.


There are 48 stations on the MRT system, 15 of which are underground, 32 elevated and one on the surface. Major transfer points are at City Hall, Raffles Place and Jurong East. All underground stations are air-conditioned and are enclosed by glass-doors similar to those found on the Newark International Airport monorail. There were two purposes to this - one for safety and the other to save on air conditioning costs. These doors are operated using compressed air and provide a tolerance of +/-500mm between the train doors and the platform doors. SMRT claims that they open approximately 300 times a day.

Fare Collection

Access to the system is through the use of farecards, either single use or through stored value cards called TransitLink Farecards. Single use tickets are retained by the exit gates for recycling. TransitLink cards can be used on both the MRT and the extensive bus system and a rebate of S$0.25 is given when you transfer between 2 buses or from the MRT to a bus and vice versa. The maximum value the farecard holds is S$50.00.

Another type of farecard called the GIRO allows a farecard holder to automatically maximize the value of the card when it runs out. The card has to be swiped through MRT GIRO gates or bus validators. The easiest way to explain this is that it's a rapid transit EZ-Pass, except the money is transferred directly from a user's bank account to SMRT instead of from a credit card.

Reduced fares are offered to young children, students and senior citizens. Fares for children and students are S$0.40 or S$0.50, and for senior citizens, good only during non-rush hours, are S$0.60 or S$0.70.

A souvenir ticket is also offered at a cost of S$6.00 that offers S$5.50 worth of rides. When the value of the ticket is used up, the user can keep the ticket as a souvenir. You could also purchase a single-use card for S$0.60, but you are taking your chances regarding what you'll see on the farecard. Most of the farecards contain advertisements but some have nice outdoor pictures of the MRT.

Statistics, as of March '96

Route/Track Distances:

  • Total route km: 83
  • Total track km: 234, including depots, sidings and crossovers
  • Marina Bay to Jurong East via Woodlands: 44km
  • Pasir Ris to Boon Lay: 39km
  • Underground: 19km
  • Elevated: 64km. Elevated viaduct is of the pre-cast, concrete beam variety.

Track types:

  • On viaducts, conventional timber sleepers on stone ballast
  • In tunnels, concrete sleepers set in continuous concrete slab
  • In tunnels through sensitive areas ("sensitive" is not defined but I'd assume under buildings where foundations might not be able to take the vibrations), floating slab track set in concrete units resting on resilient pads.


  • Total: 48
  • Underground: 15
  • Elevated: 32
  • Surface: 1 (Bishan)
  • Largest: Raffles Place, 29,500 square meters
  • Smallest: Yio Chu Kang, 4,450 square meters
  • Average station size: 13,000 square meters
  • Deepest: 21.3 meters (Raffles Place)
  • Shallowest: 11.1 meters (Novena)
  • 5 busiest stations (data from 12/95:)
    1. Orchard Station (a major shopping street): 108,000
    2. Raffles Place: 100,000
    3. City Hall: 99,000
    4. Ang Mo Kio: 78,000
    5. Tanjong Pagar: 65,000
  • Number of ticket vending machines: 254
  • Best place for pictures: A pedestrian bridge over the MRT (in fact, the ONLY pedestrian bridge!) approximately 1/4 mile from the Ang Mo Kio station provides excellent views of trains leaving the station as well as views into the distance.

Number of shops: 3

  • Bishan (30 hectares)
  • Changi (25 hecatres)
  • Ulu Pandan (13 hectares)


  • 85 trains, usually 6 cars per train, numbered Cab 3201, motor 1101, motor 2201 or Cab 3001, motor 1001, motor 2001. Cab/motor/motor are permanently coupled to another 3 car set (although I have seen a 4 car train in shuttle service occasionally). Interiors are painted different colors. Trains are automatically controlled and the "train operator" closes the doors at each station. Multiple chimes are heard before the doors close. All stations, transfer announcements and door closing announcements (heard only if the doors are held open longer than a pre-determined length) are from an automated, female voice. Passengers can pass between cars without going through doors; passage links are provided. The cars also use regenerative braking returning power to the system.
  • Total cars: 510
  • Car length: 23 meters.
  • Car Width: 3.2 meters
  • Car height: 3.7 meters
  • Car weight: 30,700 kilograms
  • Seating per car: 62
  • Standees per car: 238
  • Maximum passenger load: 300
  • Average speed: 45 km/hour
  • Maximum speed: 80 km/hour
  • Track gauge: 1435 mm
  • Voltage: 750 V dc third rail


  • Weekday: 834,210
  • Saturday: 928,110
  • Sundays/holidays: 649,420

North-East Line

The new North-East MRT line in Singapore opened in June, 2003, and interconnects with the previously existing East-West and North-South lines. Denoted in purple color on system maps, it runs from Harbour Front in the south to Punggol in the northeastern part of the island city-state.

The trains are unitized six-car sets, with walk-through articulation. Each car has four doors per side, longitudinal seats (62 per car), and ceiling handholds along the center of the car. Yes, one can still be a straphanger in Singapore. The trainsets use AC propulsion as denoted by the telltale multi-pitch whine. Station stops are announced automatically, using a woman's voice that has a British accent. She even throws in "mind the gap!" for good measure. Each car has six plasma TV screens that show commercial messages; station information scrolls along the bottom. There are also two ceiling-mounted LCD displays that also show station information.

Operation is totally automatic. In fact, there is no cab; the trainsets have a similar appearance to airport peoplemovers -- with a covered drivers' console that can be used in an emergency. In a throwback to tradition, there are two railfan windows, one at either side of the front car. In automatic operation, dwell time is set and doors close automatically after a warning signal. I saw no door holding at any time, even during rush hour. There are supposedly roving customer service personnel; I thought I saw one sitting in the middle of the train. He wasn't wearing a uniform, but was holding a two-way radio.

Stations are immaculate -- there was not one piece of litter on any platform or train. Station cleaners were everywhere. Like the older lines, modern faregates use proximity cards. Fares range from S$0.80 to S1.80 depending on distance travelled. Station platforms have screen doors, so all stations are well air-conditioned.

Station mezzanines and transfer corridors along the new line are spacious and well-lit. They are also "ADA-compatible," or would be if there was an ADA-like law in Singapore (the older lines are not).

Sengkang LRT

On the Singapore MRT route map, one notices a notation for the "Sengkang LRT System," which is not a street-running light rail system, but rather an elevated peoplemover very similar to what one finds at airports now, such as Newark and San Francisco. It runs through a community that reminds you of dozens of Co-op Cities side-by-side -- hundreds of high-rise apartment houses, but all very modern. The LRT appears to be the primary mode of transport for what are tens of thousands of residents.

The LRT is a single car automated peoplemover (manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries) that operates in an elevated guideway. The Sengkang line consists of two loops, one to the east and the other to the west of the Sengkang station on the MRT NE line. Currently, only the east loop is in operation; the west loop is due to open later this year. The loop has an outer and inner track, and cars run in opposite direction around the loop. There are two cars per track, and so with a running time of about 11 minutes around the loop, there's a car about every 5-1/2 mintues in each direction. One can ride around in either direction from all stations. Transfers to/from the MRT are free. The one-way ride to central Singapore is S$2.80 (about US$1.60), though if you don't leave the system, you can ride everywhere and exit the original station for the minimum fare of S$0.80.

The system map shows another LRT route on the other side of the island branching from the Chao Chu Kang station on the older North-South line; which is assumed to be similar in operation.

Route Map


Photo Gallery

Five Random Images

Image 17674

(79k, 820x515)
Photo by: Mark S. Feinman

Image 17681

(157k, 820x558)
Photo by: Mark S. Feinman
Location: Ang Mo Kio

Image 23208

(107k, 800x600)
Photo by: Todd Glickman

Image 29360

(111k, 800x600)
Photo by: Todd Glickman
Location: Dhoby Gauht

Image 29362

(112k, 800x600)
Photo by: Todd Glickman
Location: Dhoby Gauht

More Images: 1-50 51-94


Singapore Mass Rapid Transit - Official Site.

Page Credits

By Mark Feinman and Todd Glickman. Route Map by Seth Morgan.

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