Like a thief in the night, change in Singapore comes swiftly and suddenly. One big change, albeit temporarily, that will soon be upon us, involves yet another space I have a fondness for. This is the stretch of the former rail corridor between Bukit Timah Road and Holland Road. The greenest part of the Green Corridor, as the very green rail corridor has been christened by the movement calling for its preservation as a green space, it has been one the the few escapes I am able to find from a Singapore that has been over concretised. While the work is not meant to leave a permanent scar on the Green Corridor, the changes it may bring to the corridor visually could take many more years before it regains the appearance of the world I had grown to love.
Work will soon begin to lay a pipeline that is intended to address the growing city centre’s needs far into the future. Some 11 kilometres of the former corridor will be affected stretching from Rifle Range, where the Murnane Service Reservoir is, southwards to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station (which will itself be closed off from 2017 to 2025 for the construction of a Circle Line MRT Station below ).
The affected parts of the corridor will be closed off in phases, commencing with the stretch between Holland Road and Commonwealth Avenue in the later part of June 2016 with the other stretches being closed from te third quarter of 2016. The various stretches will be reopened as work is completed with the Holland Road and Commonwealth Avenue stretch’s opening scheduled for the end of 2017. The stretches between PIE / Jalan Anak Bukit and Holland Road and Commonwealth Avenue to Jalan Kilang Barat are scheduled to reopen by the fourth quarter of 2018, while the southernmost stretch of the corridor will be the last to reopen at the end of 2019.
First announced close to two years ago in June 2014, one of the tasks before work was to start was the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to look at possible impacts and recommend mitigation measures during the period of pipe laying. An environmental consulting firm, CH2M Hill Singapore Consulting Pte Ltd, was engaged to carry this out and also to develop an Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan (EMMP). This, as members of the Rail Corridor Partnership who attended a briefing on it earlier this week had understood, has been accepted by the various Government agencies involved.
While EISs and EIAs may involve qualitative identification of threats and assessments of the severity of their impacts, and contain an element of subjectivity, they have an important role to play in the management of invasive activities in environmentally sensitive areas. In the case of the pipeline, work is certainly needed, and having an EIS carried out is better that not having one done at all.
One key finding of the EIS was on the impact the initial planned routing of the pipeline in the vicinity of Murnane Reservoir would have had on the flora nad fauna rich area of dense secondary forest through which the pipeline was to be run (on the opposite side of Rifle Range Road). This prompted a rethink, which involved much effort, to have the pipeline’s path altered to avoid the secondary forest. In most instances, impacts following mitigation measures are maintained at negligible to minor, with the a few exceptions.
One especially sensitive area identified by the EIS is in the Holland Woods area, just south of the former Bukit Timah Railway Station, which contain several fauna hot spots. Several unexpected species of animals were recorded during the survey carried out as part of the EIS, including the Malayan Giant Frog and the Civet. The impact to fauna in this area after mitigation is expected to be moderate. In all, some 188 species of fauna were recorded, 11 of which are non-native, with 458 species expected. Other impacts considered, include that to the landscape, airborne noise, ground borne noise and vibration, damage to waterbodies as well as to commercial and recreational activities.
Beyond the laying of the pipeline, the former rail corridor will probably be the subject of redevelopment efforts aimed at preserving it as a continuous green corridor that will at the same time be of use to the wider community. Based on the information previously provided by the Urban Redevelopment Authority overseeing this, the detailed design for a 4 kilometre signature stretch from Bukit Timah Railway Station (BTRS) to Hillview Road area. The outcome of this, which would have taken in public and stakeholders’ feedback, and the visual impact it will possible have on the corridor, is yet to be seen.