Speech by Minister Ong Ye Kung at Punggol Coast Station Tunnel Breakthrough Event

Friends and colleagues

  1. I am happy to join everyone here, at a physical event, to witness the tunnel breakthrough for Punggol Coast MRT station.

A Tribute

  1. After many months of deliberate and painstaking tunnelling, the MRT station is now knocking on the doors of the future Punggol Digital District. Today, I want to first of all pay a tribute to all the planners, engineers and workers who have made this possible.

  1. This is a significant engineering achievement. It started with LTA planners working closely with the district master planner and developer JTC to construct this 1.6-kilometre extension of the North East Line from the existing Punggol station.

  2. Tunnelling for MRT projects is a massive undertaking. For this extension of the North East Line, 120m of the tunnel was done through “cut and cover” method. This meant you cut and excavate the soil as deep as 20 metres after erecting retaining walls, and then you cover up the surface to form a tunnel.

  3. Near the existing Punggol MRT station, LTA engineers constructed a launch shaft, from which two Tunnel Boring Machines were assembled and launched. These boring machines are far from boring. They are hulking machines that chew through even the toughest rock and soil. Each operates at 1600 horsepower – it is about the combined power of 13 family cars. These machines will complete their mission at the receiving shaft, which was constructed by JTC engineers, at the Punggol Digital District today.

  4. These machines are also fitted with cutting edge automation and sensors to monitor the progress in real time and ensure a very precise drive. This is important to ensure minimal disturbance on the surface and to other underground infrastructure.

  5. The team here has therefore completed a very important phase of the project. Where the Punggol Coast MRT station is concerned, this represents about 40% of the construction work. The next step is to complete the concrete structure of the station, before we fit it out, and then it will be ready for commuters by 2024. As we progress to the next phase, let us put our hands together to show our appreciation to all those who have worked so hard for this. Thank you very much!

Destination and Connection

  1. Let me move on to another area, which is to talk about this district itself. Now, the Punggol Digital District will be a unique area in Singapore. It integrates three major developments. First, the JTC Business Park - we have many business parks in Singapore, but JTC aims to differentiate this district by focusing on various infocomm and technology sectors, such as cybersecurity and data science. When completed, it promises to offer over 28,000 jobs. 

  2. But what truly distinguishes this business park is the second development, and I speak of this with conviction and passion. This is where Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) will be situated. SIT is on track to become Singapore’s third largest autonomous university, which integrates education, research activities as well as a public park. In fact, I was here only last September for the groundbreaking ceremony of SIT, not far from where we are today.

  3. The co-location of SIT and JTC Business Park aims to foster greater collaboration between industry and academia. SIT, being an applied university, is very well situated to do this. In fact, when I was Education Minister, I was always telling SIT President Thiam Soon to make sure that the university ‘spills into’ the business park. I hope the business park will also spill into the university, so that when you come here, you can’t tell where the universities are, where the industrial park ends, where the gardens and national parks are - it should all be merged together. With that, industry can draw talent from the University, and education comes to life with the participation of industries.

  4. The third development is the Punggol Coast MRT station, which is located at the heart of this district. If the Punggol Digital District is the destination, then the Punggol Coast MRT is the connection. This interplay between the two is important. There is no point building a new district that people cannot get to. Similarly, it is meaningless to build a road or a bridge that leads to no destination.

  5. It is when we integrate destination and connection synergistically that we create new possibilities, unleash vibrancy and generate new energy. Just look at places like Tokyo Station in Japan, Piccadilly Circus Station in London or Grand Central Station in New York – these are synonymous with the vibrant and prosperous districts that they serve.

  6. As we extend the MRT network into Punggol Coast, I hope the upcoming station will become synonymous with the good jobs, quality education and smart lifestyle that the Punggol Digital District brings. Indeed, the MRT station is expected to serve over 75,000 employees, students and residents in this area.

  7. The station will also support new residential areas at Punggol Northshore District and Punggol Point District. These are attractive new areas to live in – green, tranquil, active and convenient - for families to settle down, to bring up their children, to enjoy themselves in retirement. We also hope Singaporeans from all over the island will visit this area, which has quite a bit of history. There will also be a 1.3 kilometre “Heritage Trail” connecting Punggol Waterway Park to the Punggol Point Waterfront for pedestrians.

Conclusion - Growing our Rail Network

  1. The Punggol Digital District – SIT - Punggol Coast MRT development is part of our polycentric city planning strategy. It ensures better land use for our very small island city-state, as more Singaporeans disperse from the city towards other regional centres for work and education.

  2. This also means we must continue to press on with our plans to expand the rail network, to connect our people to different and various regional centres around Singapore. While COVID-19 has caused some temporary delays, we are on track to expand the rail network from around 230km today to 360km by the early 2030s, and to bring eight in ten households within a ten-minute walk of a train station.

  3. Let me end my speech today by talking about opportunities in crisis. For example, I have no doubt post COVID-19, our hygiene level as a society will greatly improve, as everyone gets used to more frequent hand washing and wearing masks when not feeling well. In education, a lot of opportunities despite this crisis: having rolled out home-based learning nationally during the Circuit Breaker, schools are ensuring all secondary school students by end of this year will have access to digital technology and are encouraging them to practise self-directed learning. This is a big breakthrough for education. Years of what education wished to do is now compressed into this one year, and they are now able to do that because of COVID-19, because of that sense of crisis.

  4. Being able to seize opportunities in crisis is the greatest demonstration of resilience. The question then is what is the opportunity in land transport?

  5. I believe it is the change in our travel habits. The old habits – crushing during morning and evening peak hours every day – are neither logical, comfortable, efficient nor environmentally friendly. But we continue to do it because that is just the way it is.

  6. But COVID-19 has forced us to press the reset button and rethink how our habits should change. It makes sense for office workers to complete tasks that can be done remotely, from home, or a café near home. It makes sense to go into office only when we need face-to-face discussions, to use specialised equipment, or to conduct face-to-face training. Where we can, walking, cycling and riding on public transport should replace driving in a private car.

  7. But because old habits die hard, our rail infrastructure has been designed to accommodate peak period travel. During off-peak travel, the system becomes under-utilised. If we can just spread out commuter traffic throughout the day, everyone will have a more comfortable ride, and yet the system serves more people.

  8. Due to COVID-19, today’s passenger volume is about 60 to 70 percent that of pre-COVID levels, throughout the day. So there is not much of a peak hour crowd now on the trains. If and when travel volume recovers, and everyone travels during the same rush hour again, then we would have wasted the crisis.

  9. So employers, I hope, will help adjust work hours requirements, allow workers to toggle between working from home and office, allow workers to have staggered arrival times, as late as 10am for example, and spread out the traffic. As a result, we will be able to see a healthier recovery of commuter traffic, better spread out throughout the day. This would be an outcome that we have been yearning for decades. We can achieve that if the recovery of traffic is handled well.

  10. So let us continue to work hard, coordinate closely with other agencies, and be adaptable. This way, we can collectively improve our public transport system to serve commuters better in a post COVID-19 world! Thank you.