Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the Re-Opening of Rail Corridor (Central)

Mar 22, 2021


A very good morning to everyone. I’m pleased to share with you an update on our Rail Corridor project. 

First, let me start with a quick recap of the history of the area.

Previously, the Keretapi Tanah Melayu, or KTM railway line ran through here, and the land belonged to them. After long negotiations, in 2011, the land was returned to Singapore.

As we know, land is scarce in Singapore, and we have many pressing needs to meet – housing, industry, seaports, airport, recreation and green spaces, and so on. As both a city and a country, we have to meet all the needs of a country within our city limits, and this is a complex challenge.

So we’ve had to use the returned KTM land judiciously, to best meet all our different needs.

This land comprised a 24-kilometre track of land, stretching from Woodlands in the north all the way to Tanjong Pagar in the south. Parts of it were rustic, and other parts were more built-up. Besides the 24-kilometre track, there were also parcels of land next to the railway line at different points that were returned to Singapore.

Working with Singaporeans, we struck a three-way balance in using this land: First, we are retaining the 24-kilometre Rail Corridor for nature, recreation and community use. This adds to the many green spaces that we have set aside all across the island. Second, we are conserving the heritage along the Rail Corridor, by conserving the historical buildings and infrastructure along it, such as the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Because the railway line was an important part of our history, and we want to remember it. And third, we are using the parcels of land adjacent to the Rail Corridor for various kinds of development, to meet Singaporeans’ needs for homes, for jobs and for amenities.

This illustrates how we strive to make the best use of our land. It is not a binary choice between development and conservation, but it is about finding innovative ways to weave together different land uses for our different needs.

We have engaged Singaporeans extensively over the years on our plans for the Rail Corridor. Many shared that they appreciated the Rail Corridor’s green landscape and railway heritage, and hoped to retain these features. Others wanted the Corridor to be more inclusive, more accessible and safe, so that nature, heritage and recreation can be brought closer to Singaporeans of all ages and abilities.

Translating ideas into reality

We studied the feedback thoroughly and drew up plans for Rail Corridor (Central) – this is a 4-kilometre-long stretch from Hillview to the former Bukit Timah Railway Station. Many Singaporeans will be familiar with this popular stretch. It is flanked by homes and is a gateway to important green spaces in the Bukit Timah area, including the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It is also home to iconic railway heritage structures that are popular photo spots, such as the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station and old railway bridges. 

In 2017, we exhibited the plans to gather suggestions and feedback from the public, before we started work to translate these ideas into reality.

Today, we have completed a good part of the works, and I would like to share three key highlights with you: First, on how we have made the Rail Corridor safer and more accessible. Second, on the improvements we have made to conserve our railway heritage. And third, how we are improving ecological connectivity through the Rail Corridor.

Inclusive, accessible and safe recreation

In our conversations with Singaporeans, many had suggested having easier access to the Rail Corridor. They were concerned about making their way across uneven slopes, informal paths and overgrown vegetation, just to get to the Rail Corridor. Some also commented that after heavy downpours, certain stretches would become muddy and waterlogged. We have improved this situation, in a couple of ways.

We have added eight access points along Rail Corridor (Central) so visitors can now enter the trail safely and conveniently from popular locations. Where possible, we have also introduced barrier-free access ramps, so that families with prams, seniors and wheelchair users can also get to the Rail Corridor easily.

In addition, we have made the trail more durable, with material that complements the character of the Rail Corridor. Stretches along more natural areas have been given a grass and gravel finish; while those closer to urban areas were treated with an earth-coloured porous material. The trail is now more user-friendly for users of different needs, yet it also retains its rustic charm.

We have also worked with local communities to enhance their neighbourhoods. For example, after receiving useful feedback from the community, we have built a dedicated pedestrian underpass at Hindhede Drive, which visitors to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve can use instead of walking on the road.  

Celebrating our railway heritage

Besides making the Rail Corridor safer and more accessible, we have also done more to celebrate our railway heritage.

The old railway bridges, former Bukit Timah Railway Station and Railway Station Staff Quarters, are endearing landmarks that embody Singapore’s railway heritage. Many Singaporeans had shared with us that it is important to retain these landmarks, so that our current and future generations can continue appreciating Singapore’s history in a safe and inclusive environment. 

So URA conserved the two iconic truss bridges across Bukit Timah Road and Upper Bukit Timah Road a few years ago. We have repaired and refurbished these two truss bridges, so that visitors both young and old, on foot or on wheels, can continue to use them safely.

We have also done the same for two other old bridges along Rail Corridor (Central). One is an old railway bridge at Hindhede Drive, and the other is the Singapore Quarry Bridge, which once linked Singapore Quarry to the old Ford Factory area. We have added safety railings and improved floor finishes to the bridges.

We have given the bridges a new lease of life by carefully repainting and waterproofing them. These historical bridges are now open to visitors. 

Retaining a Green Corridor and strengthening ecological connectivity 

We want the Rail Corridor to serve as a corridor that connects adjacent green spaces. We have thus taken great care to restore and enhance the biodiversity and greenery along this central stretch. For instance, we have protected a naturalised stream, and enhanced it as a habitat for freshwater fauna, by adding native plants along its banks. To minimise disturbance to animals’ nocturnal rhythms, there is no night lighting along the trail. And for public safety, we have installed reflector poles along the trail to guide users at dusk and dawn. 

Continuing to realise the vision together

We have made good progress for our Rail Corridor project, through close collaborations with our partners and fellow Singaporeans, such as through the former Rail Corridor Partnership that we now call the Friends of Rail Corridor. These partners have worked actively with us, helping to replant native species in areas that needed reforesting, and spearheading numerous other ground-up initiatives to make our Rail Corridor vision a reality. 

I would like to thank everyone for your contributions, and we will work with you to realise more of your ideas in the near future.

Today, we have improved most of the Rail Corridor trail along the central and southern stretches, and reopened these to the public. Stretches undergoing works will progressively reopen and by 2022, we will have a seamless trail from Woodlands Road in the north to Spooner Road in the south. There will also be a new rest stop beside the Upper Bukit Timah truss bridge, with shelter and restrooms. 

In addition, restoration works for the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station and the Railway Station Staff Quarters will be completed in 2022. The buildings will then be reopened to the public as a heritage gallery and an F&B space. There will be opportunities for Singaporeans to be involved in shaping these spaces. 

We will continue to engage Singaporeans and our stakeholders to shape the future of our Rail Corridor as an extraordinary and inclusive community space. 

And beyond that, we have been working with the community to plant one million trees across Singapore by 2030. Some of these trees are being planted along our Rail Corridor. They will help to extend Singapore’s natural capital island-wide, as part of our vision of a City in Nature. 

When completed, the Rail Corridor will provide Singaporeans with a seamless, connected green corridor that will be part of the island-wide network of recreational routes. These routes will provide Singaporeans with more opportunities to explore our island and our outdoors, while being immersed in greenery. They will connect communities and bring about a sense of space many times beyond our small island-city state. 

I am sure you will enjoy the refreshed look of Rail Corridor (Central), and I look forward to more Singaporeans partnering us to make the Rail Corridor a distinctive and precious oasis in our city.  

Thank you very much.