SINGAPORE - The Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) has opposed the future Cross Island rail line cutting through nature reserves and proposed an alternate route that cuts southwards via Lornie Road around the reserve.
In a 39-page position paper discussing and explaining its stance posted on its website yesterday, the non-governmental organisation said nature reserves “should not be treated as vacant State Land available to be used for the convenience of transport infrastructure or other purposes”. Design authorities should include the value of ecosystems in cost-benefit analyses in the same way they would consider the cost of private property acquisition, the paper stated.
Plans for a 50km Cross Island Line were announced by the Government in January this year, where the underground line was depicted to cut through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.
The alignment cuts directly under primary forest and regrowth forests over a century old, according to maps in the NSS’ position paper. The society said its greatest concerns relate to the degradation of forest habitats due to soil investigation and related engineering works that will be required above-ground. Surface works are expected to result in forest clearance, compaction of soil along on rail line’s alignment, toxic material spillage and siltation that will seriously damage one of the two most pristine stream ecosystems in the reserve.
The society’s proposed alternate route via Lornie Road will add 1.7 to 2km to the Cross Island Line, and an estimated four minutes’ additional travel time.
This would present an opportunity to serve residents near Adam Road and visitors to the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, it said. “We believe four minutes is not too much to ask for conserving probably the most pristine part of our nature reserve,” said Mr Tony O’Dempsey, an NSS council member and the society’s spokesperson on this issue.
The reserve is home to some 44 mammals, 72 reptiles, 25 amphibians – most of which are forest-dependant - and all 34 remaining native freshwater fish species here, according to previous surveys. Nature groups including the NSS met the LTA last month and took a group of officials including Transport Minister of State Josephine Teo on a walk in the reserve last week.
The Society had a geologist and engineers on its team but the alternate route proposed is a “concept route” as the team does not have detailed geological information on the Thomson and Lornie Road areas. “That has to be left up to the authorities to consider,” said Mr O’Dempsey.
Transport analyst and civil engineering don Lee Der Horng said a straight rail line is better and cheaper from the engineering and operations point of view. He noted the “big curvature” in the NSS proposed route going around the nature reserve, but was supportive of it. “Even though the alignment looks a bit funny, it’s also a sign that we value our natural environment higher than infrastructure development,” he said. “If this nature reserve is important to us and once destroyed or affected (is irreversible), I think a certain judgment must be put in place and it shouldn’t be just based on transport.”
Professor Leung Chun Fai of the National University of Singapore’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department said “it may still be possible to construct the tunnels along the original proposed route without disturbing the nature reserve but this must be examined in detail”.
Effects of soil investigation and tunnelling works should be studied to see if they are “indeed manageable and very small”. Once sub-surface properties are determined, engineers can evaluate if modern tunneling techniques would disturb the reserve. The fallout from any tunnelling accidents must also be evaluated. The same should be done for alternatives if the original route is proven unfeasible, he said.
The NSS submitted its paper to the Land Transport Authority last week and responding to TODAY’s queries, an LTA spokesperson assured that “the alignment of the Cross Island Line has not been decided, and that no decision will be made until after an Environmental Impact Assessment has been conducted”.
Any decision made will seek to safeguard Singapore’s nature reserves “even as we seek to meet the infrastructure development needs of Singaporeans”, she added.
The nature groups will do further biodiversity surveys and collate existing information over the next few months and could meet the authorities again at the end of the year, said Mr O’Dempsey. The LTA has agreed to postpone its Environmental Impact Assessment until after the groups have studied the effect of different rail-line alignments.