Stage 2 of the Thomson-East Coast Line is likely to open after July following rigorous testing to be carried out from April 2020.
Stage 2 of TEL could open after July, testing to begin from April TEL Stage 2 is expected to benefit more than 60,000 households who live near the six new stations PHOTO:ST FILE

Stage 2 of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) is likely to open after July.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on 23 March 2020 that "rigorous testing" of the six-station stretch will be carried out for four months from April 2020. The six stations are Springleaf, Lentor, Mayflower, Bright Hill, Upper Thomson and Caldecott stations.

Speaking during a visit to the Bright Hill MRT station, Mr. Khaw said Stage 1 will close early and open later on weekends during this period to facilitate integrated testing of Stage 1 and 2.

"This will allow us to run trains through the entire stretch of nine stations, from Woodlands North to Caldecott for thorough integrated testing. It is necessary," he said. "We did the same for the Downtown Line, which also opened in stages."

In a separate statement, the Land Transport Authority said that from 3 April to 26 July 2020, services on Stage 1 of the TEL - comprising Woodlands North, Woodlands and Woodlands South stations - will close earlier at 10:00pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and start later at 6:30am every Saturday and Sunday.

TEL Stage 2 - from Springleaf to Caldecott - will benefit more than 60,000 households who live near the six new stations. It has two interchanges: at Caldecott with the Circle Line, and at Bright Hill with the future Cross Island line.

The Minister meanwhile said more needs to be done to reduce crowding on public transport in the light of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, even though ridership had fallen by around 20%.

He outlined a few steps: One, do not use public transport if you are unwell, as doing so will endanger other commuters. Two, cut down on unnecessary travels during this period. Three, talk softly, if you need to. "Best, don't talk," he said. "Let fellow commuters have a quiet journey." Talking increases the chance of droplets - a key means of transmission - being dispersed.

And, lastly, avoid travelling during peak hours. "Here we need employers to help out by supporting staggered working hours, flexi-time and telecommuting. Many have done so," he said.

Asked for comments, Singapore University of Social Sciences Transport Economist Walter Theseira said, "Without serious measures to stagger work timings and to sharply reduce the number of people commuting to work, it will simply be impractical to introduce serious distancing measures on public transit."

But he added that if the outbreak worsens, more drastic steps will have to be taken. "If we decide the situation is so serious as to require intensive social distancing on public transport, there will likely be mandatory travel demand management," he said.

Minister Khaw also noted that many were working from home, but more could do so. He noted that two-thirds of the Transport Ministry are working from home, and "productivity is not affected". In fact, less commuting time means more time for work, he quipped. 

He said with telecommunications connectivity, there is little need for people to gather at an office. "I hope post-pandemic, office life for most will no longer be the same, this will reduce peak hour demand and the pressure on us to add more trains and more lines at great cost to taxpayers and commuters," he said.