History of the MRT System

The construction of the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) System was the largest infrastructure project undertaken by the Republic during the early days of independence. The only choices of public transport available in Singapore in the early 60s were buses, taxis and trishaws and the lack of seamless connectivity of the public transport system resulted in long and inconvenient journeys.

"This is going to be the most expensive single project to be undertaken in Singapore. The last thing that we want to do is to squander away our hard-earned reserves and leave behind enormous debt for our children and our grandchildren. Now since we are sure that this is not going to be the case, we'll proceed with the MRT, and the MRT will usher in a new phase in Singapore's development and bring about a better life for all of us."

Minister for Communications Ong Teng Cheong, Early 1980s


Header photo: Orchard MRT station entrance in 1988 / © citytransport.info, used with permission for SGTrains

Studies and Debates 1967-1982

State and City Planning Study

To cope up with Singapore's rapid social and economic growth in the early 1960s, a comprehensive land use and transport plan was needed. Therefore, the government sought the help of the United Nations (UN) to devise a long-term framework for urban development in Singapore. UN representatives visited Singapore in 1962 and 1963 and gave their recommendations to the Planning Department of Singapore. This formulated the launch of the State and City Planning Project in 1967, assessing land use and transportation needs.

The findings of the 4 year study, conducted by the United Nations Development Programme and the Singapore State and City Planning Department, outlined Singapore's first concept plan - a long-term plan to guide the country's physical development for the next 20 years - and forecasted a need for a rail system by 1992.

Mass Transit Study

In 1972, a team of consultants and professional officers seconded from the government conducted the Singapore Mass Transit Study, which carried out in 3 phases from 1972 and 1980.

Under Phase I of the study, the cost and benefits of five alternate mass transit concepts, including an all-bus system, was analysed and the team recommended a rail mass transit as the best option for meeting the anticipated travel demands of Singapore.

Phase II of the study was conducted in 1975 to examine the technical, economic and financial feasibility of the mass transit system. Through the findings of the study, a proposed rail system operating through most densely populated areas was economically and technically feasible. A basic route recommended with two separate lines, one running east-west and the other line running north-south. Despite the recommendation for the development of an MRT system, the possible impact on patterns of land use and economic activities as well as the high costs involved prevented the government from making an immediate decision. It was also complicated by a review of the phase two study by a team from the World Bank, in which issues where brought up with the costing and assessment of the relative benefits of the bus-rail plan compared to an all-bus system.

Phase III of the study, conducted between 1979 and 1980, provided a preliminary engineering design for the recommended MRT system. In this study, the station locations were identified, budget estimates were made and the construction and operational details were established.

Rail vs Bus

The government was hesitant to commit to an MRT system despite the findings of the Mass Transit Studies. Then Minister for Communications, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, favoured a mass rail transit system ever since he was a part of the planning team that proposed it in 1967. Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Finance Minister, opposed an MRT system because of its high cost and preferred a much cheaper all-bus system.

Thereby, a team of foreign consultants led by project director Kenneth Hansen with Professor John Meyer, both from Harvard University, was engaged to review the mass transit and other transportation studies that had been conducted.

In the report, they argued that the earlier studies were based on an incorrect assumption and therefore failed to consider other means to solve Singapore's transport problems. Instead of an MRT system, the team recommended a high performance all-bus system coupled with feeder routes and motorcar restraint. Even if an MRT system is developed, the team suggested that only one line will be built as they believed that it would be sufficient to relieve traffic congestion and allow the bus system to function.

SBS double decker bus in 1988 An SBS double decker bus in 1988 (Photo: citytransport.info)

Comprehensive Traffic Study

In 1980, a provisional Mass Rapid Transit Authority was appointed to conduct preparatory work for the construction of a possible MRT system.

A Comprehensive Traffic Study was then conducted in 1981 by the provisional Mass Rapid Transit Authority, and it confirmed that a rail system was crucial to the Republic's anticipated transportation needs. It concluded that an all-bus system would impose severe restrictions on other road users while not providing a comparable service.

MRT System Designs Option Study

An MRT System Designs Option Study was also conducted to refine the technical details and the recommended measures for the MRT system, such as having Platform Screen Doors at underground stations and utilising the third rail for power transmission.

Platform screen doors at Orchard MRT station Platform screen doors at Orchard MRT station (Photo: citytransport.info)

North-South Line MRT tracks North-South Line MRT tracks (Photo: SGTrains)

Green Light

In May 1982, the government gave the go-ahead to build and completely finance the proposed $5 billion MRT system with the completion deadline set for 1992.

"The Government has now taken a firm decision to build the MRT. The MRT is much more than a transport investment, and must be viewed in its wider economic perspective. The boost it'll provide to long term investors' confidence, the multiplier effect and how MRT will lead to the enhancement of the intrinsic value of Singapore's real estate are spin-offs that cannot be ignored."

Minister for Communications Ong Teng Cheong, May 1982

Proposed Initial System

The proposed initial system was announced during the announcement for the go-ahead to build the MRT system in May 1982. The system consists of 42 stations along two lines - running north to south and east to west - to cover all four corners of the island. The finalised station locations that were built were largely similar to the proposed station locations.

Station names indicated in the diagram were unconfirmed station names and were only indicative of the area the station will be situated at.

Tampines NorthTampines SouthBedokChai CheeFrankelEunosPaya LebarAljuniedGeylangCrawfordRochoreSt AndrewsCentralMaxwellOutram ParkTiong BahruDeltaAlexandraPrincessCommonwealthNorth Buona VistaClementiJurongJurong LakeCorporationJurong WestChangi AirportBukit Batok SouthBukit Batok NorthNee Soon NorthNee Soon SouthYio Chu KangAng Mo KioKampung San TengBraddellToa PayohThomsonNewtonScottsKillineyDhoby GhautMarinaSouth

Construction of the MRT 1983-1988

In September 1983, the Provisional MRT Authority awarded the first major tunnelling contract to Japanese contractors Tobishima/Takenaka Komuten and Doboku joint-venture for the construction of tunnels from Toa Payoh station to Newton Circus, as well as Toa Payoh and Novena stations. In the following month, the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRTC) was incorporated before the ground breaking ceremony on 22 October 1983 at Shan Road.

The route of the initial system was finalised with 42 stations at a total length of 67km across the island, with 48km above-ground and 19km through tunnels. There will be two lines running north-south from Yishun to Marina Bay, and east-west from Pasir Ris to Boon Lay. A spur line to Choa Chu Kang will be branched from Jurong East station of the east-west line.

In December 1984, Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yeo Ning Hong announced that the entire system will be opened by 1990, 2 years ahead of schedule. The first tunnel breakthrough was at Outram Park station with a ceremony held on 27 May 1985. Several months later, the first station to be completed and topped out was Toa Payoh station on 5 August 1985.

The first two Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) trains arrived Bishan Depot on 8 July 1986, with a ceremony held to commemorate the occasion. The grey brushed aluminium train cars are designed for comfort and convenience. The train cars are well insulated against sound and heat and have tinted, double-glazed windows; with air-conditioning to cool the interior. A KHI train car can hold 62 seated and 238 standing, and can carry up to 1800 passengers per train during peak hours.

The last viaduct beam on Phase 1/1A was launched on 27 November 1986 and by the early 1987s, all 20 stations from the first phase are structurally completed.

Nine of the underground MRT stations are self-sufficient as part of Singapore's Civil Defence network - all services, including electricity and water supply, climate control, even toilet facilities, are enclosed and protected by special blast doors, filters and sliding walls which can seal the station in an emergency.
The nine Civil Defence Shelter stations are: Braddell, Newton, Somerset, Raffles Place, City Hall, Tiong Bahru, Bugis, Lavender and Marina Bay

Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) train arriving Queenstown MRT station

Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) train interior Exterior and interior of a KHI train (Photos: citytransport.info)


Opening of the MRT 1987-1990

Incorporation of Singapore MRT Limited

On 6 August 1987, in line with the government's policy of allowing the private sector to operate in areas where the government's direct participation is not essential, Singapore MRT Limited (SMRT) was incorporated. SMRT will take over the operations and responsibilities of the system from the MRTC. An initial 10-year licence to operate the MRT was granted to SMRT.

Phase 1/1A

On 7 November 1987, the first 5 stations of the North-South Line from Yio Chu Kang to Toa Payoh opened for passenger service. The line was extended from Toa Payoh to Outram Park the following month on 12 December 1987.

Guest of honour Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew graced the official opening of the MRT system on 12 March 1988 to mark the completion of Phases 1 and 1A of the initial system, from Yio Chu Kang to Clementi. Passenger service from Outram Park to Clementi commenced the following day on 13 March 1988.

By April 1988, ridership on the MRT rose to more than 200,000 passengers per day.

City Hall MRT station platform City Hall MRT station in 1988 (Photo: citytransport.info)

Clementi MRT station exit Clementi MRT station in 1988 (Photo: citytransport.info)

Phase 2

As part of Phase 2B of the initial system, the single-running line of the MRT was extended westwards to Lakeside on 5 November 1988, and northwards to Yishun on 20 December 1988. Phase 2A was completed on 4 November 1989, connecting Raffles Place to Marina Bay, and City Hall to Tanah Merah. This starts the separation of the North-South Line and the East-West Line of the MRT system. A further extension of Phase 2A from Tanah Merah to Pasir Ris opened on 16 December 1989.

As part of Phase 2B, a branch line that extended off Jurong East station commenced service on 10 March 1990, serving commuters between Jurong East and Choa Chu Kang. The last section of Phase 2B between Lakeside and Boon Lay opened on 6 July 1990, marking the completion of the initial system of the MRT comprising 42 stations over a route length of 67km.

Marina Bay MRT station in 1991 Marina Bay MRT station in 1991 (Photo: citytransport.info)

A KHI train arriving Jurong East MRT station Jurong East MRT station in 1991 (Photo: citytransport.info)

Timeline of Events

Date Description
1967 State and City Planning Project
1972 Singapore Mass Transit Study Phase I
1975 Singapore Mass Transit Study Phase II
1979-1980 Singapore Mass Transit Study Phase III
1980 Study from Harvard team
1980 Comprehensive Traffic Study & MRT System Designs Option Study
May 1982 Green Light to build MRT System
September 1983 First major tunnelling contract awarded
October 1983 Incorporation of Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRTC)
22 October 1983 Ground breaking ceremony at Shan Road
27 May 1985 First tunnel breakthrough at Outram Park station
5 August 1985 First station completed and topped out (Toa Payoh station)
8 July 1986 First two Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) trains delivered to Bishan Depot
27 November 1986 Last viaduct beam on Phase 1/1A launched
Early 1987s All 20 stations from Phase 1/1A structually completed
6 August 1987 Incorporation of Singapore MRT Limited (SMRT)
7 November 1987 Phase 1 - Opening of 5 stations
Yio Chu Kang - Toa Payoh
12 December 1987 Phase 1 - Opening of 9 stations
Toa Payoh - Outram Park
12 March 1988 Official opening ceremony marking the completion of Phase 1 and 1A
13 March 1988 Phase 1A - Opening of 6 stations
Outram Park - Clementi
5 November 1988 Phase 2B - Opening of 3 stations
Clementi - Lakeside
20 December 1988 Phase 2B - Opening of 2 stations
Yio Chu Kang - Yishun
4 November 1989 Phase 2A - Opening of 10 stations
Raffles Place - Marina Bay
City Hall - Tanah Merah
16 December 1989 Phase 2A - Opening of 3 stations
Tanah Merah - Pasir Ris
10 March 1990 Phase 2B - Opening of 3 stations
Jurong East - Choa Chu Kang
6 July 1990 Phase 2B - Opening of 1 station
Lakeside - Boon Lay

"It is worth restating the rationale behind our decision to build the MRT. We have only a limited amount of land on which to house our people, build factories, hospitals, roads and schools, and train the SAF. Therefore, we decided to give top priority to investments in public transport, and to put private transport in second place.

We do not have the land to allow an unlimited growth of private cars. This means that we must put the MRT to optimal use, and the bus services must dovetail and complement the MRT. We must also keep improving the bus and taxi services and keep the growth of cars to moderate levels."

Overview of the Initial System

E12Pasir RisE11TampinesE10SimeiE9Tanah MerahE8BedokE7KembanganE6EunosE5PayaLebarE4AljuniedE3KallangE2LavenderE1BugisW1TanjongPagarW2OutramParkW3Tiong BahruW4RedhillW5QueenstownW6CommonwealthW7Buona VistaW8ClementiW9Jurong EastW10ChineseGardenW11LakesideW12BoonLayB1Bukit BatokB2Bukit GombakB3Choa Chu KangN12YishunN11KhatibN10Yio Chu KangN9Ang Mo KioN8BishanN7BraddellN6Toa PayohN5NovenaN4NewtonN3OrchardN2SomersetN1DhobyGhautM1Marina BayC1Raffles PlaceC2City HallEastWestNorthSouth

Network North-South and East-West Lines (as at Phase 2B)

High capacity Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)
Stations / Length
42 stations / 67.05km
Elevated - 26 stations / 44.87km
Ground level - 1 station / 3.25km
Underground - 15 stations / 18.93km
Bishan Depot (30ha)
Changi Depot (25ha)
Ulu Pandan Depot (13ha)
Size of stations
13,000m2 (average)
Smallest - Yio Chu Kang / 4,450m2
Largest - Raffles Place / 29,500m2
Depth of stations
14.7m (average)
Shallowest - Novena / 11.1m
Deepest - Raffles Place / 21.3m

Trains Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI)


DT: Driving Trailer (unpowered); M1/M2: Motor car

Kawasaki Heavy Industries
Nippon Sharyo
Tokyu Car Corporation
Kinki Sharyo
Number Built
396 cars (66 trains)
Train Numbers
001/002 - 131/132
Car Body Construction
Aluminium-alloy double-skinned construction
Traction Control
4-Quadrant/GTO Chopper control (Mitsubishi Electric)
Line Voltage
750V DC (nominal) from third rail
Signalling System
Fixed-block Westinghouse FS2000 ATC
Operation Type
Semi-automated operation
Standard gauge (1435mm)
Train Length
138m (6 cars)
Car Length
23.65m (DT)
22.80m (M1/M2)
1.45m wide, 8 per car
Seating Capacity
372 seats
Maximum Speed
90km/h (design)
80km/h (service)


The following is a list to other resources with additional infomation on this topic.