MRT system begins operations


The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system began operations on 7 November 1987 when the six-kilometre Yio Chu Kang-to-Toa Payoh stretch of the North-South Line was opened to commuters. To mark the occasion, an inaugural ceremony attended by then Second Deputy Prime Minister Ong Teng Cheong and then Minister for Communications and Information Yeo Ning Hong was held at the platform of Toa Payoh MRT station. A specially arranged train took the two ministers and about 400 guests on the first two-way ride from Toa Payoh to Yio Chu Kang and back before the service was opened to the public. The inaugural service attracted some 120,000 passengers who had bought S$3 commemorative tickets, with the proceeds going to the fundraising organisation, Community Chest.[1]

The MRT system was first proposed in 1967 by the planners of the State and City Planning Project, which had been initiated in the same year to guide the physical development of Singapore.[2] The MRT proposal was later incorporated into the Ring Concept Plan (also known as the 1971 Concept Plan) in April 1970.[3] The MRT system aimed to serve as an island-wide public transport system to improve connectivity between the city centre and residential areas, as well as to ease traffic congestion and reduce pollution.[4]

To study the feasibility of the system, the government embarked on a series of mass-transit studies between 1972 and 1980, with the aid of the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank.[5] The first study (1972–1974) proposed a rail-based MRT system to ease traffic congestion and act as a mode of transportation to move people around the island,[6] which was reiterated in the second study (1974–1976). In addition, the second study estimated the cost of building the MRT system to be S$1.75 billion and recommended that the system comprise two rail lines running from east to west and north to south.[7] In the third and final study (1979–1980), the proposed MRT route network was expanded to cover more locations, and the estimated cost of the system was adjusted upwards to S$3.9 billion.[8]

Despite the comprehensive studies, the government did not immediately agree to the MRT plan. Instead, it launched further studies to explore other alternatives. These include building a second business district at Tanjong Rhu and the implementation of a high-performance all-bus system coupled with feeder routes and a policy on motorcar restraint.[9] It was only in May 1982 that the government finally agreed to build and finance the MRT system, which was then estimated to cost S$5 billion.[10] The approved MRT system was envisaged to be 67 km long, with three lines: the North-South Line from Yishun to Marina Bay; the East-West Line from Pasir Ris to Boon Lay; and the Western Line linking Jurong town and Bukit Panjang.[11] To oversee the construction and management of the system, the Mass Rapid Transport Corporation Limited was established in 1983.[12]

The MRT system began its inaugural service on 7 November 1987 with just five stations – Yio Chu Kang, Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Braddell and Toa Payoh.[13] By 12 December the same year, nine more stations were added, allowing commuters to travel from Novena to Raffles Place on the North-South Line, and from Outram Park to Raffles Place on the East-West Line.[14] On 12 March the following year, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew officially launched the MRT system, which saw the opening of another six stations from Tiong Bahru to Clementi on the East-West Line.[15]

1. Dhaliwal, R., & Lim, M. (1987, November 8). All aboard for the subway age. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. ‘Unique nation state’ plan. (1967, September 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Campbell, B. (1970, April 8). What the Ring Concept Plan looks like. The Straits Times, p. 5; Mass transit system study by two US firms. (1972, July 20). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2014). Concept Plan 1971. Retrieved February 26, 2015, from Urban Redevelopment Authority website:
4. Soh, T. K. (1972, March 10). Mass rapid transport best way to beat S’pore future traffic jams. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Mass Rapid Transit Corporation. (1993). Stored value: A decade of the MRTC (pp. 13, 15, 25). Singapore: Mass Rapid Transit Corporation. Call no.: RSING 388.42095957 SIN.
5. Gabriel, M. (1983, October 22). 12 years’ wait and debate. The Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Wilbur Smith and Associates. (1974). Singapore mass transit study phase I: Report in brief (pp. 1, 18). Singapore: Ministry of Communications. Call no.: RSING 388.4095957 WIL.
7. Wilbur Smith and Associates. (1977). Singapore mass transit study phase II: Report in brief (pp. 1, 36). Singapore: Ministry of Communications. Call no.: RSING 388.4095957 WIL.
8. MRT project’s winding path arrives at a critical fork. (1980, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The Straits Times, 3 Sep 1980, p. 14; Rimmer, P. J. (1986). Rikisha to rapid transit: Urban public transport systems and policy in Southeast Asia  (p. 144). Sydney: Pergamon Press. Call no.: RSING 388.40959 RIM.
10. Go-ahead for MRT: Work starts in ’84. (1982, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Mass Rapid Transit Corporation. (1984). Annual report 1984 (p. 5)Singapore: Mass Rapid Transit Corporation. Call no.: RCLOS 388.40605957 PMRTAS-[AR].
12. The Straits Times, 22 Oct 1983, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. The Straits Times, 8 Nov 1987, p. 1.
14. Dhaliwal, R. (1987, December 12). Shopping for Xmas the MRT way... The Straits Times, p. 1; System must be put to optimal use, says PM. (1988, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Mass Rapid Transit Corporation. (1988). The MRT story (p. 12). Singapore: Mass Rapid Transit Corp. Call no.: RSING 388.4095957 MRT; The Straits Times, 13 Mar 1988, p. 2.

Rights Statement

The information in this article is valid as at March 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.