The Downtown Line: The Game Changer
The Downtown Line (DTL) is Singapore’s fifth MRT line and a game changer for public transport in Singapore.
DTL reaches out to residential areas such as Bukit Panjang, Bukit Timah, MacPherson and Bedok Reservoir that were previously not served by the MRT.
Catering to a growing city with growing transport needs, the existing 34 stations on the DTL offer an alternative commuting route, connecting people to the city and making travel within the city centre a breeze.
For those living in Bukit Panjang and Bukit Timah, the line offers a more direct route into the city and cuts travel time by up to 30 per cent.
For those in the east, it means fewer bus rides and faster commutes. Taking the train instead of a bus from Kaki Bukit to Tampines takes just 10 instead of 25 minutes.
The line also enhances connectivity within the Central Business District (CBD) area, taking you from Millenia Walk to Marina Bay Sands and the City Hall fringe more quickly.
The opening of the 21km DTL3 on 21 October 2017 provided a travel alternative to the east and direct connectivity to Tampines Regional Centre and Changi Business Park without the need for transfers via buses. With the introduction of DTL3, the DTL is now 42-km long. This makes it the longest underground and driverless MRT line in Singapore.
Train and Station Features
Length of rail
Number of stations
Number of interchanges
Stage 1: Chinatown to Bugis – Enhancing connectivity in the city
Opening date: 22 December 2013
Length of rail: 4.3km
Number of stations: 6
Stage 2: Bukit Timah comes on board
Opening date: 27 December 2015
Length of rail: 16.6km
Number of Stations: 12
Stage 3: An Alternative travel route to the east
Opening date: 21 October 2017
Length of rail: 21km
Number of stations: 16
In 2024, an extension (DTL3e) will connect DTL3 to the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL). This will enhance accessibility to the Changi Business Park and Expo area. Commuters will also have more travel options to the CBD and Marina Bay area using TEL or DTL.
The new generation DTL trains feature environmentally-friendly innovation, such as energy-efficient regenerative brakes that recover kinetic energy and convert it for other uses.
The DTL trains are the first in Singapore to sport LTA’s logo and signature blue and green colours, as it is the first train line to be managed under the LTA’s New Rail Financing Framework (NRFF).
Design and Architecture
One of the MRT lines that feature artworks, stations on DTL feature a unique artwork specific to each station.
As an interchange station in the heart of the Little India cultural district, this station has a high volume of commuter traffic. The area is known for its tourist attractions, retail shops and commercial-residential mixed developments. The artwork, “Woven Field” by Grace Tan, is integrated into the station’s interior design and is inspired by traditional singhaulia woven patterns commonly seen in saris. The colour palette of the station is predominantly white and grey with accents of red, an elegant contrast to the rich ethic colours in the district.
The station is located at the north edge of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The station design was inspired by natural flora and fauna. The material palette was carefully chosen and touches of nature were woven into the interiors. All the senses are engaged as one pauses at the platform; the soft trickling sounds from the water feature give a moment of respite from the busy journeys.
At 43m below ground, this is the deepest MRT station in Singapore. Navigating the criss-crossing of escalators through six basement levels is an interesting experience on its own. Like a spine uniting the two city campuses of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and Singapore Management University (SMU), the station provides an underground network of subways for seamless sheltered connectivity, serving students and other users in the vicinity.
The construction of DTL required overcoming varied and mixed ground conditions, crossing under the Singapore River and excavating through densely built-up corridors of Singapore. The engineering team also recorded many ‘firsts’ including moving a major river and building the country’s deepest MRT station.
- Diverting the Singapore River temporarily was one of the more challenging feats. It was done to safely connect the DTL 3’s Fort Canning and Chinatown MRT stations. This entailed complex processes to reroute the river and pack the section above the planned route of the tunnels with soil, to safely excavate the tunnels. This award-winning project has been recognised as one of the top 50 engineering achievements with the greatest impact on Singapore since 1965
- Digging to a depth of 14-storeys to link Bencoolen and Fort Canning MRT stations. This challenging feat meant balancing safety, structural stability and many other issues. At 43m deep, this tunnel is the deepest one in Singapore.
- Tunnelling in close proximity to MRT lines in operation required hundreds of instruments to monitor the live tunnels 24/7. Some of the DTL tunnels were built just metres away from live rail lines: 1m above the North East Line tunnels, 3m below the Circle Line tunnels and 8m below the North-South Line tunnels.
- Building an underground platform while train operations were still ‘live’ at the existing Expo MRT station. Work had to go on safely without disrupting day-to-day services and operations. This new underground platform connects the Expo MRT station to the DTL via the new Upper Changi and Tampines East MRT stations.
- Limiting ground movement while moving tonnes of earth and digging hundreds of kilometres of tunnels. Ensuring minimal impact on existing buildings and structures took engineering innovation, precision, and a lot of foresight and planning. Read more about the challenges in constructing DTL 1 (PDF, 852kb) and DTL 2 (PDF, 257kb).
- Tunnelling through soil as soft as toothpaste, mixed with giant hard rocks, was particularly fraught with danger and difficulty. Special tunnelling machines and explosives had to be deployed to clear the ground – with added precautions taken to ensure safety and ground stability.
Delivering the DTL as Scheduled
The sudden bankruptcy of the main contractor responsible for three stations on the DTL – Alpine Bau halted work along the 2.1km of the project. This unprecedented situation for LTA in 2013 could have delayed the plan to open DTL 2 in 2015 by six months. However, ingenuity, team spirit and hard work made its opening possible as planned on 27 December 2015. The team pulled additional shifts, working around the clock, and took calculated risks to catch up on the schedule.
Some of the innovative solutions included the use of quieter wire saws instead of conventional breakers to cut the concrete struts. This allowed work to be carried out around the clock. A local control station was built at the Little India MRT station as a staging ground to proactively test the system concurrently.