Singapore not No. 1 (subway system)


Alright, I’m done making fun of the local media’s predilection for crowing loudly every time Singapore makes it as No. 1 on some dubious list like the world’s best toilets or something.

So Virgin Vacations recently ran a list of what they think are the world’s Top 11 underground transit systems (don’t ask me why the list arbitrarily ends at 11 instead of a round number like 10 — maybe there was a tie in ranking one of them). Singapore’s noticeably absent from the list, and I say noticeably because the list otherwise seems to include the greatest hits of Asia: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Hong Kong.

An MRT train goes on and on ... The exclusion of Singapore seems even odder because the Virgin list seems to prize all the qualities that Singapore’s MRT system has: timeliness, efficiency, safety, cleanliness, electronic signs telling you how much longer you have to wait till the next train, modest train fares, painless ticketing systems, reasonably comfortable train carriages.

Ah, but there’s something else they like: good architecture and design.

Look at how most of the top 11 stack up:

  • London (no. 1) — “the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) … offers many scenic views of the Thames river and surrounding areas.”
  • Paris (no. 2) — “Many stations were designed with the distinctive unique art noveau style.”
  • Moscow (no. 3) — “Ornate architecture (at least 44 of these stations are rated as architectural sights).”
  • Seoul (no. 6) — “beautiful architecture”.
  • NYC (no. 7) — “Unique and distinct artwork (mosaics) throughout the system.”
  • Montreal (no. 8) — “Diverse, beautiful architecture and unique station art (each station is designed by a different architect).”
  • Beijing (no. 9) — “Interesting architecture on the newer subway lines.”

None of Singapore’s MRT stations, on the other hand, are what you would call a hallmark of distinctive architecture (modern or otherwise). Most of the underground stations on the same line (either East-West or North-East) look identical except for the signage with the name of the station. Any artwork or finer aesthetic touches seem to have been slapped on as an afterthought (like the many odd murals in the North-East Line stations) rather than integrated with the overall station design from the beginning. A quick scan through the Flickr cluster of photos tagged “MRT” seems to prove just how bland Singapore’s station designs are.

I’d like to think this will change when the Circle Line opens. The new underground station located opposite the Singapore Art Museum and integrated into SMU’s campus looks quite promising, with its water feature and ground-level glass roof.

As for the older train lines, maybe they’ll be seen as retro chic someday, but for now they seem to more closely resemble clunky, oversized bomb shelters whose greatest architectural achievement is not to upset the surroundings they’ve been plonked down in.

Read other Metblogs’ take on the list:

  • Bangkok disputes London’s ranking and makes a case for the Skytrain/BTS.
  • Berlin gives its two cents on other cities’ underground systems.
  • Los Angeles gives a Metblog roundup and links to their lizard people’s secret underground system.
  • Manila offers its own informal world rankings.
  • New York makes a case for their extensive subway system, which also happens to run 24 hours a day — when’s Singapore gonna get that, huh?
  • Pittsburgh weighs in on why its T deserves to be included in the list.
  • Tokyo assesses its own subway system.

8 Comments so far

  1. Elia Diodati (unregistered) on March 18th, 2007 @ 5:26 am

    The other distinctive feature with MRT: no express trains whatsoever… Honestly, I think it’s high time for more intelligent train schedules.

  2. Tym (unregistered) on March 18th, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

    I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right — with housing developments spreading to more and more farflung stretches like Sengkang and Jurong West, what would make those places a little less inaccessible would be if you could grab an express train downtown from there.

    But they’d need parallel tracks serving each station if they were gonna have express trains, right, so that the express could bypass certain stations and overtake the regular train? Like what they have in Chicago. Don’t think our system’s been built for that, nor that the new lines will have that kind of capacity built in :P

  3. jer (unregistered) on March 18th, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

    agree with elia. the crowds during rush hours and the weekends are crazy. i’ve taken to only using the MRT after 11 if I want to have relative space to breathe when i’m returning home.

  4. GnG (unregistered) on March 19th, 2007 @ 4:48 pm

    “I’m done making fun of the local media’s predilection for crowing loudly every time Singapore makes it as No. 1 on some dubious list like the world’s best toilets or something.” — Couldn’t agree more… Is it only me who wonders “aren’t foutnains supposed throw water upwards” whenever I happened to be around the “World’s largest man-made fountain” in front of Suntec City..??

  5. Tym (unregistered) on March 20th, 2007 @ 10:06 am

    Jer > I’ve accepted crowded trains as an inescapable feature of modern urban life :) I don’t mind the crowds as long as the trains keep running so that I don’t have to wait more than one train to be able to squeeze onto a car.

    Gng > It might just be you ;) But I think it’s mostly the Suntec management that boasts about its fountain, nosso much the local media. At any rate, there’s far too much of a national obsession with rankings and the like.

  6. noodleman (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 1:42 am

    It’s quite possible that the SMRT was left off the list because it is, in fact, not considered an “underground” system. Most of the track, outside of the CBD, is above-ground; not below-ground.

  7. Tym (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 9:39 am

    Oh, but the other systems in the list, like New York and London, have above-ground sections as well. I think they use the term “underground” figuratively, at this point :)

  8. adrock2xander (unregistered) on March 23rd, 2007 @ 11:26 pm

    Mate, have you guys used Melbourne’s unreliable CONNEX trains? Try travelling on it for a week, and you’ll rethink your decision on Singapore’s ranking. Or the lack thereof.

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