It has been a great opportunity to come to do a Global Exchange Programme (GEXP) in Melbourne, Australia. Having previously visiting Melbourne with my family on holiday, and hearing the many unique features this city has to offer from friends who had lived here to study, I had incredibly high hopes. I’m happy to say that Melbourne has met all of my expectations. Which is not to say Melbourne is perfect in any way, but it’s the flaws that also make this city the way that it is and gives me reason to appreciate Singapore from a different perspective.
Perhaps to me the highlight of Melbourne to me is its incredibly extensive public transport network with its trains, buses, and of course trams. As someone who has a passing fascination with urban design and public transport systems along with a few of my friends, I did not hesitate to compare the systems of both Singapore and Melbourne, and this blog intends to give a brief introduction to and analysis on both of them.
In Singapore, we are familiar with our Mass Rapid Transit (MRTs) and ‘I Heart SG’ buses. Our original MRT system was more or less built in one go starting in the 1980s along with the development of all the heartland satellite towns such as Bishan, Yishun, Jurong, and Pasir Ris. Urban development in Singapore has the advantage of it being planned from the start which allowed our road networks and transport system to be very efficient.
However in Melbourne, its public transport system has an incredibly rich history as it dates back to the late 19th century and is among the earliest cities in the world to adopt electrified trains. Its network did not have the same opportunity to carefully plan like Singapore’s did, but the same holds true for most Western metro systems that started in the 19th century, and it is extremely charming to see it still being extremely popular to this day and is pretty much an icon of Melbourne. I am sure images of Flinders Street Station will have people immediately associate it with Melbourne.
A striking difference between the train networks of Singapore and Melbourne is the lack of a circular line that wraps around the city and forms a ring around the suburbs. Singapore has the Circle Line which allows for convenient inter-town travel with going through the busy city area. There is no such line for Melbourne, although at least not yet. There are plans in the works to build such a line known as the Suburban Rail Loop. which will also ultimately connect the airport to the network as well. It seems like however the plan is stuck in its conceptual stages until someone can afford to build the line. Sounds like a lot of politics going on!
Speaking of upcoming developments, the most anticipated rail project for Melbourne is called the Metro Tunnel, which seeks to reduce the congestion of the network’s main city loop by building an underground tunnel directly underneath the city’s busiest road. The plan is to have the line ready by 2025. One of the big features of the stations along the Metro Tunnel is the use of platform screen doors, which is a technology that is actually pioneered by Singapore’s own MRT! As you can imagine, the works for the Metro Tunnel has caused a lot of disruption for shops and pedestrians alike, which was why the city decided to rent one of the shops on the road affected to be dedicated to answering questions of the Metro Tunnel along with other rail projects happening around Victoria. I was able to visit the Metro Tunnel HQ and learned a lot about the many ways Melbourne intends to upgrade itself to deal with its growing population. I brought home some souvenirs in the form of paper cut-out models of the High Capacity Metro Train and VLocity train, both of which are currently being used in the network.
I also have to bring up the importance of trams in Melbourne’s public transport network. They were what I think of when I think of Melbourne. They too have a long storied history. Coming from a city that does not have trams (at least not anymore), it is a magical sight.
This includes little details like signs and road markings that tell citizens here that trams take priority over cars in the city and that the city is built for and by trams. It is a pretty beautiful sight.
All in all, it was pretty fascinating to see how public transport systems in other cities behave, especially having been a very frequent user of Singapore’s own public transport. Singapore’s network has been built on the foundations of other networks like Melbourne, and now Melbourne is also taking a page out of Singapore too. All in the goal to connect as many people as possible as efficiently and safely as possible, and for cities like both Singapore and Melbourne, connections are key.