The Up and Down of the SMRT: Comparing Light Rail Transits with Subways

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SubwaysThe Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is one of Singapore’s most reliable modes of transportation. Life without the railway line is hard to imagine, since more than two million people ride it every single day. The SMRT undergoes continuous improvement, but how does its overhead and subterranean rails stack up against each other?


Singapore currently has three Light Rail Transit (LRT) systems in place: Bukit Panjang, Sengkang, and Punggol. Generally, LRTs are much easier to build compared to subway systems. One of their many intrinsic benefits is their ability to increase property values in areas around the track. The sight of LRTs stimulates mid-rise development and permanent investment in affected locations.

The SMRT is efficient due to its right-of-way. Both the subway and the LRT lines are unaffected by traffic conditions, with vehicles running on land designated only for them. SMRTCorpSG says despite the LRT’s exclusive rights-of-way, construction of its routes still needs to mind roads and existing structures. This is unlike subway tunnels, which can run along any unoccupied underground space.


Subway cars are superior to LRTs in terms of capacity. Compared to the typical LRT with a ridership of 2,000 to 15,000 per hour; subway systems can carry 15,000 to 36,000. This size comes at a price, however. The construction cost of an LRT line is around $122 million per kilometre. Subways can cost nearly four times that value for the same length of track. Not to mention the risks and difficulties of tunnelling operations.

But, subways still do come with a lot of advantages. For starters, the railway is completely separate from traffic and protected from weather. There are no unsightly power lines like those above the LRT. The subway also travels much faster compared to its counterpart. While LRTs usually clock in about 55 kilometres per hour, subway cars can zip across Singapore at 78 km/h.

The SMRT provides an indispensable service to millions of people each day. With numerous expansions and improvements planned for the future, both the LRT and subway systems will only keep growing in value; despite their many differences.

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