10 hours. 38km. 52000 steps
That’s the time and distance it took for me to walk along the North-South Line (NSL) from Ang Mo Kio (NS16) to Jurong East (NS1). Taking inspiration from Channelnewsasia’s recent 110-km round the island series, alongside Edwin Koo’s ‘Transit’ (2015) photography showcase, I wanted to try combining a personal hiking milestone, where I would walk alongside the above-ground train tracks (which are only from Bishan to Jurong East) while capturing the sights and sounds along the way, in particular commuters entering in and out of each of the 16 stations.
Commuting, especially by train in Singapore, is often a much-maligned experience given how much time the general population spends on it. Aside from select stations on the two oldest lines, most train stations have now gone underground, meaning that commutes, as they often are, are efficiently focused on getting us from point-to-point with zero views of our cityscape to boot.
Admittedly I didn’t have high expectations for my walk, but through the at times arduous journey, I’ve grown to have a better appreciation for the design engineering of the tracks, how they double-up as shelter for park-connectors, and are built at various heights or inclines depending on the topography of the neighborhoods it passes.
About the series
For this photo series, I started out with the intention of capturing commuters entering and exiting at a consistent point for all stations. The idea, with reference from Edwin Koo’s ‘Trainsit’ (2015) series, was that I’d be able to frame each station’s entrance in a consistent format that documented the situation at each station in tandem with my arrival time along the walk.
I started out from Ang Mo Kio at 5.45am and ended my journey at Jurong East only at 4.02pm, with about 1hr 30mins of rest in-between.
One thing I realised is that no one station is built the same. While most of the stations have at least three, sometimes four exists, they come in various sizes and elevation (steps) depending on the topography of the station’s location. While this diminished the consistency that I had intended, it also proved to be an opportunity to reflect the nuances of each station and the estates of their namesake.
Ang Mo Kio (NS16) – 5.45am
One of the first 12 stations built in 1987, it is also the first station that appears fully above ground after Bishan. Often bustling throughout the day but enjoys a relative standstill in the wee hours.
Yio Chu Kang (NS15) – 6.10am
A comparatively smaller station, best know perhaps by students from Anderson Junior College and Nanyang Polytechnic. Relatively uneventful journey here.
Khatib (NS14) – 7.20am
Deserves a special mention because of the wonderful stretch that is Lentor Avenue where you can always be sure of a spectacular sunrise from Lower Seletar Reservoir. Makes for great snaps as well given that the trains are running at eye level along this route.
Yishun (NS13) – 7.45am
Probably the most talked about neighbourhood in Singapore, the station is very much the epicenter of the town. Keep a lookout for some interesting HDB designs as you head up from here towards Canberra.
Canberra (NS12) – 8.10am
The new kid on the block that began operations only in Nov 2019. Still relatively underserviced because of its development as a new housing estate. Unlike the red-fashioned brick walls of most of the other stations, enjoys a more modern architecture to its layout.
Sembawang (NS11) – 8.35am
A good time for a break given that you’ve already clocked around 10km. Plenty of options at Sun Plaza and the station itself.
Admiralty (NS10) – 9.30am
Has a nice stretch of park connectors. Not much comments here.
Woodlands (NS9) – 10.00am
A much larger interchange given it being the main transport hub between Singapore and Johor, the stations itself is home to almost a mall-like number of stalls and has recently been added as the first stop along the Thomson-East Coast Line.
Marsiling (NS8) – 10.40am
The number of housing blocks start to slowly diminish as one approaches this station.
Kranji – 11.05am (NS7)
Probably the start of where things get a little brutal hiking wise given the unsheltered path it runs along. Typically more bustling as it often serves as an alternative to Woodlands for people going to-and-fro Johor Bahru.
Yew Tee – 12.10pm (NS5)
(Disclaimer) Load up on water, sunblock as the approximate 6km journey runs through a brutal stretch along Sungei Kadut of primarily industrial estates. The tracks veer off into the forest which means you have to follow Woodlands Road till you are able to circle back to Yew Tee MRT. Not for the faint hearted in our tropical climate.
Chao Chu Kang – 12.35pm (NS4)
Probably one of the shorter routes, Choa Chu Kang is also home to the first Light Rapid Transit (LRT) in Singapore, serving one of the largest residential population. Good place to stop by for lunch at LOT 1 Shopping Centre. (Had lunch till 2pm here)
Bukit Gombak (NS3) – 2.45pm
One of the lengthier walks (approx. 3km) sees you pass through some towering stretches of the tracks and the Bukit Batok Driving Centre.
Bukit Batok (NS2) – 3.15pm
Always nice to see Little Guilin whenever I’m here, has a nice and quiet environment as you head to your final destination.
Jurong East (NS1) – 4.00pm
Never was so glad to see a shopping mall. The number of track connectors here are really quite a marvel.