Nicoll Highway collapse


A disaster that struck on Tuesday 20 April 2004 at about 3:30 pm, it destroyed a stretch of the Nicoll Highway, rendering it unpassable for many months. It occurred after a temporary retaining wall of the tunnel at the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Circle Line at Nicoll Highway collapsed. It caused a cave-in and brought the surrounding area and the highway down into it, forming 30m deep ravine. The tragedy left four men dead.

The 759 m long Nicoll Highway was officially opened on 17 August 1956 to connect Kallang to the Central Business District (CBD). It was built by the British at a cost of S$8 million (or S$85 million today) and adjoins the Merdeka Bridge. It was named after the former Governor of Singapore, Sir John Nicoll.

Nicoll Highway had been in use for about 48 years before a tragic disaster happened on Tuesday mid-afternoon, 20 April 2004. On that day, most construction workers of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT Circle Line tunnel in Nicoll Highway were having their tea break when the steel supports over the tunnel began to fall over, going down like dominoes into the deep tunnel. The surrounding area followed suit, sagging into the tunnel, and the Nicoll Highway quickly and smoothly caved in 'like soft sand giving way', starting with the city-bound carriageway.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) immediately set up its crisis management centre activating 337 people. The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) set out to inspect all the construction sites and buildings along the MRT Circle Line. Meanwhile, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Disaster and Rescue Team (DART) got into action to find four site workers who were unaccounted for when the highway collapsed. Three others who were injured were taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. After four days of rescue operations, the search for missing persons under the tunnel was called off on 23 April because it was too risky. The gaping cave-in by then had claimed four lives.

Construction of the Circle Line MRT had been given to main contractor Nishimatsu-Lum Chang Joint Venture and sub contractor Kori Construction.

As Nicoll Highway sank, gas, water and electricity cables snapped, causing power to go out for about 15,000 people and 700 businesses in the Marina and Suntec City area. Tremors were felt at Golden Mile Complex. Tenants and residents in the building were also evacuated.

Police immediately cordoned off the adjoining Merdeka Bridge and sealed all roads leading to Nicoll Highway, affecting thousands of commuters. They had to use alternative routes into and out of the city. Several roads leading to Nicoll Highway were closed while public transport services diverted. Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges were waived at the entry to the East Coast Parkway (ECP) from Kallang Road.

As a result of the collapse, excavation works at all MRT Circle Line sites under the charge of the main contractor were temporarily suspended. The Circle Line, which was to have been completed by 2010, was expected to be delayed by about a year. Nevertheless, the Nicoll Highway MRT station would still be built.

The cost of damages arising from the disaster was estimated to run into millions and that it could be a good six to nine months before Nicoll Highway is opened again.

The government also set up a three-man committee of enquiry to probe into the cause of the collapse and present recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy.

The main contractor, Nishimatsu-Lum Chang Joint Venture, also unconditionally offered S$30,000 to the family of each man who died. They acknowledged that monetary compensation would not assuage the grief of those who lost family members in the collapse but the sum was given to tide them over the difficult period.

20 April
9:00 am : Strange noises from the steel struts first heard by Kori Construction site workers in the excavation pit that they were working on. Workers left excavation pit.
2:00 pm : Workers went into the pit and used cement in an attempt to stabilise the structure.
3:30 pm : MRT tunnel collapsed. Section of Nicoll Highway caved in. Blackout in surrounding buildings: Golden Mile Tower, Golden Mile Complex, The Concourse and Suntec City.
3:40 pm : Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel arrived. 75 men and their rescue dogs from the SCDF's (DART) moved into action.
3:50 pm : Electricity was restored to affected buildings.
6:15 pm : The first body of the 4 missing men, that of Malaysian crane operator, Mr. Vadivil Nadason, 42, was found.

21 April
11:45 pm : 162 SCDF men now involved. Rescuers brought up the second body, that of a Chinese national from the disaster site.

22 April
11:45 am : Body of Mr John Tan Lock Yong, 56, LTA site inspector was found about 1.6 m under muddy waters between a tipper truck and a container.

23 April
Nishimatsu-Lum Chang Joint Venture, offered an ex gratia payment of S$30,000 to each of the four families who lost a member in the tragedy.
Manpower Ministry named a three-man committee of inquiry to examine how Nicoll Highway collapse happened.
A section of the Merdeka Bridge nearest the accident site cut off to allow the Crawford Underpass to be reopened to traffic.
6:45 pm : SCDF rescuers called off search for the last victim, Heng Yeow Peow, 40.

24 April
BCA ordered work to stop at 16 of the 24 worksites on the 33 km Circle Line.

25 April
2:00 pm : A 600 m section of Nicoll highway between Mountbatten Road and Stadium Road opened to allow drivers to reach the National Stadium, Singapore Indoor Stadium and Kallang Theatre areas. Foam concrete poured into the ground around the 30 m deep gap to stabilise it and to prevent wafer seepage.

4 December
1:00 pm : Nicoll highway was reopened to road users and the first vehicle to drive through Nicoll Highway was a white Mercedes Benz.

Nureza Ahmad


Blast... ball of fire.
(2004, April 21). The Straits Times. 

Bridge section to be cut off so underpass can open
. (2004, April 23). The Straits Times.

Constant checks to make sure nearby buildings sound
. (2004, April 22). The Straits Times.

Delicate search for the missing
. (2004, April 22). The Straits Times.

Detours cause traffic to slow to a crawl
. (2004, April 22). The Straits Times.

Loh, S. (2004, April 21).
MRT worksite collapse wrecks Nicoll Highway. The Straits Times.

Nicoll Highway opens after $3m in repairs
. (2004, December 5). The Sunday Times, News, p. 10.

Saved by foremans sixth sense
. (2004, April 22). The Straits Times.

Steps to make collapsed site stable
. (2004, April 22). The Straits Times.

Tan, C. (2004, April 22). It happened without warning- LTA. The Straits Times.

Tan, H.Y. (2004, April 22).
SCDF men find a second body. The Straits Times.

Further Readings

Goh, S. (2004, April 26). On a trip down highways memory lane. The Straits Times.

Kaur, K. (2004, April 25). Soft soil at other MRT lines too. The Straits Times.

LTA orders its worksites to be checked
. (2004, April 24). The Straits Times.

Loh, S. (2004, April 24). Search called off. The Straits Times.

M. Nirmala. (2004, April 26).
Digging stopped at all Circle Line sites. The Straits Times.

Main contractor offers $30,000 each to grieving families
. (2004, April 23). The Straits Times.

Main contractor told to stop all excavation work
. (2004, April 24). The Straits Times.

Mulchand, A. (2004, April 25). Stabilising ground is now top priority. The Straits Times.

Section of highway to reopen
. (2004, April 25). The Straits Times.

Skadian, C. (2004, April 23). Up to $111,000 for each collapse victim. The Straits Times.

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic

Events>> Disasters
Law and government>>Safety administration>>Land transportation
Nicoll Highway Collapse, Singapore, 2004
Streets and Places
Science and technology>>Engineering>>Transportation engineering
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places

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