I’m based in Singapore currently and was in Hong Kong previously, and over the last 15 years I’ve seen first-hand how cities in this region are building successful urban metro systems. They’ve used their mass transit systems to define their urban growth and shape their cities – an approach made possible by strong, consistent policy and direction from government.

In Singapore, the government agency that controls transport corridors has far-reaching plans for development that stretch out to 2050. These plans ensure future networks and changes in surrounding land use are considered and safeguarded today.

Crucially in Singapore, projects are also backed by a government commitment to fully fund the infrastructure required. This includes providing all the rail systems and rolling stock. Operators tender for the right to operate the lines and maintain the equipment. Whilst other approaches are used elsewhere, in the main this approach has enabled Singapore to develop a successful urban rail network using appropriate technology.

You only have to look at Singapore and Hong Kong to see the tremendous benefits that those cities have enjoyed. I can say from personal experience that Singapore is an efficient city that’s easy to get around. And with excellent urban rail networks, both cities are now well placed to restrict car usage and the congestion and pollution it brings. Without excellent rail networks, such aspirations will remain unrealised in many other cities around the world.

Although Singapore has many advantages, including a geography that keeps development close together, there are plenty of other cities that can learn from its experience. For example, land use planning that is driven from a high level in the city state.

The challenges the existing Singapore network face are similar to those in other cities. The first lines were built in the 1980s and technology upgrades are now being required for these early lines to cope with increasing demand. The early lines are heavily used, because urban development has concentrated along these lines and the new lines are needed to take peak hour pressure from these older lines.

Singapore’s experience shows that the key to successful urban rail networks is having a strong, long-term vision. And there are plenty of cities that can learn from that.