Motoring Heritage Day is back once again at the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. This year’s event will be held on Sunday 15 September 2013 from 10 am to 5 pm. Besides a rare display of some 50 vintage cars, there will also be lots of other activities including guided tours of the station by volunteer guides from the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB), an exhibition on the former railway station that I would be assisting the National Heritage Board (NHB) to put up, and talks (see programme below). The event is jointly organised by the Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR) and the NHB. More information can be found at the MSVCR’s site and at NHB’s website. I will also follow up with some further information soon.
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Tags: Events, Exhibition, Heritage, History of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register, Motoring Heritage, Motoring Heritage Day, Motoring Heritage Day 2013, MSVCR, National Heritage Board, NHB, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Transport Heritage, Vintage Cars, What to Do
Categories : Events, Forgotten Places, National Heritage Board, National Mounments, Rail Corridor, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar
One part of Singapore where the landscape has seemed to be in a state of constant flux – at least in more recent times, is the area from the 9th to the 1oth milestone of Bukit Timah. The area is one that has long been associated with the old railway, being one of two locations in the Bukit Timah area where an overhead railway truss bridge can be found, and where the train used to run quite visibly along large stretches of the length of the road.
Now abandoned by the railway – the railway ceased operations through Singapore with its terminal moving to Woodlands Train Checkpoint on 1 July 2011, the bridge does remain as what is perhaps one of two reminders of the railway, the other being the two rows of single storey houses facing Upper Bukit Timah Road straddling Jalan Asas which we now know as The Rail Mall, which in being named after the railway, does help to preserve its memory.
All around the area, the construction of Phase II of the Downtown Line (DTL) of the Mass Raid Transit System (MRT) which started before the railway abandoned it, is very much in evidence. The work being done has left little in its wake untouched, with a wedge being driven between the two carriageways which make up Upper Bukit Timah Road at its junction is with Hillview Road, just north of The Rail Mall, and disfiguring much of the area as we once know it.
Looking down Hillview Road from the junction, we now see that two landmarks in the area which have survived until fairly recently, have also fallen victim to the developments which will also see roads being widened – a major widening exercise is currently taking place along Upper Bukit Timah Road. A railway girder bridge which looked as if it was a gateway to an area it hid which had housing estate and factories which came up around the 1950s and 1960s, has already been dismantled. That went soon after the railway did. Its removal does pave the way for the road to eventually be widened, thus permitting the private residential developments intended for the vacant plot of land that was occupied by the former Princess Elizabeth Estate. The land for the estate, based on newspaper reports from the 1950s, was a donation by Credit Foncier intended for public housing made to the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1950 and has somewhat sacrilegiously been sold off to the highest bidder.
Along with the bridge, a building that has long been associated with the corner of Upper Bukit Timah and Hillview Roads is another structure we would soon have to bid farewell to. Completed in 1957 as a branch of the Chartered Bank (which later became Standard Chartered Bank), the building has also long been one of the constants in the area. When the branch vacated the premises early this month, it would have have seen some fifty-six years and two months of operation at the building, having opened on 6 April 1957.
Rendered insignificant by hoardings, towering cranes and construction equipment – as well as more recent buildings in the vicinity that now dominate the landscape, the bank building occupying the corner of Hillview Road on a little elevation was one that, in greener and quieter days, was not missed. It provided great help to me as a landmark on the bus journeys I took to visit a friend’s house up at Chestnut Drive, two bus stops north, back in the 1980s.
It would probably take a few more years for the dust in the area to settle. And judging by the way developments seem to be taking most of what did once seem familiar, by the time the dust does settle, there may be little for us to make that connection with the world the area did host in days that already seem forgotten.
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Tags: 10th Milestone, 9th Milestone, Bukit Timah, Bukit Timah Branch, Bukit Timah Railway Bridge, Bukit Timah Road, Changing Landscapes, Chartered Bank, Former Rail Corridor, Former Railway Land, Green Corridor, Hill View, Hillview, Hillview Avenue, Hillview Road, Hillview Road Railway Bridge, Old Photographs, Old Singapore, Photographs, Photography, Princess Elizabeth Estate, Rail Bridges, Rail Corridor, Railway, Railway Corridor, Singapore, Standard Chartered Bank, Steel Truss Railway Bridges, Upper Bukit Timah Road
Categories : Bukit Timah Area, Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, Rail Corridor, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore
An area of the former rail corridor I did have some interaction with back in 1986 was the area just north of the level crossing that goes across Choa Chu Kang Road, up to Stagmont Ring. That was during a stint lasting several months that I had at Stagmont Camp while doing my National Service. The quickest way to get from camp to the bus stops at Woodlands Road was down the hill on top of which the camp was perched, past what then was left of a village, across the Pang Sua canal (which we had to down into to cross it), over the railway tracks and out to the main road.
The proximity of the tracks to the camp, which housed the School of Signals, meant that it also made a convenient location for signal line-laying training - which as a trainee at the school during the latter half of my stint, I was to be involved in, often finding myself, in the company of one or two of my fellow trainees, trudging up and down the area of the tracks, oblivious to the danger being by the tracks did pose. The training exercises required us to lay the lines, and then carrying out fault-finding and maintenance on the lines.
On one occasion, the training exercise involved a desperate search for a missing rifle – one I myself had left behind, somewhere along the tracks. It was probably a good thing that it was along the tracks that I had left it, as much to my relief, I did manage to recover the rifle after just half an hour of backtracking and groping in the dark with the help of the two other members of the detachment I was in. I shudder to think of what the consequences might have been if I had not found it – word was that it could mean seven years in the detention barracks.
One of the areas we did find ourselves on our exercises was the Stagmont Ring area where the Mandai Gate Crossing was. As it was mostly in the dark that we did see it, I don’t quite have much of a visual picture of the area and a set of photographs I did came across recently is a godsend and does quite clearly show the area as it might then have been. The photographs are ones taken by Henry Cordeiro, a frequent visitor to the area in the second half of the 1980s – around the time I was based there. The photographs, which Henry has given his kind permission for me to post do show the gate hut (and the gateman’s quarters) on the side of the tracks across from the most recent gate hut which was demolished early this year.
One in Henry’s set of very valuable photographs is a rather interesting one from 1986. That shows metal framework on concrete supports built to carry pipes across the canal which we still see today. This and the road bridge are one of few reminders left of the sights around village. In the same photograph, we can also see the roofs of huts belonging to what Henry refers to as “Stagmont Ring Village” (or Yew Tee Village). If we look at the same area today (a photograph of which follows Henry’s photograph), we do see how the village rather than the trees then towering over the village huts, has “grown”.
The old photographs do show that much has changed. The zinc roofed wooden huts that once were common in an area I had up to then always thought of as the countryside, have all disappeared, replaced in a large part by new dwellings and flats which are part of one of the more recent “villages” of modern Singapore, Choa Chu Kang. The new housing estate is made up mainly of towering Housing and Development Board flats which extends the spread of what did start off as the Teck Whye Estate, close to Stagmont Camp. Despite the developments in the area, there is still a substantial amount of greenery left in and around the former rail corridor. It may be a matter of time before much of that does get developed as well, but as long as it hasn’t been developed, there is hope that considerations are made to incorporate what has in the last two decades or so developed into a lovely piece of woodland into the developments being planned for the rail corridor (which will be retained in some way as a continuous green corridor) that will certainly be of great benefit to the wider community.
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Tags: 10th Milestone, Choa Chu Kang, Choa Chu Kang Road, Choa Chu Kang Road Level Crossing, Former Rail Corridor, Former Railway Land, Green Corridor, Mandai Gate Crossing, Old Photographs, Old Singapore, Pang Sua Canal, Photographs, Photography, Rail Corridor, Railway, Singapore, Stagmont RIng, Stagmont Ring Road, Stagmont Ring Road Level Crossing, Stagmont Ring Village, Woodland, Woodlands Road, Yew Tee Village
Categories : Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, Rail Corridor, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore, Woodlands Road
It was in the final days of the Malayan Railway’s operations through Singapore just over a year and a half ago that the former Bukit Timah Railway Station drew crowds it that had not previously seen before. The station, built in 1932 as part of the Railway Deviation which took the railway towards a new terminal close to the docks at Tanjong Pagar, was one that was long forgotten. Once where prized racehorses bound for the nearby Turf Club were offloaded, the station’s role had over time diminished. Its sole purpose had in the years leading up to its final moments been reduced to that of a point at which authority for the tracks north of the station to Woodlands and south of it to Tanjong Pagar was exchanged through a key token system. The practice was an archaic signalling practice that had been made necessary by the single track system on which the outbound and inbound trains shared. It had in its final days been the last point along the Malayan Railway at which the practice was still in use and added to the impression one always had of time leaving the station and its surroundings behind. It was for that sense of the old world, a world which if not for the railway might not have existed any more, for which it had, in its calmer days, been a place where one could find an escape from the concrete world which in recent years was never far away. It was a world in which the sanity which often eludes the citizens of the concrete world could be rediscovered. It is a world, despite the green mesh fencing now reminding us of its place in the concrete world, which still offers that escape, albeit one which will no longer come with those little reminders of a time we otherwise might have long forgotten.
Scenes from the station’s gentler days
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Tags: 1932, Bukit Timah, Bukit Timah Railway Bridge, Bukit Timah Railway Station, Bukit Timah railway station building at Blackmore Drive, Bukit Timah Road, Bukit Timah Station, Deviation of Railway Line, Federated Malay States Railway, FMSR, KTM Railway Land, KTMB, Old Turf Club, Photographs, Photography, Railway Journeys, Railway Land, Railway Stations, Road Journeys, Shift of KTMB Station, Singapore, Singapore Railway Realignment of 1932, Squatters on KTM Railway Land, Steel Truss Railway Bridges, Transport of Racehorses by Rail, Transport of Racehorses by Train
Categories : Bukit Timah Area, Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, Rail Corridor, Railway Land, Reflections, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore
It was around the time of Sunday’s sunrise under the red lightening sky that a long train snaked its way out of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, a little more than a year and a half after the last train left the station. Sunday’s train wasn’t one that was pulled along by a locomotive of course – most of the railway tracks along the rail corridor have since been removed, but a human train of runners pulled along by a Kenyan who led from start to finish in what is the inaugural Green Corridor Run which is thought to have attracted as many as 6,000 runners. The race took runners along the rail corridor on a 10.5 km route from Tanjong Pagar to the former Bukit Railway Station – a distance which the trains would cover in about fifteen minutes. The race winner, Samson Tenai, 32, need just a little more than double that – he covered the distance in a time of 34 minutes 11 seconds.
The entire rail corridor which stretches some 26 km from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands has been the subject of much interest since the agreement to handover the land on which the Malaysian Government owned railway, Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), operated a railway line, was announced in May 2010.
Relatively untouched by urban development for some 79 years of the rail’s operation through much of it, the corridor features large tracts of greenery. Interest groups and individuals have called for the preservation of the corridor for its heritage and potential for community use such as a running course, and as a unbroken bicycle path that takes one from the north of the island to an area close to the city with possible links to the park connector network. The Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, announced plans to preserve the rail corridor in July 2011. Since then, a Rail Corridor Partnership has been formed with stakeholders from both Government Agencies, interest groups and members of the public involved. Plans are currently being formulated for future use of the rail corridor.
More information on the former Railway and the Rail Corridor:
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Tags: Colours of Sunrise, Events, Green Corridor, Photographs, Photography, Rail Corridor, Singapore, Sunrise, Tanjong Pagar, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, The Green Corridor Run, Use of Rail Corridor
Categories : Events, Forgotten Places, Rail Corridor, Railway Land, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar
In a world that is changing too fast, it is often only the memories of places dear to us that we are able to cling on to, memories in which we often discover what we have left behind. As with its forerunner Old Places, Royston Tan’s seeks to discover that through the words of the man on the street, and discover in each, “an old lover’s story waiting to be untold”. The stories explore many places in which we as Singaporeans may have collective memories in, and of which in the words of the director “almost 50% will be gone by the time we premiere this”. The premiere of Old Romances and a screening of Old Places will take place over the weekend of 15/16 Dec 2012 at the National Museum. More information can be found listed below. Tickets for the screenings cost S$11 (including handling fees) or S$10 for Senior Citizens and are available at TICKETBOOTH. DVDs will be on sale on both days with autograph signing sessions arranged. Part of the ticket proceeds will be donated to the charity Action for Aids.
15 December 2012, Saturday
2.30pm: Old Romances followed by Q&A
16 December 2012, Sunday
2.30pm: Old Places followed by Q&A
4.30pm: Old Romances followed by Q&A
S$11 per ticket (includes handling fees)
S$10 per ticket (Senior Citizen concession, includes handling fees)
Tickets can be purchased at TICKETBOOTH outlets or on the TICKETBOOTH website www.ticketbooth.com.sg
National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre, Basement
About Old Romances《老情人》
“Old places are like old lovers to me, you never forget them.” – Royston Tan
Executive Producer: Royston Tan
Directors: Royston Tan, Eva Tang and Victric Thng
67 min / Documentary
There is romance in every corner we turn. In this sequel to the documentary, Old Places, Old Romances takes us on a journey to experience Singapore through the collective voices of ordinary Singaporeans.
Through their voices, we hear personal stories from members of the public who shared their anecdotes on radio. Everyday spaces come alive with these special memories, which are bonded forever with these places.
Old Romances is a journal of love letters to places that we grew up with.
“What triggered me to do Old Romances was the great public response for wanting a sequel to Old Places. I believe that in every old place, there is always an old lover’s story waiting to be untold. How great is it to have this story told by ordinary Singaporeans from all walks of life. I received an email recently from a lady who was taking the MRT and as she looked out of the train at everything that seemed so familiar, they were really places that were depleting by the minute. It’s almost like we Singaporeans are suffering from the dementia of our society due to our rapid urban development. With this, I feel the need to archive all the stories and old places of which almost 50% will be gone by the time we premiere this.”
- Tanjong Pagar Canteen at Tanjong Pagar
- Lee Kee Book Company at Chinatown
- Lim Kay Khee Optical House at Balestier Road
- Carnival Beauty Salon at East Coast Road
- Sembawang Hill Estate Taxi Service at Sembawang Hill
- Kim Choo Kueh Chang at East Coast Road
- Chop Wah Hin Sheet Metal Works at Balestier Road
- Seng Hong Coffeeshop at Lengkok Bahru
- Gim Joo Textile Co Pte Ltd at Arab Street
- New Century Record Co. at Tanjong Katong
- Poh Onn Tong Medical Shop at Tanglin Hall
- Thin Huat Provision Shop at Tanglin Hall
- Hong San See Temple at Mohd Sultan
- Kong Tee Peng Temple at Chinatown
- Lao Sai Tao Yuan Teochew Wayang
- Sliat Walk Estate
- Feng Huang Puppet Troupe
- Yet Con Chicken Rice at Purvis Street
- Bukit Merah View Hair Dressing Salon at Bukit Merah
- Old Playgrounds
- Pearl Bank Apartments at Chinatown
- St Joseph Church at Victoria Street
- Japanese Cemetery at Chuan Hoe Avenue
- Cashin House at Lim Chu Kang
- St John Island
- Union Farm Eating House at Clementi Road
- Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin & Crocodile Farm at Upper Serangoon Road
- Klins Dog Unit at Ulu Pandan Road
- Bukit Timah Saddle Club at Bukit Timah
- Colbar Eating House at Whitchurch Road
- Serangoon Bus Interchange at Serangoon Road
- Teo Seng Heng Provision Shop at West Coast Road
- New Chay Hong Beauty Parlour at Lorong Lulian
- Lo Song Leng Dentist at Balestier Road
- Wong Yiu Nam Medical Hall at Chinatown
- Shashlik Restaurant at Far East Shopping Center
- Upper Seletar Reservoir at Upper Seletar
- Kovan Coffeeshop at Simon Road
- Thye Moh Chan Cake House at Geylang Road
About Old Places 《老地方》
Remembering forgotten places in Singapore through the eyes of ordinary people
Executive Producer: Royston Tan
Directors: Royston Tan, Eva Tang and Victric Thng
77 min / Documentary
“I want to archive these places before they are lost forever.” – Royston Tan
Old Places shows us the oft-forgotten yet almost immediately familiar areas in Singapore through the eyes of ordinary people. Prior to the production, members of the public were invited to call in to the radio to recount their significant memories of places in Singapore – places that will soon disappear or be redeveloped.
These personal stories come alive through the callers’ narration and the stunning visuals that capture the nostalgia and hidden beauty of the places. Re-discover Singapore and journey to places like a playground in Toa Payoh, a barbershop at Commonwealth Avenue, Capitol cinema, and an unassuming bakery in Whampoa.
Old Places celebrates personal stories of joy, love or loss, and weaves them into a tapestry of memories amounting to a collective and yet typical story of life in Singapore.
Old Places first screened on Okto on the eve of National Day 2010 where it recorded the highest ratings for any documentary screened that year, and received an overwhelming number of requests from the public for a repeat screening, which was subsequently arranged by Okto on 24 August.
Old Places was screened at the Esplanade from 13 July to 26 August 2012 in the Our Places, Our Stories exhibition.
It has also been shown once at the National Library, five times on television (even till now where they cut the film into 10-minute snippets), twice in schools for National Day Parade last year (once in SOTA and once in NTU), and had one community screening.
After the National Museum, it will next screen at a community museum in Taman Jurong in January 2013, organised by the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Art Museum.
A graduate from Temasek Polytechnic, Royston Tan’s films have screened worldwide at film festivals and received over 75 awards. He has made 4 feature length films and continues to work within the short film genre when the right idea comes along. Tan is one of the most influential filmmakers locally. In 2002, the National Arts Council honoured him with the Young Artist Award. In 2004, Time Magazine cited Tan as one of the ‘Top 20 Asian Heroes’. In 2010, Tan received the Singapore Youth Award, the highest youth accolade from the National Youth Council.
During his days as a student, Tan won the NTU All-School Students’ Photo-Videographic Competition: First prize for Music Video for Remains (1995) and the UTV International Book Prize for Adam.Eve.Steve (1997).
After graduation, Tan received the Best Short Film and Special Achievement Award for the short film Sons in 2000. In 2001, his short film Mother received the Voice Award at The Substation’s Singapore Short Film Festival. He has won two awards at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival: the Canal+ Award 2005 for Cut and the Grand Prix for Monkey Love in 2007.
Tan remains one of the few filmmakers in Singapore who straddles both the commercial film world and the international film festival circuits. His film 881 grossed over S$3 millions, making it the top grossing Asian film in Singapore in 2007. In 2009, he was invited to be part of the Jury at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
Born in Singapore, Eva Tang has lived and studied in Hong Kong, London and China. When she was offered a scholarship from the Singapore Film Commission, she resigned from her journalist job of 5 years and went to study film. Tang was the first Singaporean filmmaker who had her student short selected by the Venice Film Festival in 2002.
Eva is a MA (Directing) graduate of the National Film and Television School. Her student film Londres – London won the Governor Award of the Akira Kurosawa Memorial Short Film Competition. It also won Best Artistic Film in Shanghai, Jury Recommendation at the Hong Kong Independent Short Film & Video Awards, and was nominated for Best Short Film at Hawaii and Bangkok International Film Festivals. The National Gallery of Art (USA) also picked it up for screening. Her film, Solitary Moon was awarded the First Prize at The Great Gatsby Video Challenge, part of the Singapore Arts Festival 2010.
Eva was selected for the 2009 Berlinale Talent Campus, 2010 Torino FilmLab training and 2010 Taipei Golden Horse Film Academy led by Hou Hsiao-Hsien.
Cited as “one of the new wave directors to look out for” by The Straits Times, Victric Thng’s filmmaking career started when he made a 3-minute short film, Locust (2003). The film won the Renault Samsung Prize in the Busan Asian Short Film Festival, Best Asean Short Film Silver Award at the Malaysian Video Awards and also screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Locust remains one of the festivals’ most highly requested films today. He has since made 11 other short films including more recently, The Mole (2007), which won first prize at the Panasonic-MDA Digital Film Fiesta 2007, and Twogether (2007), which screened at the 27th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in 2009. In 2009, he executive produced the short film series Infinity which premiered at the 22nd Singapore International Film Festival. He was commissioned by the National Arts Council in 2009 and 2010 to direct a film under the dance/film programme, as part of the Singapore Arts Festival. A Day Without Wind, which was the dance film commissioned in 2009, travelled to the Asian Hot Shots Festival 2010 in Berlin, Germany.
He has been invited to jury regionally at festivals including in Macau and in Singapore, the 7th Fly By Night Video Challenge 2009. In 2009, John Badalu in Jakarta curated a retrospective of his works.
All photographs courtesy of Royston Tan
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Tags: Documentary, Eva Tang, 老地方, 老情人, 邓宝翠, 陈子谦, Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, Old Places, Old Romances, Premiere of Old Romances, Royston Tan, Singapore, Trailer, Victric Thng, 唐惠龙
Categories : Events, Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, Movies, Rail Corridor, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore, Traditions
For anyone interested in visiting Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, you will be glad to know that it will be opened for a motoring heritage exhibition this weekend (8 / 9 September 2012). Beside the vintage car display that will be put up by the Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR), there will also be a chance to take rides on vintage mini-buses and scooters as well as revisit one of the main reasons why many visited the station before its closure – food. As part of the event, there will be an exhibition along the wider theme of transportation heritage for which the National Heritage Board (NHB) which has organised this event has invited me to help put together an exhibition of photographs from the community on the railway and the station. For this, I have got a group of various people that have an interest in the railway and the station to reflect on the journeys made and the last goodbyes that were said in a small exhibition ‘First Journeys, Last Goodbyes’. The exhibition will be opened from 10 am to 5 pm on both days and there will be free shuttle buses at half hour intervals from Tanjong Pagar MRT Station through the day. For those interested in learning more about the station’s history and architecture, guided tours of the station will also be conducted on both days.
About First Journeys, Last Goodbyes
For close to five decades after Singapore’s independence, the Malaysian railway continued to operate through Singapore on a piece of Malaysia that cut a path into the heart of Singapore. It was perhaps one of the last physical reminders of the common history that the two countries shared.
The southern terminal at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station completed in 1932, was modelled after Helsinki’s Central Station to give it a grand appearance for its intended role. That role, the grand southern terminal of a pan-Asian railway and a gateway to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, was one it never got to play, serving instead as a focal point of any rail journey into or out of Singapore.
The station best remembered for the high vaulted ceiling with huge panels of batik styled mosaic murals of its main hall was one that saw many visitors over the years. That, the experience of the station, as well as the many personal journeys taken through the station would have left a deep impression.
First Journeys, Last Goodbyes brings a few travellers each with a personal story to share of their journeys, journeys on railway or through the station … journeys that will take a long time to be forgotten …
Contributors to the community photo exhibition are Zinkie Aw, Francis Siew, Loke Man Kai, Tan Geng Hui and myself.
Information received on 7 Sep 2012 on the weekend public tours of the station:
The tours will be conducted by PMB’s Volunteer Guides. No sign-ups are required for the tours. Public tours will be:
• Sat, 8 Sep: 2pm, 3pm and 4pm.
• Sun, 9 Sep: 2pm and 3pm
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Tags: First Journeys Last Goodbyes, Francis Siew, Heritage Connects @ Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Jerome Lim, Loke Man Kai, Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register, Motoring Heritage, Motoring Heritage Weekend, MSVCR, National Heritage Board, NHB, Photographs, Photography, Photography Exhibition, Railway, Railway Stations, Tan Geng Hui, Tanjong Pagar, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Transportation Heritage, Vintage, Vintage Cars, Zinkie Aw
Categories : Events, Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, Interesting happenings around town, National Heritage Board, Rail Corridor, Railway, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar
Standing silently and somewhat forgotten is a building that, only a year ago, attracted many people’s attention in Singapore. This building, the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, a magnificent architectural achievement once described as having a “palatial appearance”, recently joined Singapore’s list of National Monuments. Completed in 1932, the station was built as a centrepiece to underline Singapore’s growing importance as an economic centre in the British Far East, serving as a gateway for the southernmost point in continental Asia to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Located opposite the docks at Tanjong Pagar, the station was one that had been well-considered. The then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, in his address at the station’s opening on 2 May 1932, had made the observation that it was “a natural junction between land-borne and sea-borne traffic” and mentioned that it was “where every facility will be afforded for interchange between railway and ocean shipping”. The promise was, however, not fulfilled – Sir Cecil could not have predicted that the railway’s importance as a means of transportation in the Malayan peninsula would diminish.
The station’s opening that day was marked by the 5.15 pm arrival, from Bukit Panjang Station, of its first train. This train carried several dignitaries, including the Governor, the Sultan of Perak and Mr J Strachan, the General Manager of the Federated Malay States Railway. Several months prior to the opening (on 2 January 1932), the station had already made its public debut – by playing host to a Manufacturers’ Exhibition – an indication perhaps of its eventual destiny.
My first encounters with the station took place at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s. My parents often drove past, drawn by the hawker stalls which operated in the evenings in a car-park facing the station’s entrance. It was while sitting at the tables in the car-park that I would gaze across to the station’s façade and stare at the four large, triumphal figures that flanked the portico’s arches. The figures were the work of Angelo Vannetti of the Raoul Bigazzi Studios Florence and represented the pillars of the Malayan economy. These triumphal figures are evidence of the Art Deco style chosen by its architects, Swan and MacLaren. Thought to have been inspired by Helsinki’s Central Station, it is believed the station also shares some of Washington DC’s Union Station’s design features. In fact Tanjong Pagar Station’s architectural elements reveal both western and eastern influences; the green-tiled roof structures were inspired by the roofs of Chinese Temples.
On the rare occasions when I found myself in the main hall, the high vaulted ceiling that rises some 22 metres above the ground caught my attention, as did the six sets of mosaic panels that resemble giant batik paintings. The mosaic panels, which contain a total of 9,000 tiles, looked very much like the batik prints hanging in my home. The panels depict scenes that represent the economies of the then Federated Malay States. At that time, the station had also housed a hotel on the upper floors, around the main hall. A huge sign in the north-east corner of the hall made sure this did not go unnoticed.
It was in the 1990s that I first took a train out of the station. Seemingly in defiance of its location, a huge blue “Welcome to Malaysia” sign stood above the station’s entrance. A Points of Agreement (POA) had been signed in 1990 between the Malaysian Government and their Singapore counterparts. This was to pave the way for the eventual moving of the station from Tanjong Pagar and would involve its handover along with the land the railway ran through (whose ownership was transferred to the railway administration through a 1918 ordinance – effectively making it part of Malaysia).
Two decades of protracted negotiations followed the 1990 POA before the differences in its interpretation resulted in a renegotiation of land swap arrangements between the two governments. The moving of the station from Tanjong Pagar and the handover of land was agreed on only in May 2010.
It was perhaps at the beginning of 2011 that interest in the station and in train journeys from Tanjong Pagar started to build. The realisation that the station was soon to close drew crowds not previously seen at the station. Many turned up for a final look, to make a last departure or to have a last meal at the station, joined by a frenzy of photographers and members of both the local and overseas media, who seemed intent on recording the station’s last days.
The final day of operations at the station, 30 June 2011, came all too soon. It was an especially poignant day for the station’s railway staff and also for the food-stall operators – some were seen having a last breakfast in the almost empty room that only days before had been filled with food-stalls and tables filled with diners. Well before the first train was to depart, a crowd had already gathered in the main hall. Many had come to witness the final moments. Some had come to start a journey that would end with a final homecoming to the station on the very last train that evening.
The crowds grew as the day passed. As night fell, many more gathered to witness the historic departure of the last train out, to be driven by the Sultan of Johor. I had come on the very last in-bound train and was prepared for the reception at the station by the scenes I had seen along the way. Huge crowds had gathered at Bukit Timah Station and at each of the five level crossings, to bid goodbye. After the train finally pulled in following a long delay at Bukit Timah, I lingered a while before stepping out onto the platform. I turned back for a final glance at the platform, realising that would be the last of my many homecomings into Tanjong Pagar.
As I stepped through the barrier, a crowd of would-be passengers heading towards the same train that had pulled in (now the last train out) almost swept me along with them. I managed to squeeze my way out while a frenzy was developing in the public areas. Through the crowd I spotted the Sultan, dressed in a checked shirt and speaking to reporters with tears in his eyes. At the final hour a huge cheer could be heard as the train pulled out, driven by the Sultan. In a daze I stared after it as the train faded into the darkness. It was then that I heard the silence that was there despite the noise coming from the crowd. It was one that filled the air – a silence that after some 79 years would never again be broken by the once-familiar sounds, a silence that spoke of the promise that we now know would never be fulfilled.
This article was written to coincide with the first anniversary of the closure of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and has been published as “Tanjong Pagar Railway Station” in the July / August issue of Passage, a bi-monthly magazine produced by the Friends of the Museums (FOM).
Further information on Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and on the anniversary of the handover:
- Photographs of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on the anniversary of its handover can be found at my post Tanjong Pagar One Year On.
- A complete series of posts related to my encounters with Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, the railway and the journeys I have made through the station can be found at my “Journeys Through Tanjong Pagar” page.
- Article (in Chinese) that may be of interest published in the Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao on the 1st of July in which some my views connected with the Rail Corridor were sought can be found at this link.
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Tags: 1st Anniversary of Handover of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Federated Malay States Railway, Friends of the Museums, Journeys through Tanjong Pagar, Keretapi Tanah Melayu, KTMB, Last Day of Operation of KTM in Singapore, Last Day of Operations of Tanjong Pagar Station, National Monuments, Passage, Photographs, Photography, Rail Corridor, Railway Journeys, Railway Stations, Shift of KTMB Station, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, The Last Train into Tanjong Pagar, Train Journeys, Train Stations
Categories : Architecture, Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, National Mounments, Rail Corridor, Railway, Railway Land, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar
This post features a selection of photographs intended to capture part of what had made the much loved Tanjong Pagar Railway Station what it was just prior to its closure, one to celebrate the many faces that provided the station with its heart and soul. The faces are ones that would be familiar, and are not just of the people who were part of the fabric the station, but also of the many that came and went and of the sights and sounds that gave the station its unique flavour, a flavour that, despite the conservation of the building as a National Monument, will fade as memories fade. The photographs are the same ones which were presented during a sharing session at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station open house held on the afternoon of 1st July 2012 – the first anniversary of the handover of the station and the railway land to the Singapore government. The open house was held as part of the Rail Corridor Open Day and also included guided walks around Bukit Timah Railway Station.
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station as it was is a place that always will be dear to me. I have many fond memories of the station from my previous encounters, encounters that go back to the earliest days of my life. Then, it was the food stalls that magically appeared in the evenings at a car park the lights of which dimly illuminate the station’s grand façade and its four triumphal figures. That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was after the latter half of the 1970s that the station would become a feature in my Chinese New Year reunion dinners – my aunt who hosted the dinners moved to a flat in Spottiswoode Park just by the station and reunion dinners would not be the same without the accompaniment of the sounds of whistles and of the noisy diesel locomotives from the station. The 1990s brought me my many encounters with the station through which I made numerous trips up to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and back – journeys that would forever be etched in my memory. These encounters with the station, and the memorable journeys I made through it, I have attempted to capture through a series of blog posts which many of you might have already read. However if they are of interest, the posts can be found through the page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.
Once familiar sights
Once familiar faces
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Tags: 1st Anniversary of Handover of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Journeys through Tanjong Pagar, Keretapi Tanah Melayu, KTMB, National Monuments, Photographs, Photography, Rail Corridor, Rail Corridor Open Day, Railway Journeys, Railway Stations, Shift of KTMB Station, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station Open House, Train Journeys, Train Stations
Categories : Events, Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, National Mounments, Rail Corridor, Railway, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar, There are places I remember ...
I stepped into the eerie silence of a world that a little over a year ago, had been one that had seen the frenzy that accompanied the last moments of the old Malayan Railway’s operations through Singapore. The now silent world, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, is now but an empty shell, abandoned by the trains that regularly punctured the air with the deafening roar of their diesel locomotives as well as by the people who made the station what it was – the hardworking staff of the railway, those who saw to providing it with essential services, and those who came and went with the comings and goings of the trains.
The station was able to momentarily break out of its solitude due to a kind offer by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) and the Friends of the Rail Corridor to open up both Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to the public on the first anniversary of the handover of the station and the Rail Corridor to the Government of Singapore. As a result of this, a Rail Corridor Open Day was very quickly put together. This included a guided walk in the morning held at Bukit Timah Station which was followed by an open house at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in the afternoon. The handful of people that did turn up at Tanjong Pagar, probably numbering about a hundred during the course of the afternoon comprising rail enthusiasts, familiar faces that I met during last year’s frenzy, the curious and some who hail from distant shores, got an opportunity to participate in a guided tour conducted by Dr Lai Chee Kien and learn more about the station and its and the railway’s history.
The open house also allowed some to share some of what they have put together on the station. This included a poignant and very interesting documentary made in 2008, Project 1932, by Zinkie Aw that touches on some of the people who were part of the station’s history. I also had to opportunity to share a series of photographs that I had captured to help me reconnect with the station as it once had been. The series which I named ‘Faces from a forgotten place’ includes once common scenes and once familiar faces, ones that we see now only in the memories we have of a little over a year ago. It is these very memories that I tried to find as I took the opportunity that was presented to explore what I could of the silence. In its emptiness and abandonment, it was not the memories that I was able to find, but ironically, the beauty of the station that I would otherwise not have known – spaces previously occupied and closed to us that even in the state of the two decades of neglect during which time its status had been in limbo is still obvious.
This beauty that we can still see takes us back to a time when the world had been a different place, to a time when it was thought the station would take its place as the grand southern terminal of the Malayan Railway and the gateway to the Pacific and Indian oceans – a promise that a little over 79 years after it was opened has proven to be one that was never to be fulfilled. What will become of the former station we do not know, its possible second life will be explored in a Design Competition that aims to develop concepts for the future use of the station which has been gazetted as a National Monument, Bukit Timah Railway Station (which has conservation status), and the 26 kilometres of the former Rail Corridor. What I do hope to see would be a use that will not just preserve the memory of the role it was meant to assume and the memories we have of the railway, but also one that with minimum intervention will see it retain not just the beauty that we have seen but also the beauty that has until now been one that has been hidden.
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in its solitude
Do visit my series of posts on my previous encounters with the station, the railway and the journeys I have made through the station which can be found at the “Journeys Through Tanjong Pagar” page on this site.
An article of that may be of interest in the Chinese newspaper Zaobao published on the 1st of July in which some my views on the preservation of memories connected with the Rail Corridor were sought: http://www.zaobao.com.sg/sp/sp120701_020_2.shtml … I’ll try to get that translated and posted here for the benefit of those that don’t read Chinese.
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Tags: 1st Anniversary of Handover of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Federated Malay States Railway, Journeys through Tanjong Pagar, Keretapi Tanah Melayu, KTMB, Last Day of Operation of KTM in Singapore, Last Day of Operations of Tanjong Pagar Station, National Monuments, Photographs, Photography, Rail Corridor, Rail Corridor Open Day, Railway Journeys, Railway Stations, Shift of KTMB Station, Singapore, Sony Xperia S, Tanjong Pagar, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station Open House, The Last Train into Tanjong Pagar, Train Journeys, Train Stations
Categories : Architecture, Architecture, Events, Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, National Mounments, Rail Corridor, Railway, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Significant Moments in Time, Singapore, Tanjong Pagar, Things I loved about Singapore
A year ago, Singapore was seeing the last days of the old Malayan Railway. The railway had served Singapore over a century, cutting a path through the island first with a line partly running on what is Dunearn Road today over to Tank Road. With the deviation of 1932, the line was set on its last path, turning at Bukit Timah to the docks at Tanjong Pagar. The line fell silent on the 1st of July and with that, all that was left were the physical reminders of the old railway and the collective memories we have of it.
One year on, many of the physical reminders are no longer with us – most of the tracks and sleepers have since been removed and returned to Malaysia. The two station buildings have received conservation status – Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been gazetted as National Monument and Bukit Timah Railway Station a conserved building. We do know that three other recognisable structures – the two truss bridges that define the Bukit Timah area and a girder bridge that many see as a gateway to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, will remain. There are several other smaller structures that we do see including the surviving signal huts at the various level crossings (the bright yellow one at Kranji Road fell victim to urgent road widening works soon after the 1st of July). It is unfortunate that several structures that still stand, were ones that have not been very well maintained when they were in use. As a result, most of the wooden structures are termite infested and are in rather poor shape. It does look as if, based on the signs that have been placed around the structures, that they may go the way of (if they haven’t already) the other physical reminders that since been removed.
One which sees a “building unsafe” sign is the former Mandai (Stagmont Ring Road) Crossing’s signal hut. This would really be a shame – the hut bears an impromptu memorial on its door neatly scribbled in permanent market pen. Written on the door are the names of the last gatemen, presumably by one of them: Mr P Mohan A/L Ponniah, Mr Hamid B. Hashim and Rodwwan B. Mohd. Salleh. Below the names is a record of the passing of the last train at 2330 hours on the 30th of June noting that the train was driven by the Sultan of Johor as well as the years of the crossing’s operation (1932 – 2011).
With the removal of this signal hut, little will be left to physically remind me of this level crossing – just those few photographs, and the records and the memories that I have. And of all that I will miss of the old railway, it is the sight of the level crossings that I will most miss – seeing a train cross the road does serve as the earliest memory I have of the railway. As memories fade with the passing of time, it is this memory of the railway that I hope that I will hang on the longest to.
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Tags: 1932, Demolition of Railway Structures, Federated Malay States Railway, FMSR, KTM Railway Land, KTMB, Level Crossings, Mandai Gate, Memorial to the Last Train, Photography, Photos, Rail Level Crossings, Railway Land, Shift of KTMB Station, Signal Hut, Singapore, Stagmont Ring Road, Stagmont Ring Road Level Crossing
Categories : Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, Railway, Railway Land, Singapore, Woodlands Road
It was a year ago that interest in the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway line that ran through Singapore started to peak as the realisation hit many in Singapore that the last days of the railway line were upon us. Many embarked on their own journeys through Tanjong Pagar Station to have the experience of the railway and a journey through the grand old station. There were many who also explored the land on which the railway ran on foot – catching glimpses and taking snapshots to remember a world that was about to change forever. Whether it is from the vantage of the rail carriage or from the ground, there is no doubt many would have realised that a world far apart from the one we lived in existed along the corridor along which the railway ran through, one that in many ways took one, without leaving Singapore’s borders, far away from Singapore.
One of the places along the corridor that would certainly have been noticed is a cluster of zinc roofed buildings close to where the 778.25 km distance marker was, a place if one was on the northbound train one would pass about 7 minutes out of the station just around the bend after passing under the Gillman Flyover and Alexandra Hospital. The cluster of buildings belongs to the Masjid Hang Jebat, a mosque that lies not on railway land but on a part of Singapore, Wessex Estate, that once was home to British army personnel. It is to Wessex Estate that the mosque owes its establishment; but that it exists to this day is probably a result of the railway that ran beside it – protecting the area from being developed all these years. The name of the surau and later the mosque, comes from Jalan Hang Jebat in Wessex Estate, at the end of which the mosque stands.
The setting for the mosque certainly takes one far from the Singapore we have come to know. Set amid the wonderful greenery that the area is blessed with, the coconut palms that tower over the mosque and the cluster of banana trees reminds us of an old Singapore we have quickly sought to forget. On one of my recent visits to the area, a man emerges from the cluster of buildings now decorated with green floral motifs and greets me. He is Jimmy – the man who apparently is behind what now decorates the buildings. Jimmy tells me that the motifs are fairly recent addition, painted on to coincide with the Prophet’s birthday. “The decoration changes every year,” Jimmy says, going on to explain that he was the artist behind the decorations.
As I step through what looks like a little canteen that is reminiscent of the ones we find in the villages across the Causeway, Jimmy relates how he has been connected to the mosque since he was a young boy. He then lived in a block of flats in Queens Crescent which has since been demolished and has come to the mosque ever since. Saturdays he says are especially busy days at the mosque and like he did in his younger days, many come for religious instruction (including intending converts to the religion) and to play Sepak Takraw in the yard.
It was in fact in serving the residents of the area, Queens Crescent being one, as well as nearby residential clusters in the early days of Queenstown that included Queens Close, Stirling Road and Tanglin Halt, that was instrumental in seeing what was started as surau, a prayer room, expand into the mosque it is today. The surau was built in the early 1960s exclusively for use by Muslim serving in the British forces based in Wessex Estate, in what was an area that was fenced-up (although many in the area managed to find a way in). With the British withdrawal in 1971, the surau and the land on which it sits on were opened up and donations were collected to expand the prayer room into a mosque to accommodate the growing population in the area.
Today, the mosque sits in relative silence, no longer serenaded by the sounds of the railway, evidence of has been removed. It is a refreshing escape from the noise and haste of the new world that Singapore is, but for how long, we don’t know. Behind the mosque, a clump of banana trees reminds me of a world we have long since abandoned. I observe a few kampung chickens coming down from a wooden coop running freely around the grassy area by the banana trees. The chickens, I am told, had until recently been wild – having emerged from the surrounding vegetation after the railway stopped running. That perhaps is a sign that the wild world that was once part of the railway land will inevitably be tamed … My hope is that tamed it is not and the wonderful parts of that world which still are there such as this mosque, will still be there to remind us of that gentler world from which the cold grey one we now live in once came from.
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Tags: Former Railway Land, Green Corridor, Jalan Hang Jebat, Kampong, Kampung, Kampung Chicken, KTM Land, KTM Railway Corridor, Masjid Hang Jebat, Photographs, Photography, Queens Crescent, Rail Corridor, Railway Corridor, Railway Tracks, Village Setting, Wessex Estate
Categories : Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten Places, Queenstown, Railway, Railway Land, Reminders of Yesterday, Singapore
Where once the roar of the diesel locomotives broke the silence of the wonderful world that 79 years of the railway passing through it had given, the area is today, as are the trains that passed through it, sadly only a distant memory, overrun by trucks, excavators and tonnes of earth. It was a world where butterflies and dragonflies coloured the green world with their dances of joy, where birds surprise the visitor with their flights of fancy, and where a world we never knew we had offered an escape from that grey urban world we live in. Looking at the photographs of a little more than a month ago, it is hard to imagine what has happened in the last month, with Singapore Land Authority (SLA) moving contractors into the area to remove the tracks, most of the 26 km stretch of which is to be returned to the Malaysians by the year’s end. Nature has a way of regenerating itself and once the work to remove the tracks is complete, I hope that the area is allowed to gain back its former glory and not turned into another manicured piece of greenery that Singapore has too much of.
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Tags: Bukit Timah Station, Green Corridor, Rail Corridor, Railway, Railway Land
Categories : Bukit Timah Area, Forgotten Places, Quiet Moments, Railway, Railway Land, Singapore