Bukit Timah Railway Station revisited

7 02 2013

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

JeromeLim Railway 019

JeromeLim Railway 021

JeromeLim Railway 023

JeromeLim Railway 024

JeromeLim Railway 025

JeromeLim Railway 002

JeromeLim Railway 005

JeromeLim Railway 006

JeromeLim Railway 007

JeromeLim Railway 009





There I go again … another journey through Tanjong Pagar

11 03 2011

I guess I have not had enough of it, despite probably having tens of, if not a couple of hundred journeys out of Tanjong Pagar. I did it once again, since proclaiming that that journey taken with some friends at the end of last year would possibly have been my last. Having had a mixed bag of experiences on the many journeys through the arches of the grand old station, the ones that probably I remember most of are the regular delays that one comes to expect on the far from reliable train service that KTMB operates. Part of the reason for this, some of the archaic infrastructure and practices still in use on the old railway, does perhaps lend itself to an experience that you would certainly not get on the efficient railways that criss-cross much of the European continent – one that seems out of place in the ultra modern and efficient world we have grown accustomed to in Singapore.

I will certainly miss taking train journeys out of Tanjong Pagar ... something that will perhaps motivate me to take a few more over the next few months before the station closes.

Stepping into the station itself would somehow take you back in time, the atmosphere being one which seems more at home in the Singapore of the 1960s and 1970s. The large airy concourse that greets the visitor is adorned with mosaic murals that speak of a style that was prevalent of a time we have left behind and depict scenes from the Malayan peninsula that would have been more common in that era. Over the years that I had have an awareness of the layout of the concourse, nothing much has changed except perhaps that the occupants of some of the spaces, and an invasion of a Tourism Malaysia hut in the middle of it. It is in one of the spaces along the concourse that some nice food can be found and to perhaps add a old world flavour to the station, you would find food vendors that would be more comfortable conversing in Bahasa Melayu, once a common language on the streets.

The sight of the trains at the platforms of Tanjong Pagar will soon be nothing but a fading memory.

Beyond the concourse, the platforms do also take one back in time. With a cafe where one can sit back and enjoy the comings and goings on the tracks as well as on the platforms, over a cup of tea that perhaps one would bear only for the pleasure of what the setting offers. These days with the knowledge that the station would soon hear its last train whistle, one would encounter an army of photographers that sometimes seem to outnumber passengers making their way from the platform. Across on the departure platform, for long missing the Singapore checkpoint staff that had occupied the rooms at the end for some three decades before moving to Woodlands during a time when relations between Singapore and the northern neighbours wasn’t at its best. Somehow, the frenzy that accompanies the checkpoint on the Causeway is also missing from the Malaysian Customs and Immigration counters on the platform.

Last light ... the light is fading on the train station as it will hear its last train whistle by the time the first of July comes around.

Beyond the platforms, the highlight for any train passenger awaits, one that takes one through parts of Singapore that have remained untarnished by the waves of development that has altered the face of much of the island, and it is for this that a train journey through Tanjong Pagar is certainly worth the while. The initial part of the journey through to the Bukit Timah area past the two truss bridges cuts through some parts that might well have remained untouched since the Railway Deviation of 1932 took the railway line through the Ulu Pandan area to Tanjong Pagar. There are huge tracts of greenery, particularly in the Buona Vista / Portsdown and Ulu Pandan areas, much of which are certainly worth keeping – something that the Nature Society of Singapore advocates in their proposal to turn the rail corridor into green corridors. Unfortunately, it does seem like the vultures have started to hover over some of these places based on the Foreign Minister’s mention of plans during the budget debate on 3 Mar 2011. Beyond the station at Bukit Timah, there would also be parts where the original Singapore to Kranji line would have run up to 1932. And it is along these stretch that we see some of the parts of the railway that fascinated me from my early days, including the bridges and the level crossings that we might soon see the last of, as come the first of July, the railway line that we have seen cut through Singapore for a century or so, would see its last train.

Foreign Minister George Yeo on the schedule for the shift of the terminal station from Tanjong Pagar by 1 Jul 2011. Nothing new in the announcement except that some of the development plans for the railway land were mentioned.

The departure platform again. Not having had enough of journeys through Tanjong Pagar, I found myself on the platform taking another journey.

So, there I found myself on a Sunday morning with a few companions, boarding another train, to embark on what is perhaps not a final but one of my last journeys out of the station, taking it all in again. The view from the train pulling out from the sunrise shrouded station was dreamy to say the least, as were the views of the train yard, somehow feeling as if it was a movie of a forgotten time that I was watching. I took it all in … signal poles, distance markers, the green tracts, the Tanglin Halt area which I had been familiar with having spent my earliest days in nearby Commonwealth Crescent, that old station at Bukit Timah, the truss bridges and the level crossings. The train ride went a little too smoothly for it to be one that I was used to, leaving right on time and speeding past the station at Bukit Timah and skipping the ritual of the exchange of the key token. We were to find out why once we got across the Causeway … that I would leave to another post, as I will our destination for the day … this journey certainly won’t be my last and if I do have the time … it would be one of a series of journeys that would be to remember that we once had an old world railway line running through a Singapore that had long left that old world behind.

Pulling out of Tanjong Pagar.

Light Signals ...

Signal pole.

A fading memory ... the view out of the window of a train passing through Kranji area.


To read my series of posts on Journeys through Tanjong Pagar, please click on this link.






A final journey from Tanjong Pagar: into Malaysia before leaving Singapore

30 11 2010

Whatever our reasons may have been, some friends and I decided to embark on what may be a last journey by train from the station that has served as the southern terminal of the Malayan Railway, Tanjong Pagar Station, for a better part of a century. For some of us bitten by the nostalgia bug brought about by the knowledge that platforms of the station would have fallen silent by the time the second half of 2011 arrives for the grand old station, it was about reliving our fond memories of train journeys that we have taken through the station. For others, it was a maiden journey – one that needed to be taken before the station shuts its doors to train passengers for good, and one that needed to be taken for the romance perhaps of taking a train from a station that is very much from the old world.

The grand old station at Tanjong Pagar had served as the southern terminal of the Malayan Railway since 1932.

This thought of a last journey had come with a walk or discovery and rediscovery down the Bukit Timah railway corridor, and with little planning, a few friends decided on a day trip to Gemas, the significance of Gemas being that of the main railway junction where the lines running north split into eastbound and a westbound lines, a well as being about the furthest that one could go with the time afforded by a day trip. Having purchased tickets well in advance for the travelling party which had grown from a few friends to a party of 13, something that we decided would be best with the start of the peak travel season brought about by the school holidays on both sides of the Causeway, all that was left for us was to board the train when the day arrived.

The platforms at Tanjong Pagar would have fallen silent by the time the second half of 2011 arrives.

Going on what is the first train out to Gemas, the 0800 Ekspress Rakyat, meant an early start on a Sunday morning, having to arrive at half an hour prior to departure to clear Malaysian Immigration and Customs. Arriving at the station with time to spare, we were able to grab a quick bite at the coffee shop by the platform before making our way to the departure gates. At the gates, somewhat surrealistically, the frenzied atmosphere that had greeted my very first train journey was conspicuously absent, replaced by a calm that was certainly more in keeping with the laid back feel of the rest of the surroundings that early morning.

The was definitely a less frenzied atmosphere around the departure gates and platform compared to when I took my very first train journey out of Tanjong Pagar.

What had been up till 31 July 1998, the southernmost exit point from Singapore for journeys across the Causeway, the booths that were used by the Singapore Immigration Department before the big shift to the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex in Woodlands, now sit quietly and forgotten at the entrance to the platform. Beyond the booths lay ones that still had life, used by the Malaysian authorities, who have stubbornly resisted all attempts by the Singapore government to also shift the Malaysian checkpoint to Woodlands – one of what had been the many thorns that had been lodged in the side of bilateral relations between the two countries for a long time. With the Malaysian authorities continuing to operate their checkpoint at the station (claiming that it was well within their rights to do so despite the Singapore government’s insistence that it was illegal to do so on the grounds that whether or not KTM had a lease on the land, the land was still within Singapore’s sovereign territory), the checkpoint that we passed through is possibly the only one in the world that exists where the immigration clearance is carried out by the country into which entry is being made into first. What this also means is that passports are not stamped by the Malaysian side – an irregularity that is tolerated only as a consequence of train passengers leaving Tanjong Pagar station having technically not left Singapore, not having first cleared Singapore Immigration.

The booths that were once used by the Singapore Immigration prior to its shift to the CIQ complex at Woodlands on 1 Aug 1998.

A stamp on the Immigration Departure Card in lieu of one on the passport to indicate entry into Malaysia through Tanjong Pagar Station.

Passing through Malaysian Customs – I was quite relieved not to have encountered a particular Customs officer from the past, one whom most in the know would try to avoid back in the 1990s when every item of baggage would be rummaged through by the over zealous Customs officers stationed at Tanjong Pagar. The officer in question was one that stood out, being the only ethnic Chinese Customs officer amongst the mainly Malay officers, and one who seemed to think that everything that looked expensive or new had to be taxed.

The disused platform adjacent to the departure platform running parallel to Keppel Road.

An old passenger carriage at a disused platform at the station.

Finding myself on the very familiar departure platform after Customs, it somehow seemed a lot quieter than it had been on my previous journeys – perhaps with journeys by train becoming less attractive with Singaporeans heading up north, with the introduction of improved and very comfortable coach services to the major Malaysian towns and cities, which are not just much quicker, but also a cheaper alternative to the train.

The very silent departure platform.

Another view of the rather quiet departure platform.

Boarding the train brought with it familiar sights and smells ....

The train pulls out ... signalling its intent with a whistle and the blare of the horn ...

... as sways and jerks accompanied the first few metres of movement ...

The rustic charm of the train yard just after the station ...

More views around the train yard ...

There was a lot to take in along the way as well: once again, scenes that will be lost once the corridor through which the railway runs is redeveloped. Clearing the relatively built up areas as the train first passed the Bukit Merah and Delta areas, the bit of greenery around the Portsdown area before coming to Queenstown, Tanglin Halt and the Buona Vista areas, we soon found ourselves amidst the lush greenery of the Ulu Pandan area. The train pulled to a stop at Bukit Timah Station, not so much to pick passengers up but to make way for not one but two south bound trains, letting one pass before moving up the nearby railway bridge only to head back down to allow the second to pass. We were able to observe the handing over of the key token – an archaic safety practice where authority to proceed from the station would be “handed-over” by the station master to the train, before continuing on our journey north.

Pulling out through the Bukit Merah area ...

Pulling into Bukit Timah Station ...

Stopping for the first of two passing southbound trains ...

Crossing the truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads ....

... probably to change tracks for the next passing train ...

Bukit Timah Station.

Signalling the second southbound train ...

Getting ready to hand over the key token ...

Getting ready to hand over the key token ...

Next, the train headed up the Bukit Timah corridor, past the first of the two distinctive truss bridges, through the notorious Rifle Range and Hillview areas before crossing the second of the bridges. Much of the area was certainly familiar from the recent trek some of us made down from the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road, which we in no time passed, crossing three more level crossings through some of the greener parts of the island before reaching Woodlands, where we disembarked to clear Singapore Immigration. Boarding the train, the jam on the Causeway soon greeted us, as well as a hazy and somewhat sleepy view of the Straits of Johore as we crossed the Causeway and rather uneventfully, we were soon at the spanking new Johor Baharu Sentral – just across from the old Johor Baharu Station, from where we would continue on the next part of our journey … northwards through the length State of Johore …

Through the Bukit Timah Corridor near Hillview.

Another view of the Bukit Timah Corridor near Hillview.

Enjoying the scenery of Singapore's nothern countryside near Kranji ... (don't try this at home!).

The sleepy view from the Causeway (looking at Senoko Power Station) of the Straits of Johore.

The water pipelines at the Causeway (supply of water was another thorn in the side of bilateral relations).

Arriving at spanking new JB Sentral ... the gateway to the north...

This slideshow requires JavaScript.





The final part of the walk down the Bukit Timah corridor: From the site of the Green Spot to a very green spot …

1 11 2010

Wet and sticky from the exertions of a walk that had started early on a Sunday morning just as an electrical storm was developing, wet from the drenching we got and sticky from the humid air that was heated up by the sun’s appearance in the latter part of the morning, the eight of us started on the last leg of the trek from the site of the huge Green Spot bottle that stood at the entrance of the former Amoy Canning factory that most of those my age would well remember. From there, we trudged along Upper Bukit Timah Road to the entrance to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve on Hindhede Road where we came to a second steel girder bridge.

The narrow span girder bridge at Hindhede Road.

What we noticed of the bridge was that it, being of a much shorter span than the previous one we had encountered at Hillview Road, was supported by only two deep girders – which were quite clearly of riveted construction (rather than of welded construction – a method that is more commonly employed today), which provided some evidence that the girders have not been replaced since the bridge was first erected in 1932.

The bridge is supported by two deep girders which are riveted.

The view on top of the bridge at Hindhede Road.

Leaving the bridge, we decided to give an intended detour to the site of Beauty World a miss, moving on towards Jalan Anak Bukit, where we were greeted by the wonderful sight of the second of two White-Throated Kingfishers that we had seen that morning, perched on an extended branch of a tree over the tracks in the area.

The stretch of the tracks approaching the Anak Bukit area (looking northwards).


The second of two White-Throated Kingfishers that we spotted along the trek.

Taking a walk down down Jalan Anak Bukit, we turned into what must be quite an infamous shortcut across the railway track to Rifle Range Road, where there have been several fatal incidents over the years involving pedestrians taking the shortcut. Somehow, my earlier visit to the shortcut where I had, across a speeding train, caught a glimpse of a woman holding an umbrella on the other side of the track, seemed a lot more eerie than this one – perhaps because of the company I was in. The sight of the woman with the umbrella had brought to mind an incident at the end of the 1970s when an incident had occurred not far from shortcut, in which, a girl, last spotted holding an umbrella, had been run over by a train.

A train carrying bricks passing a popular shortcut from Jalan Anak Bukit to Rifle Range Road. The ghostly figure of the lady with the umbrella brings to mind an incident at the end of the 1970s in which a girl, last seen holding an umbrella, was run over by a train not far from the shortcut.

From the shortcut at Jalan Anak Bukit it was through familiar territory, haveing taken the same walk a few weeks back to rediscover the area around Bukit Timah Station. Taking the short walk down Rifle Range Road, past an abandoned factory building which we couldn’t decide if it might have once been part of the former Yeo Hiap Seng factory complex that stood on the wedge of land between Jalan Anak Bukit, Rifle Range Road and Dunearn Road, we soon came to the second of the two black truss bridges across the Bukit Timah area. From the bridge, it was a short walk to the quaint old Bukit Timah Station – which I have devoted a previous post to, still looking as I would always remember it. The station, we have been given to understand based on the recent Memorandum of Understanding signed between Singapore and Malaysia on the relocation of the Tanjong Pagar railway station to Woodlands by 1 July 2011, and the redevelopment of railway land, could possibly be conserved as well.

The abandoned factory building next to the track between Rifle Range Road and Jalan Anak Bukit.

The view of the railway land from Rifle Range Road.

The southern reach of the railway as seen through the truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads - part of the deviation in 1932 that gave Singapore the grand old station at Tanjong Pagar.

The black truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads as seen from Rifle Range Road.

Bukit Timah Station certainly has a rural Malaysian feel about it, surrounded by a sense of calm in very green surroundings.

The quarter kilometre marker at the station - the line will be slightly truncated with the shift of the main station to Woodlands by 1 July 2012.

Manually operated control levers for operation of railway points at Bukit Timah Sation.





Journeys through Tanjong Pagar: The Station at Bukit Timah

27 09 2010

My earliest impressions of the Malayan Railway were formed perhaps not so much by the station at Tanjong Pagar, but by the two black steel truss railway bridges that seem to give the area of Bukit Timah that they cross its character. I often passed under the bridges as a child, seated in the backseat of my father’s car on the many trips he took us on to and from the Causeway and to Jurong or to the Teck Whye area to visit a friend of my mother’s who ran an orchid farm there. Each time I passed under, my attention would be drawn to the heavy steel trusses, sometimes hoping that I could see a train traversing one of them. The bridges would serve as a landmark for me on the long road journeys from the Causeway. The stretch from the Causeway down Woodlands and Bukit Timah Roads always seemed endless, particularly having had been seated in the backseat for a large portion of the journey along the winding roads north of the Causeway, taking us past the monosodium glutamate processing ponds close to the Causeway and the Metal Box factory, then Bukit Panjang Circus and Bukit Gombak, and further on past Boys Town before the first of the two black bridges came into view. Seeing the first meant that the long and boring part of the journey would be coming to its end and I could look forward to seeing the Hume Factory, Ford Factory, and Magnolia Dairies on the hill, before the Bukit Timah Fire Station came into sight and with it, the huge Green Spot bottle at the entrance of the Amoy Canning Factory that I would never fail to look out for.

One of the two steel truss bridges that give the Bukit Timah area its distinct character.

Passing under the bridges and catching an occasional glimpse of a train on one of them would also bring with it a desire to make a train journey of my own, something that I only managed to do later in life. When I did finally embark on that very first train journey and on my subsequent journeys, I did find that there was a lot more than the bridges that captivated me. The train rides always provided an opportunity to catch a glimpse of a Singapore that would otherwise remain hidden to me, with the route that the train takes meandering through parts of Singapore that could very well be in another world. Two spots came to my attention on that first ride, having been provided with a good glimpse of from the unscheduled stops that the train made prior to reaching the Causeway. The two were a short distance apart, on either side of the first of the railway bridges that cross Bukit Timah Road, the first being at the Bukit Timah Station just before the bridge, a station that I had hitherto not known about, and the second just after the bridge – at the stretch just behind the Yeo Hiap Seng factory.

A southbound train crossing the bridge near the site of the former Yeo Hiap Seng factory.

The trains to and from Tanjong Pagar take a route through some untouched parts of Singapore.

Having caught a good look at Bukit Timah Station that very first time in the dim illumination it was provided with, I was fascinated, seeking to find out more about it when I got back to Singapore. From what I could see of it, it had looked to me like one of the little rural stations that might have depicted in one of the Ladybird books that I had spent my early years reading, one that could be one used to model a miniature station for one of those model train sets that I had often looked longingly at in the toy department of Robinson’s. It was in future train journeys in the daylight that I would get a better glimpse of it, being something that I would never tire looking out for on all my journeys by train.

Bukit Timah Station is a little known about station in Singapore, off Bukit Timah Road.

Bukit Timah Station could pass off for one of the little stations on a model train set.

The station I was to learn, was built in 1932 as part of a realignment of the original railway line which had run from Woodlands down to its terminal at Tank Road via Newton Circus. The realignment or “deviation” as it was referred to then, was carried out at considerable expense at the end of the 1920s, partly motivated by the need to elevate certain portions of the track as the old line had been prone to being overrun by the frequent floods that afflicted the low lying Bukit Timah corridor the line ran through, and at the same time allowing at the the number of what were considered to be dangerous level crossings to be minimised. The realignment also allowed the construction of a brand new and much grander terminal at Tanjong Pagar, one that could be considered as befitting of its status as the southern terminal of the railway line, and more importantly, as the gateway from the colonies in the Malayan Peninsula to Europe and also to the Far East by sea. Bukit Timah Station was also strategically placed to serve what was to prove to be a very lucrative service – the transport of racehorses to and from the racing circuits on the peninsula and the island, being a stone’s throw from the old Turf Club at Bukit Timah. The deviation of 1932 also gave us the two wonderful bridges that were to lend themselves towards giving the area its distinct flavour.

The distinctive truss bridges over Bukit Timah Road and Bukit Timah Station were completed in 1932 as part of a deviation to the rail line that cost a considerable sum of money.

The road out to Bukit Timah Road from the station ... a route that would have been taken by the many racehorses that were transported on the train to Singapore, bound for the old Turf Club.

A old signboard pointing towards Bukit Timah Station from the main road.

A train passing Bukit Timah Station.

The stretch after crossing the bridge over Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads I had a good view of  through not what one might have called a stop, but a series of stops and starts. That gave me the opportunity to see what had occupied the narrow strip of land wedged between what was the railway track, the old Yeo Hiap Seng factory on one side and Rifle Range Road on the other. The strip was then, packed with some of the last remaining squatters that had survived in the 1990s, something I hadn’t been aware of until I had peered out of the window on that first train journey, right into what were the illuminated dwellings of the squatters which had seemed to be only an arm’s length from me. Much of Singapore had by then been cleared of squatters, most having by the time the 1990s arrived, been resettled in the high rise public housing that marks most of the landscape of what had once been rural Singapore. It was then difficult to evict the squatters with the then poor relations between Singapore and the Malaysian government that had effectively owned the corridor of land that the trains run through.

The bend in the tracks where the Yeo Hiap Seng factory was.

The narrow strips of land along the tracks in the area were occupied by the wooden shacks of squatters living on land belonging to the Malayan Railway.

Corrugated zinc sheets and wooden shacks were once a common sight along much of the railway line.

Another view of the tracks around Rifle Range Road which were once lined with the dwellings of squatters living on the Railway land.

A train carrying bricks passing a popular shortcut from Jalan Anak Bukit to Rifle Range Road, one that would have been used by squatters living in the area.

The shortcut from Jalan Anak Bukit over the tracks to Rifle Range Road.

Looking north from Rifle Range Road ... the train takes a path through much of a Singapore that would otherwise remain unseen.

Looking back, I suppose one of the things that came from having a Malaysian railway line operating through Singapore was that it allowed large tracts of the land along the railway and much of the areas around to remain undeveloped and retain the rustic charm that has been lost in much of our island through the rapid modernisation that has overtaken us since our independence, much of which I guess would soon be consigned to the past with the recent agreement on the land swap and the redevelopment of the Railway land. There isn’t much time left I guess for us to savour the rustic charm of the Railway land and some of the buildings that lay around it. I would certainly like to take a last train journey, to take all this in for one last time and to say a fond farewell to what will soon be lost.


This post is also featured on asia! through asian eyes, an online and mobile platform for Asian bloggers and other writers. asia! offers a place to get a feel for what ordinary Asians are thinking and saying and doing providing a glimpse of the Asia that lies beyond the news headlines.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,447 other followers

%d bloggers like this: