Another new journey along the Rail Corridor

30 06 2014

It was three years ago on 30 June 2011 that we waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway and its 79 years of trains running through to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The cessation of train services freed up a 26 kilometre long corridor that cut a north-south path through Singapore, land which the Singapore government has committed to maintaining as a continuous green corridor for the benefit of the wider community.

We wave goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore 3 years ago on 30 June 2011.

We waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore 3 years ago on 30 June 2011.

The Rail Corridor, which does have the potential to serve as a connector in more ways than one, including the provision of an unbroken link running down from the top of Singapore right into the heart of the city, as well as a green link for flora and fauna between the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Reserve with the green belt at the Southern Ridges; will now also see use as a connector for a new set of water pipes that will carry water from the Murnane Service Reservoir into the city area, required to be laid to meet future demands, as well as allowing for the replacement of an ageing set of pipes.

Murnane Service Reservoir, which was completed in 1956 and acts as a buffer to cater for the fluctuation in demand of water through the day.

Murnane Service Reservoir, which was completed in 1956 and acts as a buffer to cater for the fluctuation in demand of water through the day.

Pipelines at the Central Pipeline Reserve.

Water pipelines at the Central Pipeline Reserve.

The project, which was presented by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to the members of the Rail Corridor Partnership (RCP) on Saturday and to members of the media today will involve a 11 kilometre stretch (about half of the total length of pipes to be laid) of the southern section of the corridor from Jalan Anak Bukit to Tanjong Pagar and is scheduled to commence shortly. The project will start with the PUB first carrying out a detailed engineering design from July 2014. This will be followed by an Environmental Impact Assessment that will take place from December 2014 to August 2015 as well as Soil Investigations.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan along the rail corridor during Saturday's briefing to the Rail Corridor Partnership.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan along the rail corridor during Saturday’s briefing to the Rail Corridor Partnership.

The project’s construction phase will follow the calling of a tender in October 2015, with work starting in April 2016 at a section running from Holland Road to Commonwealth Avenue using a cut and cover method involving the digging of an open trench a rate of one length of pipe laid per day. This section is scheduled to be fully reopened in October 2017.

Disruption to users of the rail corridor such as walkers, joggers and cyclists, will be minimised throughout the construction period.

Disruption to users of the rail corridor such as walkers, joggers and cyclists, will be minimised throughout the construction period.

A Scaly-breasted Munia seen along the corridor  on Saturday. Hopefully disruption to the rail corridor's amazing wildlife will also be kept to a minimum.

A Scaly-breasted Munia seen along the corridor on Saturday. Hopefully disruption to the rail corridor’s amazing wildlife will also be kept to a minimum.

A Oriental Pied Hornbill seen (and heard) during Saturday's walk.

A Oriental Pied Hornbill seen (and heard) during Saturday’s walk.

Construction is expected to be completed by September 2019 with work along the stretch from Jalan Anak Bukit to Holland Road scheduled for completion in March 2018, the stretch from Commonwealth Avenue to Jalan Kilang Barat completed by September 2018 and the last stretch from Jalan Kilang Barat to Tanjong Pagar completed by September 2019. Throughout the construction period, access to the rail corridor will be maintained, and alternative paths will be provided to allow users to continue with their activities where necessary.

Dr Balakrishnan with members of the RCP on Saturday.

Dr Balakrishnan with members of the RCP on Saturday.

Due consideration has also been paid to the historic features along the route of the intended pipeline such as Bukit Timah Railway Station (BTRS), the truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Road as well as a brick culvert close to BTRS with pipe-jacking used in way of the bridge and culvert. In way of BTRS, the pipeline will be run in the area behind the station.

Bukit Timah Railway Station as seen when it was operational.

Bukit Timah Railway Station as seen when it was operational.

A red brick culvert.

A red brick culvert.

Members of the RCP, including representatives of Nature Society (Singapore), are generally supportive of the project. It is worth taking note that as in the case of the Central Pipeline Reserve, the laying of the pipeline along a stretch of the corridor would provide for it being kept free from development and hence, the preservation of the stretch of the rail corridor as a uninterrupted green corridor following the completion of works. Plans for future use of the rail corridor has been the subject of much interest since the closure of the railway. As yet, the future use of the corridor has not been determined, although there is that commitment to preserve it as a continuous green space. A much anticipated design competition, expected to have some influence on its future use, is expected to be announced in the near future.





The lost world

10 02 2014

With several friends that included some from the Nature Society (Singapore), I ventured into a lost world, one in which time and the urban world that surrounds us in Singapore seems to have well behind. The lost world, where the sounds are those of birds and the rustle of leaves, is one that does, strange as it might seem, have a connection with the success of the new Singapore.

A gateway into a lost world.

A gateway into a lost world.

A winged inhabitant of the lost world.

A winged inhabitant of the lost world.

Part of a stretch of the Jurong Railway Line that was laid in 1965 (it was only fully operational in March 1966), an effort that was undertaken by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to serve the ambitious industrial developments in the undeveloped west that became Jurong Industrial Estate, it last saw use in the early 1990s by which time the use of the efficient road transportation network in place on the island would have made more sense. The line, including this stretch, has since been abandoned, much of it lying largely forgotten.

Colours of the lost world.

Colours of the lost world.

More colours of the lost world.

More colours of the lost world.

Interesting, while much evidence of the main railway line that ran from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands up to the end of June 2011 has disappeared,  and beyond the two very visible bridges in the Clementi area, there are portions of the Jurong line that does lie largely intact. Although largely reclaimed by nature, it is in this lost world, where some of the lost railway line’s paraphernalia does still lie in evidence. This includes a tunnel - one of five tunnels that were built along the line that branched-off just south of Bukit Timah Railway Station that was built at a cost of some S$100,000. Work on the tunnel, which was to take trains (running on a single track) under Clementi Road, took some two months to complete with work starting on it some time at the end of 1964 – close to 50 years ago.

A view through the former railway tunnel under Clementi Road.

A view through the former railway tunnel under Clementi Road.

A light at the end of the tunnel.

A light at the end of the tunnel.

Waterlogged tracks leading to the tunnel.

Waterlogged tracks leading to the tunnel.

Along the abandoned railway track now reclaimed by nature.

Along the abandoned railway track now reclaimed by nature.

The tunnel, now lying forgotten, is not anymore that gateway to a future that might have been hard to imagine when it was built, but to a Singapore we in the modern world now find hard to recall. It is a world in which the joy not just of discovery but one of nature’s recovery does await those willing to seek out the simple pleasures it offers. Now incorporated as part of the former rail corridor that will see its preservation in now unknown ways as a green corridor, it is one where the madding world we live in can very quickly be left behind. It is my wish that whatever the future does hold for the rail corridor as a meaningful space for the community, the pockets of wooded areas such as this lost world, does remain ones in which we can still lose ourselves in.

A view inside the tunnel.

A view inside the tunnel.

A non-native cockatoo - the area now plays host to nesting cockatoos.

A non-native cockatoo – the area now plays host to nesting cockatoos.

More photographs of the lost world:

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A granite rock face along the cut - part of the cut had made by blasted through granite rocks in the area.

A granite rock face along the cut – part of the cut had made by blasted through granite rocks in the area.

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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

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Fading memories

5 06 2012

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.

The silence of the morning after a little over 79 years of operations at Bukit Timah Railway Station.

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.

The signal hut at the former Kranji Level Crossing was one of the first to go.

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).

The former signal hut of the Mandai Gate Crossing that is structurally unsound.

The memorial to the last gatemen and the last train.

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.

With the tracks and sleepers now removed, there is very little physically left to remind us of the railway.

The outhouse at the Mandai Crossing will also have to go.





A fading memory

6 08 2011

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.

A train passing through the pristine stretch of the rail corridor just south of Bukit Timah Railway Station. A world that is now lost and one sans the railway, that I hope to see again.





The sun sets over the rail corridor

21 07 2011

The 17th of July was a day when the railway corridor would have been seen in its original state for the very last time. The corridor, having been one of the few places in Singapore where time has stood still – little has changed over the eight decades since the railway deviation of 1932, would after the 17th see an alteration to it that will erase much of the memory of the railway, barely two weeks after the cessation of rail services through Singapore and into Tanjong Pagar. It was a railway that had served to remind us in Singapore of our historical links with the states of the Malayan Peninsula – the land on which the railway ran through having been transferred to the Malayan Railway through a 1918 Ordinance, a reminder that has endured well into the fifth decade of our independence.

The 17th of July offered most in Singapore a last chance to walk the tracks ... removal work started the following day with only a short 3km stretch of the tracks opened to the public unitl the end of July.

It was in the pale light of the moon that my last encounter with the railway tracks in the Bukit Timah Station area began.

The corridor is one that I have had many memories of, having had many encounters with it from the numerous train journeys that I made through Tanjong Pagar, as well as some from encounters that I had from my younger days watching from the backseat of my father’s car and also those that I had in clothed in the camouflage green of the army during my National Service. There are many parts of it that are special in some way or another to me, having always associated them with that railway we will no longer see, and the last day on which I could be reminded of this warranted a last glance at it, one that got me up well before the break of dawn, so that I could see it as how I would always want to remember it.

A scene that would soon only be a memory - the rail corridor on the 17th of July 2011.

It was at a short but very pretty stretch of the corridor that I decided to have a last glance at – a stretch that starts at the now empty and silent building that once served as Bukit Timah Station and continues south for another two kilometres or so. It was one that is marked by some of the most abundant greenery one can find along the corridor which even from the vantage of the train, is always a joy to glance at. Arriving in the darkness of the early morning, it was only the glow of the light of the waning but almost full moon that guided me towards the station which is now encircled by a green fence which I could barely make out. I was greeted by a menacing red light that shone from the end of the building, one that came from the security camera that even in the dark seemed out-of-place on the quaint structure that been the last place along the line where an old fashioned practice of exchanging a key token took place. The crisp morning air and the peace and calm that had eluded the corridor over the two weeks that followed the cessation of railway operations was just what I had woken up for and I quickly continued on my way down towards the concrete road bridge over the railway at Holland Road.

First light on the 17th along the corridor near Holland Green.

It wasn’t long before first light transformed the scene before me into a scene that I desired, one that through the lifting mist, revealed a picture of calm and serenity that often eludes us as we interact with our urban world. It is a world that I have developed a fondness for and one in which I could frolic with the colourful butterflies and dragonflies to the songs of joy that the numerous bird that inhabit the area entertain us with. It was a brief but joyous last glance – it wasn’t too long before the calm with which the morning started descended into the frenzy of that the crowds that the closing of the railway had brought. That did not matter to me as I had that last glance of the corridor just as I had wanted to remember it, with that air of serenity that I have known it for, leaving it with that and the view of the warm glow of the silent tracks bathed in the golden light of the rising sun etched forever in my memory.

First signs of the crowd that the closing of the railway brought.

A last chance to see the corridor as it might have been for 79 years.

For some, it was a last chance to get that 'planking' shot.

Signs of what lay ahead ... the secondary forest being cleared in the Clementi woodland area to provide access for removal works on the railway tracks in the area.

Weapons of rail destruction being put in place.

The scene at the truss bridge over Bukit Timah Road as I left ...

Despite coming away with how I had wanted to remember the rail corridor, I did take another look at another area of it that evening. It was at a that stretch that is just north of the level crossing at Kranji, one that would in the days that have passed us by, would have led to a village on stilts that extended beyond the shoreline, one of the last on our northern shores. The village, Kampong Lorong Fatimah, now lies partly buried under the new CIQ complex today, and had stood by the side of the old immigration complex. Today, all that is left of it beyond the CIQ complex is a barren and somewhat desolate looking piece of land, one that feels cut-off from the rest of Singapore. The stretch is where the last 2 kilometres of the line runs before it reaches Woodlands Train Checkpoint, an area that is restricted and one where it would not be possible to venture into. And it is there where the all train journeys now end – a cold and imposing place that doesn’t resemble a station in any way.

What's become of the last level crossing to be used in Singapore - the scene at Kranji Level Crossing with road widening works already underway.

Another view of the former level crossing, concrete blocks occupy the spot where the yellow signal hut once stood.

An outhouse - the last remnant of the crossing left standing.

Walking through the area, it would not be hard to notice what is left of the huge mangrove swamp that once dominated the area – evidence of which lies beyond a girder bridge (the northernmost railway bridge in Singapore and one of three that would be removed) that crosses Sungei Mandai Besar some 700 metres north of the level crossing. The corridor here for the first kilometre or so is rather narrow with a green patches and cylindrical tanks to the east of it and an muddy slope that rises to what looks like an industrial area to the west. It is through the area here that I pass what was a semaphore signal pole – the northernmost one, before coming to the bridge.

The scene just north of the crossing.

The northernmost semaphore signal for the crossing in Singapore.

The last trolley on the tracks?

The northernmost railway bridge - the girder bridge over Sungei Mandai Besar. The bridge is one of three along the line that will be removed.

Sungei Mandai Besar.

It is about 200 metres beyond the bridge that the corridor starts to fan out to accommodate a loop line which looked as if it had been in a state of disuse with sleepers and rails missing from it. To the east of this widened area, tall trees and a grassland line the corridor and to the west, line of dense trees and shrubs partailly obscures part of the mangrove that had once stretched down to the Sungei Kadut. It is just north of this that the relatively short trek comes to an abrupt end. On the approach to Woodlands Train Checkpoint, sandbags over what had been the main line and a huge red warning sign serving as a reminder of what lay ahead. It is at the approach to the checkpoint that two signs serve as barriers to entry. It is beyond this that one can see a newly installed buffer at the end of the main line, and it is in seeing this that the realisation that that now is the end of a line, not just for the railway that ran through Singapore, but also for that grand old station which now lies cut-off from the railway that was meant to elevate it to a status beyond all the stations of the Far East. With the physical link now severed, that promise would now never be fulfilled, and all that is left is a building that has lost its sould and now stands in solitude, looking somewhat forlorn.

200 metres north of the bridge, the corridor widens to accommodate a loop line.

Evidence of the mangrove that once dominated the area right down to Sungei Kadut.

The northernmost stretch of the corridor.

Walking the bicycle over the wide strecth just short of Woodlands checkpoint.

Dismantling work that was already in evidence.

Sandbags on what was the main line and a warning posted ...

The end of the line- Woodlands Train Checkpoint lies beyond the signs.

It was at this point that I turned back, walking quietly into the glow that the setting sun had cast on the railway corridor. It is at Kranji that the setting sun and the skies above seemed to have conspire to provide a fitting and brilliant show over the place where there had once been an equally colourful crossing with its yellow hut and old fashioned gate. It was in the golden glow of the sunset that I spotted a fmailiar face, one of a fellow traveller on that tearful final journey out of Tanjong Pagar on the morning of the last day of train operations through Singapore, Mr Toh. Mr Toh is one who has been travelling on the trains out of and back into Tanjong Pagar since he was one, was on his final nostalgia motivated journey that final day just as I was, and was at Kranji to complete a final leg of his own exploration of the entire length of the tracks through Singapore. We exchanged our goodbyes, at the same time saying one last goodbye to the railway, as night fell on the last level crossing that was used in Singapore, and on the railway corridor as we had known it for one last time.

A track back into the colours of the setting sun.

A final look south towards Kranji Road.

The view of the setting of the sun over the railway at Kranji Road.

Night falls over the railway corridor as we knew it for one last time.


Posts on the Railway through Singapore and on the proposal on the Green Corridor:

I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.






A walk around the yard

14 07 2011

In the days that led up to the closure of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, I was able to meet many people who were in some way connected to the station and to the Malayan Railway or what is KTM in its current incarnation. That allowed me to not just hear the wonderful stories some had to share, but also to be brought around places that would have otherwise been hidden to me. One of the places I did get to see was the train yard at Tanjong Pagar, sandwiched in between what was the KTM flats at Spooner Road in Kampong Bahru and the Malaysian Customs yard, and the lead up to the station itself.

A walk around the yard took me back to a time we have forgotten. The highlight was the turntable which was installed in 1932.

The end of the line ... the yard closed together with the station on the 30th of June 2011.

The yard is a wonderful place to discover, one on which I had heard many stories about from friends who went to school in the area at a time when perhaps access to the area was much less controlled. One of those that I met in and around the neighbourhood who was actually a son of a signalman with the Malayan Railway and lived in Spooner Road in the 1960s spoke of how the children growing-up in and around the area would see the yard as a huge playground, one which provided a host of hiding places when playing hide-and-seek. Many were oblivious to the danger playing in the yard posed, and there were several occasions during which unfortunate incidents involving a moving locomotive and a child did occur.

The yard was a playground for many who grew -up in and around it.

A general view around the train yard.

The yard is also where the most wonderful of railway implements could be found, one that was used to turn a locomotive of more than a hundred tonnes around with only the strength exerted by a single person. The turntable which according to a caption on a wonderful aerial photograph of it published in The Straits Times 2nd July 2011′s edition (a scan of which can be found at this link), was built in 1892, and installed in the yard when the station was built in 1932.

The locomotive turntable which was installed in 1932.

A view of one of the girders and wheels of the turntable which supports weights of well over 100 tonnes.

The lever (in a vertical locked position) which can be lowered to turn a locomotive on the table through the effort of just one person.

As with much of the former railway land around Singapore, stepping into the yard seems like a step back in time … one which takes one back to the softer and gentler Singapore that we have somehow lost in trying to catch up with the developed world, not just in the setting one finds oneself in, but in the many people that one meets. It is in meeting the wonderful folks who kept things running behind the scenes at Tanjong Pagar that I have come to understand the attachment many have for the places these folks have not just worked in, but which has become very much a part of their lives – some having worked and lived around the yard for over a quarter of a century. Some expressed a sense of loss. Loss for a life that they would soon leave behind as they prepared to make that big move out of Tanjong Pagar.

Spanners in the works ....

Scenes that we have lost in the modernisation of our island nation.

Familiar scenes for many who lived and work around the yard which is now lost with the big move out. Many workers at the yard have worked there for many years.

A reflection we will no longer see ...

Even as the move out wasn’t quite complete, there were signs that some of the structures in the area were already being dismantled. Walking past the carriage washing and maintenance sheds and the locomotive shops and sheds, and turning around the corner, I could see that the maintenance shed for the luxury E&O Trains, the last of which departed from Tanjong Pagar on that very wet Sunday in June when the flood waters rose, was already being taken down.

The locomotive shop and shed.

The loco shop.

The loco workshop.

A locomotive in the shop.

Coming to a halt.

The E&O maintenance shed being dismantled.

Continuing on past the yard on the approach to the station – a route that is taken by the staff at the station on a daily basis, there is a cluster of buildings, some which were meant to house senior officers at the station, and one that served as the Railway Sports and Recreation clubhouse. Further along, we come to the final stretch that leads to Tanjong Pagar … one that goes past the section of tracks to and from the station’s platforms, and past the new and old signalling houses, which for many who would have seen it everyday on the way into the station, would be on a road that will never again be taken.

The railway sports and recreation club house.

The railway inspector's shed.

A daily walk down a road that as of the 1st of July for many who worked at the station, will never again be taken.

A last glance down the road.


Posts on the Railway through Singapore and on the proposal on the Green Corridor:

I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.






Briyani no more …

24 06 2011

The 24th of June saw the last day at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station of the ever popular Ali Nacha Briyani stall. At 11 am on the day a queue of at least 30 people could be seen snaking around the confined space of the M. Hasan Railway food Food Station by the main hall of the station. Some in the queue were seen to be ordering as much as 20 packets of briyani which resulted in the queue reaching lengths never seen before. By 12.45 pm, a green sign was put up to tell customers that the briyani was sold out, bringing an end to the chapter for the outlet at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Fans of the railway briyani may like to know that Ali Nacha would be starting a new chapter at Block 5, Tanjong Pagar Plaza, #02-04.

The media was all over the Ali Nacha Briyani stall, as the queue snaked around to the side of the station building.

The scene at 11.45 am ...

By 12.45 pm, the Briyani had been sold out, brining to an end a chapter for Ali Nacha at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.





A walk on the wild side of the north

17 06 2011

In the company of a few friends, I took a walk down a part of northern Singapore that what will soon be a memory. It is a stretch of land that i had made an acquaintance of only through my many railway journeys that had started at Tanjong Pagar, during which the stretch has always seemed like a green oasis in the grey urban landscape of Singapore. It is I guess the knowledge that this, and many other stretches which are there only because of the Malayan Railway’s existence, will soon be lost to us – a tender awarded by the authorities in Singapore will see the removal of much of the beloved railway: the tracks, the signal posts, the level crossings, and the girder bridges (there is no mention of the two iconic truss bridges in the tender). With work scheduled to commence on the 1st of July and expected to end in November, chances are, these last few weeks of the railway in Singapore will be our last chance of seeing the wonderful green corridor that the railway has given us.

Evidence of the railway including these pulleys for the signal post will soon be removed. In tender has been awarded by the authorities, work to remove all these is scheduled to commence in July and end in November.

Evidence of the railway, not just along the stretch from Kranji to Sungei Kadut, but all through the railway corridor would soon be gone.

The 30th of June will see the last train cross a road in Singapore ... a sign along the railway line indicating the approach to a level crossing.

The stretch from Kranji to Sungei Kadut that we walked along, would have once been along a swampy area – part of a large mangrove swamp that stretched from the northern shoreline to the Sungei Kadut industrial area which was reclaimed in the 1960s. Although there is some evidence of the mangrove swamp still around, mcuh of the area around the tracks has become a wonderfully green corridor in which the urban landscape seems like its light-years away.

The starting point of the most recent walk was the Kranji Level Crossing close to Woodlands Train Checkpoint.

A view of the tracks through the signal hut.

Label plates on the crossing's control levers.

The new railway passing over a stretch of the old railway at Kranji.

A damsel in distress? A damselfly seen along the northern green corridor.

Wild flowers growing by the wild side of the tracks.

Orange bracket fungus growing by the side of the tracks.

It is sad to think that all this might soon be gone, and while the signs are encouraging with the news that the Minister of State for National has come out and stated the Ministry’s interest in the proposals, chances are that many areas through which the railway runs through is really too valuable from a developmental point of view not to be sold to the highest bidder – which I hope is not to be the case. There are but two weeks left for us to see the wonderful green corridor as it is and probably as it has been for some 79 years when the railway deviation of 1932 gave us the line as we know today. And, just a note of caution if you are to explore the railway corridor on your own – the land is essentially private property, and walking on or along the track is extremely dangerous (as well as carrying the risk of a fine). Trains can be deceptively quiet and walking on the track or along it is not recommended especially for children – a distance of some 3 metres should always be maintained (moving trains have the effect of creating a low or suction pressure as the pass at speed) and always pair up and do make it a point to look out for each other. Do also remember that proper (and covered) footwear is necessary.

A directional sign to the zoo seen through a clearing.

The approach to Sungei Kadut.

A view of the luscious greenery near Sungei Kadut.

The approach to the level crossing at Sungei Kadut.

Skull and crossbones not of the Jolly Roger, but a dog that was run over by the train.

The end point - the crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue.


Information that may be of interest:

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.


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A peek into the early days of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

28 05 2011

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station started its life in the fourth decade of the 20th Century as what was to have been the southern point of an ambitious vision to link the Europe’s vast rail network with a network that would span the continent of Asia, and eventually connect with the rest of the Far East by rail, with the network extending potentially to the Indian and Pacific Oceans via sea routes, with Singapore serving as the gateway. The station’s main building was mostly completed at the end of 1931, its first act seeing not a rush of passengers through its main hall, but visitors to a Manufacturers’ Exhibition which opened on 2nd January 1932 – the very first to be held in Singapore. Coming as the world was suffering from the effects of the Great Depression, the exhibition served to bring to light Singapore’s hitherto unheard of manufacturing potential, providing local manufacturers with a platform to showcase their products and capabilities and at the same time to promote Singapore’s growing importance as a economic centre in the British Far East with the newly built grand station as its centrepiece. The aim of the exhibition as stated in the official guide was “to present as many aspects as possible of actual and potential manufacture in Singapore” and included amongst the exhibitors, some companies that were to become household names in Singapore such as Robinsons, John Littles, Malaya Publishing House which was to later become known as MPH, Diethelm and the Straits Trading Company. Opened by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, the exhibition also provided many members of the public with their first view of the internals of the main building of the brand new station.

The main building of the station was first used as a venue for the first Singapore Manufacturers' Exhibition which opened on 2nd January 1932 (image source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936).

The actual opening of the station wasn’t until some months later on the 2nd of May 1932. To commemorate the opening, a passenger train, the first that was to pull into Tanjong Pagar, which, as reported by the Straits Times on 3rd May 1932, “comprised of an engine and three saloons to travel over the new deviation”, left Bukit Panjang Station at 4.30 pm with a load of guest that included the Governor, the Sultan of Perak and Mr J Strachan, the General Manager of the FMSR, and arrived “punctually at 5.15″. In his speech at the opening, Sir Clementi provided an insight into the vision which provided the motivation for building of a station of the stature of Tanjong Pagar, saying: “we stand here at the southernmost tip of the continent of Asia; and, since the Johore Strait is now spanned by a causeway which was opened for traffic on June 28, 1924, we may even say that we stand at the southernmost top of the mainland of Asia. This point is, therefore, a real terminus as well as a natural junction between land-borne and sea-borne traffic; and it is very right that the terminal station of the Malayan railway system should be built at Singapore, the gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and immediately opposite the Tanjong Pagar docks, where every facility will be afforded for interchange between railway and ocean shipping”. The Governor also added that he had “not the slightest doubt that, for centuries, this Singapore terminal station will stand here as one of the most nodal points in the whole world’s scheme of communications.” While this, eight decades later has not quite come true for the station (we are also still talking about a Trans-Asian rail network, it probably has come true of Singapore as a wider communications node – the Governor could not have envisaged the phenomenal growth of air transportation at that time.

The location of the station, across from the docks at Tanjong Pagar, was deliberately selected so that the southern terminal of the what would have been an intercontinental overland railway network could be integrated with ocean shipping and extend the reach over the Pacific and Indian Oceans (image source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936).

The station, the work of Swan and McLaren, even in its current state having had much better days, is a wonderful work of architecture to marvel at. Described by an article in the 7th May 1932 edition of the Malayan Saturday Post on the occasion of the opening of the station as having a “palatial appearance”, the station is now overshadowed by the towering blocks that have come up at its vicinity, as well as by the elevated road, buildings and containers stacked high that obscures most of it from the the docks it was meant to feed. What must be the features of the grand building that stand out most are the entrance arches flanked by the triumphal figures, the work of sculptor Angelo Vannetti from the Raoul Bigazzi Studios Florence, that seem to stand guard over all that passes under the arches into the grand vaulted hallway described as “lofty and cool” in the same article. The main hall of the station extends three storeys (some 21.6 metres) above the visitor to provide for a sufficient pocket of air to allow the hall to be kept cool in the oppressive tropical heat. It is this lobby that impresses the most, with not just the vaulted ceiling, but also the six sets of mosaic panels that resemble batik paintings that immediately catch the attention of the visitor. It is the timeless beauty of the main hall, that, in any future developments being planned for what is Singapore’s newest National monument, should be made accessible to the public as it is today, and not as many other public buildings that have been conserved over the years, accessible to an exclusive few.

The main vaulted hall of the station in its early days. An impressive integration of architecture and public art. The lamps and the clock seen in this picture - has long since disappeared, but the hall remains, even in the state the station building is in today, a particularly impressive piece of architectural work. Caption reads 'Booking Hall, Singapore Station' (image source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936).

There is a lot more clutter in the hall today ... the lamps and the clock we see in the hall in the station's early days are also missing.

The Willis’ Singapore Guide (1936), provides an insight into Tanjong Pagar and the operation of the FMS Railway around the time of the station’s opening. It describes the FMSR as running from Singapore for 580 miles to Padang Besar where it meets the Royal State Railways of Siam and incorporates 121¼ miles of the Johore State Railway which was leased by the FMSR. As is the case today, the East Coast Line branched off at Gemas to the port of Tumpat some 465 miles from Singapore, where a short branch line connects with the Siamese Railways at Sungei Golok. We are also told that a branch line connects with what was then Port Swettenham (now Port Klang), with branches also serving other ports at Malacca, Port Dickson, Teluk Anson and Port Weld. A total of 1321 miles of metre gauge tracks were laid providing some 1067 miles of track mileage. A daily service of trains from Singapore to Penang was maintained with a day and night express service daily which took some 22 hours to reach Penang and some 9 hours (doesn’t seem much different from the journey these days) to reach Kuala Lumpur from Singapore.

The journey in the 1930s to Kuala Lumpur took some 9 hours.

The express train services in 1936 (source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936)

On the evidence of the guide, which I suppose would be referring to service in first class, the service provided does seem a lot more comfortable than what we’ve become accustomed to these days, as described by the guide, with Restaurant Cars which served “an excellent breakfast, luncheon or dinner”, “at a reasonable price”. Sleeping Saloons with two berth cabins were provided on the night trains (as they are now) and a “commodious Buffet Parlour Car is attached to the night express trains between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur”. Breakfast, tiffin and tea baskets were also available at the principal stations which could be ordered en route with the “Guard of the trains or any Station Master” able to “telegraph free of charge”.

Once the last train pulls out of Tanjong Pagar Station, it would bring to an end a little over 79 years of operation of a station that was to see centuries as one of the 'most nodal points in the whole world's scheme of communications'.


The information above has been put together from various newspaper articles and as well as the Willis’ Singapore Guide 1936, to provide a glimpse into the early days of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. More information on the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. I also have a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station and if you care to read about them, do drop by my page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“. Also, if you are keen to find out and support the Nature Society’s (Singapore) proposal to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, do drop by the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page … I do also have a series of posts on the Green Corridor if that is of interest – please visit them at “Support the Green Corridor“.






A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station

24 05 2011

Together with a group of yesterday.sg fans, I had another look around Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, on a 45 minute tour run by the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB), to provide participants with a better appreciation of Singapore’s latest National Monument, before operations end on the 1st of July this year. Besides meeting with yesterday.sg’s Shaun Wong, from whom I learnt that the inspiration for the name of the website was the Beatles song “Yesterday”, I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow blogger P.Y. of Oceanskies, who incidentally has provided a comprehensive account of the tour, and Belinda Tan who I am grateful to for stirring up quite a fair bit of interest in my blog by posting links to my set of railway memories. The short but informative tour was led by a PMB volunteer, Rosanne, who provided a fair bit of information on the background to the station, the reasons for its establishment and the choice of location. What interested me in particular, was the information that related to the station’s architecture, which provided me with a better appreciation of the station.

I had the opportunity to join a PMB tour of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station courtesy of yesterday.sg.

The station we were told by Rosanne, was built to provide a grand station that was to be the terminal of what the British had envisaged as a intercontinental transport network that was to span from Singapore at the southern tip of the Asian continent to the British Isles. The choice of the location close to the docks at Tanjong Pagar signaled the ambitious extent of the British Empire’s intent in expanding transport and communication links between the British Isles with Asia and further afield, with Singapore’s strategic location being seen as the gateway (by sea) to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Designed by Swan and MacLaren, the station is thought to have been designed after Helsinki’s Central Station and sharing elements with Washington D. C.’s Union Station. The style of architecture, Art Deco, that was selected was one that it was felt combined both Western and Eastern elements and influences. Art Deco is in fact very much in evidence around the station – geometric patterns in the details of the ceiling and arches of the portico an example. Another example of the Art Deco style that is evident is use of triumphal figures in the form of the four Angelo Vannetti sculptures at the façade that represent the four pillars of the Malayan economy, being Agriculture, Commerce, Transport and Industry. Our attention was also drawn to portions of the roof which featured a green tile structure inspired by the roofs of Chinese Temples.

Transport, one of the four pillars of the Malayan economy is seen carrying a stone block, with a wheel behind, stepping on a bow of a ship. The use of triumphal figures is common in Art Deco architecture

The Chinese temple inspired green tiled part of the station's roof.

Lions on the window details at the station's side are meant to represent Singapore.

Inside the hall, our attention was drawn to the six sets of batik style mosaic mural panels which feature some 9000 tiles that represent the economies of the Federated Malay States (FMS), as well as to the two crests – one being the crest of the Federated Malay States – which comprised of the four British protected states of Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang, and the Straits Settlements. Closer inspection of the coat of arms reveals a shield that is coloured with a colour from each of the four state flags in the case of the FMS, and in the case of the Straits Settlements, the shield is made up of four quadrants each representative of the three settlements, Penang, Malacca and Singapore, and also Christmas Island which was annexed to the Straits Settlements in 1889. The station when it was built was designed to maximise the comfort, particularly of first and second class passengers embarking on what was to be a long journey (Rosanne mentioned it took something like 29 hours to reach the Siamese border by train from Tanjong Pagar and the Japanese during the occupation, improved the speed of the passenger trains to 60 km/h and goods trains to 50 km/h, cutting the journey time by some 5 hours), equipped with amenities such as passenger waiting rooms, refreshment rooms, dining rooms, a hairdresser’s shop, dressing rooms and lavatories. Based on news reports of the opening of the station, we are also told that there were other rooms such as a telegraph office, parcel room, offices for the necessary station staff and included a few bedrooms.

Batik painting style mosaic mural panels in the main hall depict the economies of the FMS.

The coat-of-arms of the Federated Malay States - the shield features colours of the four protected states of the FMS.

The coat-of-arms of the Straits Settlements with each quadrant of the shield representing the each of the Straits Settlements which then also included the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island.

The 45 minute tour ended at the start of the departure platform which now features immigration counters introduced after the separation of Singapore from Malaysia, when travel across the Johor Straits required a passport. When I first started taking the trains in the 1990s, we would have to pass through the Singapore Immigration counters at the near end before going through Malaysian Immigration and Customs further down the platform … this practice was discontinued from mid 1998 when Singapore shifted its immigration to the CIQ Complex in Woodlands, insisting that the Malaysian authorities do the same. This has been resisted right up until today – and up to the 30th of June, one of the things you can still do is to enter Malaysia before leaving Singapore (for a more detailed explanation on this please read my previous post “A final journey from Tanjong Pagar: into Malaysia before leaving Singapore“. The platforms we were also told were some 1,200 feet long, built to cater to the longest of mail trains. We were also shown some of the features around the platform of historical value that would be retained – this included the hydraulic buffer stops at the end which apparently are the only ones found in the stations operated by the Malaysn Railway. The tour ended with a little excitement – first from the animated voiced coming from Malaysian immigration officers who tried to tell us we had strayed a little too far along the platform. It was then time for a quick catch up over some teh-tarik at the cafeteria with my fellow participants and new found friends ….

What used to be immigration counters used by the Singapore authorities ... and apparently reclaimed by Malaysia since mid 1998 ...

A train on the departure platform - the platforms are 1,200 feet in length to accommodate the longest of the mail trains. We were also told that 3rd Class passengers had to use a side access to the platforms.

One of the two hydraulic buffers.

The roof over the platforms also show art deco features in the geometric patterns found on them.


For a comprehensive account of the tour, do drop by PY’s post “The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station Tour on 21 May 2011“. And if any of you are keen to hop onto the last train into Singapore and have a party … do drop by Notabilia’s post “All Aboard? Party on the Last Train Through Singapore” and indicate your interest there. I also have a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station and if you care to read about them, do drop by my page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“. Lastly, if you are keen to find out and support the Nature Society’s (Singapore) proposal to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, do drop by the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page … I do also have a series of posts on the Green Corridor if that is of interest – please visit them at “Support the Green Corridor“.


Rosanne, the volunteer guide with the PMD who led the tour.

A last look at the station ....

Capturing memories and the station's last days of the station seems to be very much fashion these days.





A walk on the wild side

15 05 2011

I took a walk into a world where there might not have been one, where gold, crimson and blue tinged fairies dance a flight of joy, a joy that’s echoed in the singing of songs of joy that eludes ears made weary by the cacophony of the grey world we have found ourselves in. It is a world that seeks to be found in the midst of the cold grey world we find around us, a world that we may soon lose with the lost of the reasons for its being. The world I speak of is none other than the Green Corridor that has existed solely because of the railway which has allowed a green and seemingly distant world to exist next to the concrete world that we have created in our island.

A world that seeks to be discovered - but how much longer will it be there for us?

The walk on the wild side passed through some two kilometres of plush greenery which now probably exists only because of the railway that runs through the area.

The walk that I took was with a group of some 30 people, led by the Nature Society of Singapore and the National Library Board (NLB) to a stretch that I had previously only seen from the perspective of a passenger on the train. It was a short but interesting walk that started at the foot of a railway bridge across Dunearn and Bukit Timah that takes me back to my childhood days – the black truss bridge that I have since my early days looking out for it from the back seat of my father’s Austin 1100, associated with the area. Led by our expert guide, Ms Margie Hall, we were taken not just on a history trip through the slightly more than two kilometre route to the road bridge over the railway at Old Holland Road (close to its junction with Ulu Pandan/Holland Roads), but on a nature trail, as names of birds some of which as Singaporeans we have forgotten about, rattled off Ms Hall’s tongue.

The railway bridge, our starting point, was one that I have identified with the area since my early days spent looking out for it from the back seat of my father's Austin 1100.

One of the features of the walk from a historical perspective was of course the station at Bukit Timah, built to serve the great railway deviation of 1932 which turned the line in that direction and onto Tanjong Pagar. These days, the station serves more as a point where the exchange of the key token, made necessary by the single track is made, a practice I have observed many times from my many encounters with the train.

Bukit Timah Station now serves as a point for the exchange of the key token. In the days gone by, the station was where racehorses coming in to race at the Turf Club were offloaded as well.

A waiting train at Bukit Timah Station.

It was beyond the station that my journey of discovery started. Looking into the distance the width of the clearing through which the line ran looked very much wider than most of the other areas I was familiar with. This was understandable from the perspective of the station itself where alternate tracks for waiting trains to shunt onto were necessary. The width was of course explained by the fact that a line had branched off at the station – the old Jurong Line which was constructed in a project initiated by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to supplement the development of Jurong Industrial Estate. The line ran in parallel for a short distance before turning west into a tunnel under Clementi Road – what is now an area with dense vegetation that is featured in Liao Jiekai’s award winning movie Red Dragonflies which is currently on a limited run at Filmgarde Iluma. The stretch is already popular with cyclists and joggers who in using the stretch of the Green Corridor, shows that there is already a lush stretch of greenery that is ready made – with the authorities having to spend very little money to develop compared to the millions spent on the park connector network. Ms Hall also shared her visions for the area, saying that the tracks should be kept along with the station in its original condition – the station, which has also been listed as one with conservation status (meaning that only its façade needs to be conserved). Ms Hall felt that conserving the station without keeping it in the original condition would not serve the purpose of conserving it – something that I certainly agree with. Some of the thoughts she had included running a replica railway over a short length of tracks to and from the station to allow future generations to have an appreciation for the trains which had served us for over a century.

The stretch of the Green Corridor is already popular with joggers ...

... and cyclists ... proving that is already a long "park connector" that is ready for use.

The clearing through which the portion of the corridor south of Bukit Timah Station runs is wider than most other parts of the rail corridor.

Ms. Hall felt that the tracks should be kept in place for our future generations to appreciate.

The area where the Jurong Line would have turned off into the tunnel is marked by piles of wooden railway sleepers and is one where we stopped and were able to take in the diversity of birds and insects in their songs and dances of joy in and around the lush greenery before us. It was at this point where Ms Hall was in her element, being able to identify birds from the sounds that rose above the others in the background, identifying that of an Iora and a Tailorbird upon hearing their calls. Ms Hall also pointed out Long-Tailed Parakeets high in the trees as well as a pair of Scaly-Breasted Munias foraging in the grass. From this point the corridor is marked with a narrow path through which we passed through single file. The sight of the bridge over Old Holland Road which marked the end of the trail brought with it what was perhaps an ominous gathering of dark clouds … dark clouds that seem to hover over the future of a wonderful gift of nature that Singaporeans seemed to have passed over.

It wasn't just red dragonflies that were able to discover ...

... but also saffron coloured ones ...

... and turquoise coloured ones as well.

A parakeet perched high at the top of a tree - one of the many birds we encountered.

Morning Glory.

A cassava or tapioca leaf.

Proceeding single file on towards Old Holland Road.

For the Green Corridor, the first of July this year sees not only sees the end of its use by the railway, but its continued existence would be under threat. The indications are that there are already plans to redevelop some of the areas which would be reclaimed by Singapore. During the budget debate in Parliament in March this year, the then Foreign Minister George Yeo was quoted as saying that “the development of areas along the railway line, including Silat Estate and the expansion of the One-North business park in Buona Vista, will start after July 1″ (see the Straits Times report dated 4 March 2011). It has also come to my attention that a tender was called for the “removal and storage of railway including ancillary structures from Woodlands Train Checkpoint to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station” which closed recently with work scheduled to commence on 1 July 2011. It does look that proposals to retain the green corridor made by the NSS has largely been overlooked by the authorities involved, and the authorities are pressing ahead with the redevelopment of a rich natural resource and a part of our green heritage. It is a shame if this does happen, as not only will we see the last of the passing locomotives and carriages that weaved their way slowly across the island for over a century, but also the last bits of a part of Singapore that the railway has given to Singapore. It only through my recent wanderings that I have become so well acquainted with some portions of it and have began to have a appreciation for what the corridor is worth to us. There are some wonderful ideas that advocates of the Green Corridor have for preserving the corridor – some were in fact presented and discussed right after the walk which was part of a programme that included a forum. This I would touch on in another post. What I hope for is that whoever is involved in the plans for the redevelopment of the area pauses to consider some of these proposals more seriously and to also consider we and more importantly our future generations, would be losing should the Green Corridor be taken over by the concrete jungle that so much of Singapore has now become.

Arched brickwork of a culvert supporting the railway tracks near Old Holland Road.

The little things that matter - the rich biodiversity that the railway corridor supports would be lost to the concrete jungle should plans to redevelop the corridor be executed.

From one bridge to the next ... the bridge at Old Holland Road under which the railway corridor passes through.





Chasing the dragon

3 05 2011

(Liao Jiekai’s Red Dragonflies that is)!

I recently attended a special screening of Liao Jiekai’s celebrated Red Dragonflies, which starts a theatrical run at Filmgarde Iluma from 5 May 2011, during which an introduction was given by the Director himself and the two Co-Producers Tan Bee Thiam and Lyn-Anne Loy, who provided a little insight to the background and making of the low budget film. What was interesting to learn was that Liao, sees himself as a teacher rather than a filmmaker (he lectures at the School of the Arts), and considers filmmaking a hobby of sorts. That I guess frees him from the conventions of commercially driven filmmaking, and allowing him to focus on the expression of himself in the 96 minute movie. The movie is by no means one that can be described as entertaining, it is, as Tan mentioned, not a movie that is very watchable if it is entertainment that one is after, and the absence of much dialogue does make it a little heavy going at times.

Red Dragonflies, a film by Liao Jiekai that revolves around three teenagers' exploration of a disused railway line, with begin a theatrical run on 5 May 2011 at Filmgarde, Iluma.

The film does start off with giving the audience the sense that it would be painfully slow-moving. The opening scene brings in the main character, a young artist Rachel, who has returned to Singapore from New York. It is the scene that sets the tone for the rest of the movie, in which a lack of dialogue did is offset by the mood the scenes sought to convey. The next scene had Rachel walking by a old shop stepping into it and sitting on a chair, a primer perhaps for the theme of the movie which the following scene in which she visits her grandmother, does bring in. The scene in which past is juxtaposed with the present, centres on memories evoked by the familiarity of what was around her. In that laughter and the carefree days of Rachel childhood, seemed to be held in contrast with the almost melancholic silence of the present which Rachel finds herself in.

It wasn’t difficult for me to identify with the movie or its theme. A large part of the blog I maintain does touch on much of the same theme: a juxtaposition of past and present, and an attempt to reconcile the carefree days of a softer and very different Singapore that I interacted with in younger days with the cold modern it has become in my adulthood in which very little is left in which I can identify with. My relationship with my surroundings has in fact changed in a way that provokes a longing to go back to that world in which I had planted my roots in.

The juxtaposition of past and present is used to convey the contrasts in relationships and the strain that time and space may have had on them.

A significant part of the movie revolves around an attempt to rediscover the joys and the carefree days of youth, centring on the exploration of a disused railway track, a track that I have myself taken to discover in the present day to rekindle memories of a greener and rural Singapore that has long disappeared. We are taken through what has become for me scenes that are familiar as well as ones through a dense forested part of the old Jurong Railway Line that has been overtaken by nature. It is not so much in the scenes that bring the movie out, but in going back to the adventures of simpler days of youth, that a contrast is made with the a rediscovery of the past in the complication of living the present, as Rachel seeks to rediscover and rekindle relationships that have changed with once familiar faces and surroundings. Overall, it is a movie that will be appreciated for its expression and one that perhaps can be appreciated only for what it is and what it represents. It is a movie that captivated me throughout as I sought to discover the mystery behind each and every scene, and one that left me spellbound and intoxicated in a way that perhaps one that chasing the dragon would.


Synopsis

Rachel and her two friends explore an abandoned railway track that runs through a dense forest, but an unforeseen incident brings their little adventure to an abrupt end. Elsewhere, 26-year-old Rachel rekindles an old friendship with a high school friend. When a little boy from her past reappears, Rachel finds herself retracing a trail of iron and wood. Wistful and mysterious, the film depicts a world littered with incongruity, absences and traces of childhood dreams.

(from BAFICI programme notes)
A young artist goes back to Singapore from New York. She returns home, to old friends and familiar places. Not everything fits in. Memories and friendships are like roots but also like mysteries, and like such, they’re inexact, slippery, at times revealing, at times mere detours. Two teenage boys and a girl, all in their school uniforms, walk near a train track around an area of abundant vegetation; their gait is an exploratory one, charged with fears, amazements and new things (yes, there’s echoes of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me) One of them gets lost. In that loss, and in the memories of a grown woman, there’s a sense of unease, a search, and the chance of meeting with the past and the people from it. A film of derivations with a subtle and singular sensibility, Liao Jiekai’s opera prima leads us to discuss the always hard to accomplish –even to mention– idea of cinema as poetry, which in this case is made of soft connections, juxtapositions, rhymes, and bars, that seem as free as necessary.

Awards:

Special Jury Prize, International Competition: Jeonju International Film Festival 2010
International Competition: Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Films 2010 (BAFICI)
FIPRESCI Competition: Hong Kong International Film Festival 2010
Winds of Asia Competition: Tokyo International Film Festival 2010
Göteborg International Film Festival 2011


Filmmaker Biography
Liao Jiekai is an award-winning filmmaker and artist based in Singapore. He received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lectures at the School of the Arts. His debut feature length film, Red Dragonflies won the Special Jury Prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival, especially noted for discovering independent filmmakers. The film was also selected for international competition in the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Films (BAFICI), Asia New Talent competition in the Shanghai International Film Festival and Winds of Asia-Arab Competition, Tokyo International Film Festival. Most recently, he is the contributing artist to Nedko Solakov’s The Flying Method of an Artist with a Fear of Flying at the Singapore Biennale 2011. He is a founding member of 13 Little Pictures and his active involvement in the Singapore film scene brought him credentials as producer and editor of several independent films.

About 13 Little Pictures
Driven by a love of cinema, 13 Little Pictures is a film collective bound by the spirit of collaboration and shared hope of creating films with unique directorial visions. Making films and friends at the same time, 13 Little Pictures works together in the belief that taking this journey together—challenging, inspiring, helping, and supporting each other—fosters a sense of community in our individual exploration of the possibilities of cinema. To date, 13 Little Pictures has made more than 15 feature and short films that have screened to international audiences in Rotterdam, Berlin, Vancouver, Tokyo, Bueno Aires, and more.


Red Dragonflies opens 5 May 2011 exclusively at Filmgarde Cineplex, Iluma. Tickets are available for online booking from today (3 Mat 2011).


[Photos and trailer courtesy of 13 Little Pictures]





The end of the line?

7 04 2011

The disused Jurong Line has been very much in the news of late. This may in part be due to the interest in the railway brought about by the knowledge that we will soon see the last of the Malayan railway running through Singapore. There is of course some focus brought on to the Jurong Line in particular by a proposal by members of the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) to establish a green corridor on the land which the line runs through. What has motivated the latest spate of reports in the news has very much a bearing on the latter, with a proposed road over a part of the area where the line runs through bringing some consternation to proponents of the green corridor and some anguish amongst residents of a quiet residential area, Faber Heights, which straddles a particularly green piece of land through which the line passes through, the news and the start of work on the road catching many by surprise.

The corridor through which the disused Jurong Line runs through is part of a proposal by members of the Nature Society of Singapore to establish a Green Corridor along the old railway lines.

The corridor through which the Jurong Line runs branches off at Bukit Timah Station, and stretches close to 20 km to the end of Shipyard Road near the Benoi Basin. A large part of it has probably remained in a close to natural state, relatively untouched by development since the line was constructed in the mid 1960s. The line which is essentially an extension of the main line, was intended to serve the new industrial estate then taking shape in Jurong, and the irony is that it is the line that has probably saved much of the greenery along the corridor it runs through from the fate that befell the area on which the industrial estate it was meant to serve was built on. It is along the corridor that we now find ourselves hanging on not just to the greenery it has helped preserved, but also to habitats for bird life, as well as to a way of life that once existed in the rural parts of Singapore.

Much of the railway corridor is untouched by the wave of development that has swept over Singapore over the last half a century.

Leaves and a fruit of the mulberry tree along the green corridor.

It was for this, as well as an interest in the railway for which I had originally participated in a NSS organised walk in January, during which I was greeted by many scenes resembling that of a rural Singapore that I had stored only in my memory. It is along the some of the more accessible parts of the green corridor that we can discover all this: small plots of vegetables, fruit trees and the forgotten smells of the countryside, all on what is former KTM land that has been returned to the State, which has somehow been tolerated by the authorities. The plots are spread along the area close to Teban Gardens, and also along a wedge of land between Sungei Ulu Pandan and the northern fringe of Clementi, and walking through the area, we are able to appreciate a little bit of what we could soon be losing should plans to develop some of the areas get the go ahead.

The start of another walk down the green corridor.

Walking along the tracks brings us to a green part of Singapore.

Vegetable plots along the green corridor - a welcome sight in an urban landscape.

Small scale farms can be found all along the stretch behind Teban Gardens and in the wedge of land between the northern fringe of Clementi and Sungei Ulu Pandan.

A makeshift scarecrow set amongst banana trees?

In a recent walk during which I joined some of the advocates of the Green Corridor in a familiarisation walk through part of the corridor, I could observe that work on the road has indeed started, the evidence being the hoardings put up in the area where the road is being constructed and clear signs that parts of the disused track have been removed. The proposed road at Faber Heights, intended to ease congestion in the area (and also to serve a suggested expansion in residential units in the area), does cut through what is an area of lush greenery that features what must be a natural creek or a pond, a rare find in the Singapore we have now grown accustomed to. Hearing some of the older participants on the walk reminisce about their childhood exploits in and around similar ponds and creeks into which they would often venture into barefoot in search of a harvest of longkang fish – something that the children of today would find hard to appreciate.

Signs that work has started on the proposed road in the Faber Heights are is very much in evidence.

Work includes the dismantling of the track in the approach to the Faber Heights area.

A stretch where the tracks have been completely removed.

Another look at the area where the tracks are now missing.

The pond or creek at the Faber Heights area - will it be affected?

Part of the track that is still with us ... but for how long more?

Participants on the walk photographing remnants of the track in the Faber Heights area.

It would probably be a case of having to move a mountain to stop the wave of development that has and is still very much sweeping thought the island, but there is a growing number of voices that have been added to the cause to save the area as well as to establish a green corridor. There is certainly hope that the authorities lend a year to the cause … and if there are sufficient voices that are heard, who knows, it is possible that a mountain is about to be moved.

Water Hyacinth - once a common sight - used a pig fodder in the days of old.

The smoke from offerings being burnt in a rural shrine along the green corridor.

Not green but the brown of a roll of corrugated cardboard ...

Kettles on a stove as it might have been in the rural Singapore of old.

The trunk of a fallen tree ... along the green corridor.





A colourful journey in black and white

14 03 2011

I have always been one for train rides, taking one every opportunity I get whenever I find myself with time to spare, be it from the grand stations of the great European cities, or from stations closer to home, with a particular liking for the old style railways that I sometimes stumble upon. In Singapore, the opportunity had presented itself throughout my life I guess, but somehow, I never embarked on a journey from the grand old station at Tanjong Pagar until I was well into my adulthood, making many trips in the 1990s. Trains always present themselves as a convenient means to get around from one city to another, taking one from the centre of the city right into the heart of another. So it is with the Malayan Railway as well – for another few months at least when Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB or KTM) moves the terminal station from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. With that, we will bid goodbye to the old railway lines which has served Singapore since the turn of the last century, as well as an old railway station in the heart of the city.

The last opportunity to take a train from an old style station in the heart of Singapore, on a line that has served Singapore since 1932 (parts of it date back to the turn of the last century), through Singapore's countryside, before train services terminate at Woodlands by the time the 1st of July arrives.

As mentioned in my previous post, I took another ride recently, just for the sake of reliving my previous journeys before the chance to do so evaporates once KTM moves operations to Woodlands. It will be a shame not to have had that experience, one that involves arriving or departing from the platforms which had served as the southern terminal to the Malayan Railway for eight decades from its days as the FMSR. Once the move is made, Singapore would lose not just another historical link it has had with the Malay States in the Malayan Peninsula, but also a proper train station to take a romantic journey on a train from. What will also go are the well worn tracks that served us so well, laid over a corridor of land that probably due to the railway, has remained untouched and relatively green; as well as the many markers left behind by the railway including the railway bridges, signal posts, railway buildings and control huts, distance markers and the last remaining level crossings in Singapore.

The platforms that have served as the southern terminal point of the Malayan Railway for eight decades.

The choice of the destination for the journey, was one that involved a short trip to one of the main towns in the southern Malaysian State of Johore which borders Singapore, some 90 kilometres north. The town is close enough for a slow paced day trip, and close enough that train tickets to and from are sold as “shuttle” or commuter train tickets available 24 hours prior to the journey. Kluang, along with the destination of my previous outing, Gemas, featured prominently in the final push through Malaya by the Japanese invading forces and was General Yamashita’s headquarters during the dark days at the end of January 1942. It had been a place that I knew about since the early days of my childhood being a town which my grandmother disappeared to leaving me without the stories she would relate to me as a young boy for a weekend.

The platform at Kempas Baru.

Container carriages at Kempas Baru Station.

Passengers boarding the train at Kulai Station.

Train rides, especially through the stations along the Johore length of the railway and walkabouts in Malaysian towns can be very colourful experiences, so much so that they sometimes distract one from the old world charm of the journey and the towns. I thought it would be nice to show another side of the journey and Kluang itself without colour as the images would capture a mood that would otherwise be lost in full colour.

The gentle rocking of the train gives the carriages a sleepy feel ...

A passenger at the end of the carriage.

The conductor.

Arriving at Kluang Station.

Kluang Station.

Kluang itself presents itself as a sleepy town, with the station being perhaps one of the busier places in the town, coming alive as passengers and well wishers gather on the platforms. The station itself hosts an institution in the town, a coffee shop, the Kluang Rail Coffee, that seems to be the star attraction of the town.

Kluang Station is the location of a well known and well patronised coffee shop.

The five foot way of a row of shophouses along Jalan Station.

A closed gate of a shop.

Kluang is a destination for photographers.

The town has an old world feel that maybe could have been that of the Singapore of half a century ago. Beyond its sleepy façade, the town does present some interesting finds. We stumbled upon an old Chinese medicine shop in a row of old shophouses along Jalan Mersing with seedy looking second storey hotels served by well worn wooden staircases, which we later learnt were places one would find ladies of the night. At then end of the row was a coffee shop which had some wonderful tasting treats and quite good coffee, and it was on the recommendation of a passer-by that we made a pit stop there, observing that the tables and floor of the old coffee shop were much cleaner than what we had become accustomed to in Singapore where tables are often cleaned with a swipe of an oily rag.

Not one of the staircases with a seedy destination.

The proprietor of the Chinese Medicine Shop.

Cabinets at the Chinese Medicine Shop.

Tools of the trade (at a Chinese Medicine Shop which has been at its location on Jalan Mersing since the 1950s).

The coffee shop along Jalan Mersing.

The beef noodle seller.

Won Tan Mee man.

Coffee Powder seller.

The slow pace of life extends to the coffee shop.

Leaving the coffee shop, we stepped out into a pretty hot day, which thankfully wasn’t accompanied by much humidity. Still that perhaps made the lazy stroll through town even lazier, and the first chance we got, we stepped into a modern shopping centre and the reward of some bubble tea, right across from a herbal tea vendor on his tricycle. The bubble tea outlet was crawling with customers as was the fast food outlet inside the shopping centre, leaving the streets outside deserted and somewhat forlorn.

A streetside tailor.

Typical street in Kluang.

From the shopping centre, we decided to visit the church that my grandmother visited all those years back – a plaque confirming that Archbishop Olcomendy of Malacca and Singapore (a throw back to the pre-independence archdiocesan boundaries that once existed), had consecrated the church in 1964. The airy little church at the end of Jalan Omar near the station is reminiscent of some of the village churches that once existed in Singapore and is simple in form and architecture.

Church of St. Louis, built in 1964.

Stained glass inside the Church of St. Louis.

Pews inside the church.

It was a short walk to the station next, to sit down at the much touted Railway Coffee shop. It was packed when we arrived just after it opened again at 2 pm, leaving us with a little wait … It was more for the atmosphere that sitting in that old cafe in an old railway station that might have been built in the early 1900s provided than maybe the fare the coffee shop offered. Soon, it was time to take the journey back … another one into Tanjong Pagar, where food stalls that remind us of days gone would soon be seeing their final days. Even if it is not for the train ride it is still worth a visit to the station to visit the makan stalls for chances are when the station finds a second life it might be where only the well heeled would dine. To top a visit to what is still very much a part of Malaysia as is the railway line, why not have something at the station that has become synonymous with street fare across the Causeway … a greasy but very tasty Ramly burger.

Like much of the world we live in ... old is being replaced by the new.

Back at Kluang Station.

Passengers waiting at the platform.

Another scene at the station.

Inside the Kluang Rail Coffee shop.

Having a conversation over a cup of coffee inside the Kluang Rail Coffee shop.

The busiest part of town?

On the 1543 shuttle into Tanjong Pagar ...

A locomotive.

The train ride provides an opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

A last chance to grab a Ramly burger at Tanjong Pagar ...

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






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.






The human train to the Sunset

24 01 2011

It was on a fine Saturday morning, that I decided to take a four and a half kilometre walk that was organised by the Nature Society of Singapore, along a part of the industrial history of a Singapore that was still finding its feet in the uncertain climate that had surrounded Singapore in the 1960s. It was at a point in time when Singapore was contemplating joining what was then referred to as the Federation, the Federation of Malayan States, better known as Malaya, that work on the Jurong Industrial Estate, a massive project that played a significant part of the island nation’s rapid industrialisation in its early years. There is no doubt that the transformation of a marshy and hilly ground which would have been unsuitable for development had the effort that flattened the hills and fill up the swamps over a 3.5 hectare area to not just build an industrial complex, but provide housing and amenities in the area to the workforce that cost hundreds of millions – the biggest single project that had been taken on by the forward looking self-government and the brainchild of the then Finance Minister, the late Dr. Goh Keng Swee, contributed much to what was later, a newly independent Singapore’s economic success. Along with the industrial complex that was to set Singapore on its feet, there was of course the big effort to provide infrastructure to support the massive project, which included a somewhat forgotten extension to the railway network on the island, the old Jurong Line.

The now abandoned old Jurong Line was built in the 1960s to serve the Jurong Industrial Estate which was being developed.

The line runs through a corridor which has been relatively untouched by the modernisation that has overtaken the island over the last four decades and forms part of a proposal by the Nature Society of Singapore to preserve the former railway corridors as Green Corridors.

Jurong was in my childhood, one of the ends of the earth, being in what I had envisaged as a forsaken part of the island, good only for the seafood at Tuas village, that meant the long ride along the long and winding old Jurong Road that took one past the creepy stretch where the old Bulim cemetery was located. It was also the object of many school excursions to the area which had in the 1970s, the Jurong Birdpark added to the list of attractions that meant the long ride on the chartered bus which would pass the wonderfully wide tree lined avenue named International Road and culminate in the smell that we would always look forward to with anticipation – that of the aroma of chocolate that would invariably waft out of the Van Houten factory that stood on Jalan Boon Lay. It was only later that I came to know Jurong much better, spending 16 years of my life working in a shipyard at the end of Benoi Road.

The human train over the old railway line ...

It was around when I had first started work there that I started to notice the old Jurong Line, only once spotting a train passing over a level crossing that might have been at Tanjong Kling Road, not significant enough to have caught a mind that was distracted by the early days of my career. I had of course known about the bridges – a truss bridge, similar in construction and appearance to the glorious truss bridges of the main Railway Line that gives the Bukit Timah area some of its distinctive character, that crossed the Sungei Ulu Pandan that was visible from Clementi Road on the double decker bus service number 74 that I occasionally caught home from Clementi during my days in Singapore Polytechnic, as well as a less distinct on that crossed the Pandan River. Beyond noticing the obvious signs of the Jurong Line, I never did find the urge to learn about it until maybe a recent bout of nostalgia for the railway in Singapore brought about by the news that we will see the last of the trains crossing the island come the first day of July this year prompted the urge in me to explore what is now a disused line, and so when I heard of the ramble organised by the Nature Society, I decided to get dirty and muddy in the effort to learn more of the line.

The truss bridge across the Sungei Ulu Pandan at Clementi is a very well recognised landmark.

The walk along the line started at Teban Gardens, which itself was a housing estate that owes its own development to Jurong Industrial Estate which it sits on the fringe of. The estate was constructed in the early 1970s to supplement low cost housing in the area which had been in high demand, as more people found jobs in the Industrial Estate. The first flats were completed in 1976 by the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) which had been the body responsible for the development of the Indistrial Estate and the flats in the area – along with other JTC developed housing estates in the west of Singapore, have a distinct character compared to the estates developed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) during that time. The start of the walk in the setting of the fast rising sun, allowed the plots of vegetables and fruit trees to be revealed along that part of the corridor along that area on the approach to the abandoned tunnel that runs under Jurong Town Hall Road, a scene reminiscent of some of the rural scenes of Singapore that I had hitherto thought had been lost in the wave of development that has swept over Singapore. It was nice to return to the that Singapore for a while and take in the “fresh” country air that came with what appeared to be the ample use of fertilizer on the plots of vegetables.

Crossing what were the tracks at Teban Gardens.

A scene perhaps from the rural Singapore of old - small scale farming takes place along some tracts of land through which the corridor passes.

More scenes from what rural Singapore might have once looked like.

It was refreshing start to the walk which continued through one of the five tunnels that the line had featured when it was operational, along with eight steel bridges, three of which we walked across or walked by. Built at a cost of S$5.9 Million by the Malayan Railway with a loan from the Economic Development Board (EDB), construction on the line started in 1963 and was only completed in 1966 with total of 19.3 kilometres of tracks laid, although a public run was made as early as in November 1965. The first service commenced with its opening by Dato Ahmad bin Perang, the then General Manager of the Malayan Railway on 4 March 1966. The line, which branched off at Bukit Timah station and ran under a tunnel across Clementi Road towards the west, ended up at Shipyard Road behind the Mobil Refinery which was then being constructed, with a branch line running to the National Iron and Steel Mills (the estate’s first factory) and Jurong Port, and had apparently not been as well used as envisaged, and operation of the line finally ended in the mid 1990s without much fanfare, with the land being returned to the State and lies abandoned for the close to two decades that have passed.

The line featured five tunnels, including this one running under Jurong Town Hall Road.

Another view through the tunnel ...

The light at the end of the tunnel

The line also featured eight steel bridges, including this girder bridge across the Pandan River, along its 19.3 km of tracks from Bukit Timah Station to Shipyard Road and Jurong Port.

The abandonment was certainly pretty much in evidence throughout the walk, not just with “Danger” signs pretty much rendering the tunnel and the bridges along the route places we should have really avoided walking through or on. Trudging through the dark and dingy tunnel certainly wasn’t a walk in the park as the thick layer of mud that lined the ground meant a slow trudge towards the light at the end of the tunnel which was a small opening in the zinc sheet that was meant to prevent access into the tunnel at the other end. The first of the bridges we passed was the one across the Pandan River, which looked a little worse for wear and was boarded up to prevent access to it. After that, it was through the Faber Gardens corridor where besides the obvious signs of the abandoned tracks, some being overrun by the vegetation, there were also some nice bits of nature to take in, with even a creek that showed evidence of a swamp in the area with some swamp plants being very much in evidence. It was in the area where two members of the Shield Bug family said hello without giving off the almighty stink that they are known for. This certainly is reason enough to support the Nature Society’s proposal to turn the rail corridors into green corridors.

Signs of abandonment were pretty much in evidence all along the tracks ... this one at the east end of the tunnel ...

... and one at the Pandan River bridge ...

A train undercarriage's eye view of the bridge over the Pandan River.

An unspoilt part of Singapore - a creek by the old Jurong Line ... one of the compelling reasons to support the Nature Society's proposal to turn the areas around the tracks into a Green Corridor.

Shield bugs ... not uncommon, but rarely seen in urban Singapore these days.

Nature disturbed by the line but relatively unspoilt.

and in some instances, reclaiming their place on the old abandoned tracks.

More evidence of nature reclaiming the areas around the abandoned tracks.

It wasn’t long before we got to the Sunset Strip – the area behind Clementi Town along the Sungei Ulu Pandan that leads up to Sunset Way. That was where we walked into the Chinese temple and a few more reminders of a rural Singapore that is no more, including a water hyacinth pond (water hyacinth ponds were commonly seen as these were often used as fodder for pigs as well as in ponds treating pig waste in the old kampungs). From there, it was across first the rickety old truss bridge that the lack of maintenance on it very evident and looks as it it would be destined for the scrap yard unless my friends in the Nature Society have their way … that provided an excellent photo opportunity and despite the signs warning us not to cross and the clear evidence of a structure that bears the scars of being left in the hot and humid environment without any renewal made of coatings that would have kept the corrosive effects of the environment at bay, proved to be a safer bridge to walk across than the operational ones along the Bukit Timah corridor. It wasn’t far then for the human train to reach the sunset – Sunset Way – where another bridge – a grider bridge provides an overhead crossing over the road … where the short, but very interesting walk ended, leaving me with a much deeper impression of the old Jurong Line, and certainly of the proposal to turn the corridor into a green corridor, which I hope, won’t as the old Railways across Singapore, ride and fade into the sunset.

A temple by the former Railway land along the Sungei Ulu Pandan.

More scenes of what rural Singapore might have been like in the area around the temple.

Crossing the truss bridge across Sungei Ulu Pandan ...

Another view across the truss bridge.

The last leg of the walk towards Sunset Way.

The girder bridge over Sunset Way.

The view across the girder bridge at Sunset Way.





The other road named after the memory of Charles Edwin Spooner

1 01 2011

Just as Spooner Road in Singapore is a world apart from the rest of Singapore in many ways, I recently discovered that the other road that was named after Charles Edwin Spooner that still exists is a world apart in many ways from the rest of the city it is set in. This Spooner Road, or Jalan Spooner as it is now known as, together with the Spooner Road in Singapore, were two out of three Spooner Roads that were named after Spooner who was the first General Manager of the FMS Railways (FMSR) who began his career in the Public Wokrs Department in Selangor before his appointment to the FMSR in 1901 (the third on Federal Hill in Kuala Lumpur I discovered had been renamed as Jalan Cenderawasih). It was during his time at the PWD in Selangor that he oversaw and influenced some of the Moorish styled architectural masterpieces of Kuala Lumpur, swaying the style from the Neo Classical Renaissance style that was a standard of British government architecture in the colonies towards one that was influence by Islamic elements for the Malaysian capital.

Spooner Road or Jalan Spooner in Ipoh is another named after the first General Manager of the FMS Railways, C. E. Spooner, and associated with housing for railway workers, as is the Spooner Road in Singapore.

With some time to spare after a stroll through parts of old Ipoh, where I was reacquainted with the genius of Arthur Benison Hubback in the form of the wonderful Railway Station and Town Hall on New Year’s Eve, I decided to take a drive with the help of an Asus Garmin A10 GPS mobile phone that I am reviewing over to a quieter part of town where Jalan Spooner was located. Jalan Spooner is a road that has in its past been long associated with housing railway workers as the Spooner Road in Singapore is, and it was for that that I had sought to find evidence on. Taking a right turn as directed correctly by the GPS off Jalan Sungai Pari not far from the railway tracks, it was a road sign and a sign that indicated the existence of a village “Kampung Spooner” that greeted me, followed by a sense of extreme desolation. For some reason I had that feeling that I was driving into the fifth dimension which might have well been accompanied by the theme music from the TV Series “The Twilight Zone”, as the I stared through my windscreen towards a the eerily silent stretch of road that lay ahead surrounded by the greenery that lined both sides of the narrow country-like road. The road ahead seemed even more eerie when the sight of a lone woman walking down the road up ahead came into view. She looked as if she was almost floating as she made her way up the long and lonely road that lay ahead.

As is the Spooner Road in Singapore, the one in Ipoh looks as if time has left it behind.

As it is with Singapore’s Spooner Road, driving down the road also gave an impression that it was a place where time had stood still, particularly when the first few signs of civilisation down the road came into view. A few wooden houses stood on the right, with a few signs of life: a boy wearing a clinical mask playing outside his home and a barking dog up the metalled driveway of the road that led to another house. On the right there was an old wooden shophouse that was shuttered, and a motor workshop with a few motorcycles parked in front.

Housing around Jalan Spooner.

A resident of Jalan Spooner.

A shophouse at Jalan Spooner.

A motor workshop along Jalan Spooner.

It was on the right of the road that a cluster of dilapidated buildings came into view – the style of which was similar to the many railway buildings that are found on the tracts of land along the railway corridor in Singapore, particularly around some of the level crossings such as the ones in the Bukit Timah and Kranji areas – probably a testament to the period of the Malayan Railway’s development when they were built. Close inspection of a red sign that was posted in front of one row of buildings naming the “Perbandanan Aset Keretapi” (Railway Assets Corporation) giving evidence of their previous use. There it was – the evidence that I was looking for – and with that I had established the connection between the two Spooner Roads, separated not just by the creation of two very different nations out of the British administered Malayan States and the former colony of Singapore, but also by a distance of some 600 kilometres along the railway track, and unified by its association with not just the illustrious C. E. Spooner, but also with providing housing for the workers of the Malayan Railway.

The former railway workers' quarters at Jalan Spooner - now in dilapidated state.

A sign providing evidence of the ownership of the land on which the dilapidated buildings stand, naming the Railway Assets Corporation (Perbadanan Aset Keretapi) as the land title holder and warning that trespassers would be prosecuted.

More dilapidated buildings that once housed Railway workers.

Another view of Jalan Spooner.





The Malaysian Settlement in Singapore and the memory of Charles Edwin Spooner

20 12 2010

There is an obscure little corner of Singapore which many do not notice, nestled between Kampong Bahru Road and the railway yard that stretches to Keppel Road. Stepping into the area, you could quite easily forget that you are still in Singapore except for the two blocks of flats that resemble our own blocks of public housing built by the HDB in the mid 1970s, as you will be overcome by a feeling of stepping into a different world. It is a different world in many ways, being part of the land which is owned by the Malaysian State Railway, KTMB, and very much a part of the lost world within the KTM Railway Land that with the agreement between the Singapore and Malaysian Governments to redevelop the land in place, that will probably be consumed by modernity which has relentlessly swept across much of the island in the last three decades.

A lost world exists in Kampong Bahru ...

Access to the area is via Spooner Road, a name strange enough to have caught enough of my attention when I was in school to remember that I had a schoolmate (who I wasn’t really close to), who we referred to as ‘Spooner’ (for obvious reasons), who for some reason resided in one of the flats there. The flats of course, sitting on KTM land, belongs to the Railway, as much as the train yard and the Running Bungalow that sits at the entrance to the area on Spooner Road. I am not too certain when the current two blocks of flats were put up. Judging from the style of the blocks, it would have probably been around the mid 1970s, but they were definitely there at the end of the 1970s when I was in school with ‘Spooner’. The Running Bungalow itself was built in the early 1930s, part of the effort that has given us the magnificent Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the Railway Deviation of 1932 that provided the Bukit Timah area with some of its distinctive character. Before the current blocks of flats, there had been the Perak and Selangor flats which had served as the quarters of the Railway Workers in Singapore.

Access to the lost world is via Spooner Road, off Kampong Bahru Road.

The Running Bungalow was built in the early 1930s together with the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

A reflection of the Running Bungalow in a puddle of water on Spooner Road.

View of Spooner Road, the Running Bungalow and the KTM Flats.

While the redevelopment of what must be rather valuable land in an area that is on the fringe of the CBD is probably inevitable, I do harbour some hope that the road, Spooner Road, or at least the name of the road is preserved in some way. The road is named after none other than Mr Charles Edwin Spooner, who came over as a State Engineer with the Public Works Department (PWD) in Selangor after a stint with the PWD in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Among the projects that he oversaw and possibly influenced being in charge of the Selangor PWD was the construction of the wondrous and iconic Moorish styled Sultan Abdul Samad building which many now identify Kuala Lumpur with. In 1901, Spooner was appointed as the first General Manager of the FMS Railways (FMSR) and in that capacity oversaw the rapid expansion of the predecessors to what became the Malayan Railway, including the construction of the 120 mile long Johore State Railways linking Gemas to Johor Baharu, and the magnificent station building in Kuala Lumpur, which was completed a year after Spooner’s untimely death in 1909. It was after Mr Spooner, that not only saw a Spooner Road named after him in Singapore, but one associated with the Railways in Kuala Lumpur (I am not sure if this exists anymore) and also in Ipoh (which is now named Jalan Spooner). And it is for all his achievements, spending a better part of his life in the improvement of the colonies both in Ceylon and Malaya that we owe Mr Spooner at least a place in our own history and for our future generations not only to honour the memory of Charles Edwin Spooner, but also to serve as a memory of the Railway line that once ran through Singapore.

Some residents of Spooner Road enjoying the lifestyle I had growing up ....

Another resident of Spooner Road.

The lost world of Spooner Road. There was a Spooner Road in Kuala Lumpur and one in Ipoh (which is now Jalan Spooner) as well.

More views around the flats:

Lifts at the block of flats at Spooner Road.

Enjoying a ride around Spooner Road.

Laundry pole supports...

Window louvres ...

More window louvres ...

The land on which Spooner Road and the building sit are very much Malaysian owned.

More views around the Railway Yard:

Views around the train yard ...

[This post is also featured on Trains and Boats and Planes and One° North Explorers.]


[For more posts related to the Railway Land in Singapore, the Shift of the KTM station from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, and of Train Journeys on KTM, 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...

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