The abandoned beauty of Canfranc

30 09 2019

For more photographs, please visit:

https://jeromekg.wixsite.com/flymetothemoon/post/the-abandoned-beauty-of-canfranc


Set against a backdrop of snow-capped Pyrenean peaks and in a quiet village in Spanish foothills of the range that forms much of the Franco-Spanish border, the majestic and long-disused Canfranc International Railway Station looks well out of place. Often described as Europe’s most opulent station, it is as much its Beaux-arts styled appearance as is the scale in which it was built that has earned it this reputation.

The beautiful and somewhat mysterious Canfranc International Railway Station seen against the backdrop of the Pyrenees.

Built from 1921 to 1925, it was as much a symbol of Franco-Spanish cooperation at is opening in 1928 as it was to have been the terminal building of an elevated railway line that triumphed over the challenging Pyrenean terrain that separated the two countries. This required, among other efforts, the digging of a tunnel – the Somport tunnel that took six years to complete. It was in use until March 1970 when a train accident, which damaged the Estanguet bridge beyond repair, closed the Pau-Canfranc line for good.

The station has been abandoned since an accident in March 1970 closed the line.

Much intrigue and mystery has surrounded the station since its closure. Over the years, details have emerged of the station having been a transit point for Nazi loot, including some 86 tons of gold stolen from Jews to obtain much needed tungsten in the Iberian peninsula. Tungsten was need to as an alloying element in steel used in tank armour. Details have also emerged of how a French Customs Officer based at the station, Albert Le Lay, posed as a double agent and in doing so, facilitated the escape of hundreds of refugees – many of them Jews into Spain from 1940 to 1942. Dubbed the “Spanish Schindler”, Le Lay, was part of a spy network based at the station that also helped in the transmission of messages and equipment for the French Resistance.

A view through one of the station’s 365 windows.

The station, which measures 241 metres in length, is 12.5 metres wide and has a total of 150 doors – 75 one each side. It also has 365 windows – one as they say – for each day of the year. Operated jointly by France and Spain, it contained a restaurant, a hotel, post and telegraph offices and the offices of the railway operators and immigration and customs officials for both countries.


For more photographs, please visit:

https://jeromekg.wixsite.com/flymetothemoon/post/the-abandoned-beauty-of-canfranc

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The long and not so winding trek down a route less travelled

11 07 2011

I was one in that crowd that had gathered in a car park of Silat Estate early on a Saturday morning for what was to be a trek that did seem along parts of the trek to a bridge that was a little too far. Despite a start at a time of day when most would be catching up on their slumber, the trek which was led by Ministor of State for National Development BG Tan Chuan-Jin had attracted a sizable group of participants that included the good folks behind the proposal to retain the former railway land as a continuous green corridor, members of the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) teams, plus many more who came in a show of support for the green corridor proposal.

The early Saturday morning trek started at Silat Estate and for most ended 13.6 kilometres later at the truss bridge at the Rail Mall - one of the bridges that will be retained. BG Tan (in blue) continued one his trek with some members of the NSS to Kranji after a pit stop at the Rail Mall.

Silat Estate is the southernmost point at which the tracks are accessible with the stretch leading into the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the Kampong Bahru train yard beyond the Kampong Bahru flyover closed to the public, and trekking along the corridor from that point up some 23 kilometres to Kranji (which BG Tan did), gives many of us the opportunity to take a pedestrian’s glance at a part of Singapore that was left largely unseen for a better part of a century save for the view one got of it from the speeding train. It is a part of Singapore that many who have their interactions with the more accessible parts of it, hold dearly in their hearts … bringing many back to a time when Singapore had a less built-up feel to it. For many like me, the railway land will always have a place in my memories for several reasons. There are many parts of Singapore that I will always associate with the railway – one being the Bukit Timah and Bukit Panjang areas where I had my first encounters with trains through the bridges and crossings that have given the area a unique character.

Ghostly figures in the dark ... the group setting off on the trek at the set of tracks close to Silat Estate at 6.25 am.

First light under a road bridge at Henderson Road.

The trek provided me an with opportunity to have a good look at some of the less accessible parts of the railway track before that is gone forever, having seen much of the areas south of the Tanglin Halt area previously only from the window of the train. It was not just for me a final chance to do so, but also to hear first hand from BG Tan and his team on the plans the MND had for the railway land. I was pleased to find that the Minister of State was friendly and approachable and certainly very forthcoming in explaining the considerations that the MND would be taking in planning for the use of the land. Throughout the trek, despite the rapid pace at which he moved down the tracks – he stopped slowed down to talk to participants as well as passers-by and also take quite a number of photographs himself, as well as finding the time to show that he has a sense of humour – remarking that there were quite a number of “lost soles” that we encountered along the way.

The trek provided me with an opportunity to have a good look at some of the less accessible parts of the railway track before that is gone forever.

The tracks near Alexandra Road.

A particularly green stretch near the former Alexandra Halt ....

Among the things that I was able to find out from the brief encounters with BG Tan that the trek afforded, was that there were as yet no specific plans for the redevelopment of many parts of the former railway land as yet. There are some though that will soon go ahead, as was mentioned by Mr George Yeo in a speech he made in his capacity as Foreign Minister during the budget debate in March of this year in which he made mention of plans in place for the development of Silat Estate and the expansion of the One North Business Park commencing from 1st July (see Straits Times report dated 4 March 2011). Even with this, BG Tan felt that the opportunity was there to integrate the idea of the green corridor into the redevelopment of the former railway land was certainly there. There also are no specific plans as yet for Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and Bukit Timah Railway Station which many would like to see use of which would make it more accessible to members of the public than what we have seen with a few other National Monuments and Conserved Buildings. One thing that was significant that did come out was that there were indeed considerations for what is termed as a “green spine” – which was mentioned on the day of the walk by the Minister for National Development Mr Khaw Boon Wan in his blog post “A Green Opportunity“, which was consistent with what BG Tan had mentioned and he did go on to mention that the MND would certainly be consulting NGOs and other interested parties, as well as obtaining feedback from the public as it draws up its plans (which he was keen to stress may take several years) for the use of the new found space, at the same time moderating expectations by saying that in an ideal world we could preserve much of what we see as it is, but in a land scarce Singapore, some balance was needed although the green spine idea was very much in their minds.

BG Tan catching up with the head of the group after spending some time to chat with participants and taking a few photographs along the way.

A couple holding hands under the AYE slip road out to Alexandra Road ...

The area around Jalan Hang Jebat.

The same couple ... they held hands all the way ...

Scenes of old Singapore on the approach to the Queenstown area.

More scenes of old Singapore on the approach to the Queenstown area.

One of the ideas put forward by the Nature Society (Singapore) or NSS which is fronting the green corridor proposal is the retention of the tracks and sleepers – something which we will unfortunately not see. This, BG Tan stressed was something that the authorities on the Malaysian end wanted to have returned to them. And while that and a few girder bridges (the ones at Hillview Road, near Ten Mile Junction and close to Kranji Loop) along the length of the tracks will very quickly disappear – these have to be returned by by 31st December this year, we will see the two black truss bridges over the Bukit Timah area and the girder bridge at Hindhede Drive retained, along with the one over the Sungei Ulu Pandan north of Clementi estate that was part of the Jurong Line retained.

Joggers along the track near Tanglin Halt.

What used to be a popular shortcut at Commonwealth Drive which is still very much used.

Songbird cages at Commonwealth Drive.

Graffiti on the walls of an abandoned KTM building at Tanglin Halt ... another part of Singapore we don't normally see.

Under the road bridge at Commonwealth Avenue.

The group heading out towards the Ghim Moh / Mount Sinai area.

Ghim Moh area.

While the removal of the tracks is perhaps unfortunate from a heritage perspective – for one Bukit Timah Station would certainly lose its character and part of its heritage
without the tracks and in particular the loop lines (a lot has already been lost as the historical equipment and most of the signal levers have already been returned to KTM), there are encouraging signs that the bulk of the green corridor proposal is being considered along with the intention of the MND to consult NGOs and other stakeholders, as well as obtain feedback from the public. The willingness to engage is also made very obvious from Saturday’s trek which wasn’t just for the invited few but opened to one and all that for many ended at what had seemed like a bridge too far near the Rail Mall. With a few brave hearts BG Tan set off for the remaining 10 kilometres of his trek up to Kranji finishing it some 3 hours later, and what was left was hope that the the greener and softer Singapore which many seek is possibly one that will take a raod less travelled and one that perhaps would lead to a bridge that isn’t too far …

Through the first of two Holland Road road bridges.

A human train seen at the Clementi Road woodland near Holland Green.

Cyclists seen crossing an obstacle in the midst of the lush greenery at the Clementi Raod woodland.

The media interviewing BG Tan at Bukit Timah Station.

BG Tan posing with a family at Bukit Timah Station.

All that's left of the signal levers at Bukit Timah Station.

The now fenced up Bukit Timah Station - many hope that the building would remain accessible whatever the plans are for it.

Continuing on the 3 kilometre stretch that will remain open up to the 31st of July.

Towards a very green area that borders the nature reserve at Bukit Timah. One of the thoughts in th green corridor proposal is to allow an uninterrupted green corridor to allow the passage of flora and fauna from the reserve to the southern ridges.


The Green Corridor:

The Green Corridor is an idea that is mooted by the Nature Society (Singapore) (NSS) to keep the railway corridor which extends through much of Singapore as a continuous green corridor, one that the railway has allowed thrive amidst the wave of urbanisation that has swept across much of the Singapore that the railway corridor runs through. A proposal was submitted to the Government of Singapore last October in which the NSS proposes that the corridor be allowed to be retained once railway operations through Singapore stops with the shifting of the terminal station of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in Singapore, to Woodlands. The idea also extends to the disused Jurong extension, part of which is currently under threat from the construction of a new road in the Faber Heights area near Clementi.

The NSS’ proposal can be found at this link. More information on the Green Corridor can also be found at The Green Corridor (website). You can also show your support for the Green Corridor by “liking” the We Support the Green Corridor Facebook Page.


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Public feedback sought:

The URA welcomes feedback and ideas from the community in shaping the future development plans for the railway lands. The members of the public are invited to visit and provide their ideas at www.ura.gov.sg/railcorridor/.






A final journey: a tearful departure from Tanjong Pagar

3 07 2011

This post is the first of a series intended to capture the final journey that many who joined me on the last day of operations of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on the 30th of June 2011 took out of Tanjong Pagar on a rainy morning and back into Tanjong Pagar on Last Train into Tanjong Pagar. There were a hundred in all that did, people from all walks of life who did. For many the closure of the station was a sad occasion, particularly those with personal experiences of a journey through the station which was opened in 1932, and the ride was to be a final homecoming into the grand old station. For some others, it was a first journey through Tanjong Pagar to say that they have had that wonderful experience of a journey through a grand station that adds to the romance of travel that is missing from other modes of transport. For all who went on the journey, it was also a journey to mark the historic occasion as well as one to preserve the memory of the railway’s passage through Singapore that had started with the Singapore to Kranji Railway in 1903, as well as to say a huge thank you to the dedicated men and women who tirelessly kept the railway running.

Many others had in the days leading up to the closure queued up for tickets for their own final journeys through Tanjong Pagar.

Tickets for the final journey.

For me, it had started as a personal journey, having had a fascination for the railway since my early days and having an attachment to the magnificent station and train journeys out of and back into the station from the many trips I have taken through it. It was a journey that I had intended from the day I had heard the news of the station’s closure, and what had started with an exchange of tweets on the 15th of May which started with one I had sent about a post I made in which I mentioned that Sultan of Johor intending to drive the last train out to which a friend and fellow traveller replied to. In my reply, I stated my intention of taking the last train in, and she thought that it was a good idea as she had her own personal attachment to the trains and thought it would be good if we could get a few more in our extended circle of friends on Twitter to join us. I suppose it was the media coverage that followed that made it more than a personal journey for us, first in the Lianhe Zaobao on the 29th of May and then after a Facebook page was created on the 1st of June when some of us who intended the journey had purchased tickets to provide updates to those who had initially responded, the Straits Times caught on to it and featured it on the Life section of the paper on the 8th of June (the news was also in the days to come, reported by the UK’s Daily Telegraph and also by the Japanese media). Since then, the Facebook page has grown from 80 ‘likes’ before the Straits Times feature to something like 600 on the morning of the final day (with coverage by the various media including Channel NewsAsia on the day itself – it has since grown to over 1000). That I guess made it into a journey by not just individuals, but by a community of people to commemorate the last day and to have one last homecoming into a station that many will miss. The series of posts of which the first starts at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, will follow what was to be a meaningful experience for many on the train on a journey out of the station and a return to amazing scenes along the railway corridor on the last train into Tanjong Pagar.

I

a tearful departure from Tanjong Pagar

0711: Arriving at the station for one final walk through the arches to catch a train.

0720: Tears start to stream down from the heavens on the final day of the station's operations.

0738: A handful of passengers were buying tickets out to JB.

0739: A last look around the station ... M Hasan 2 in the main hall is shuttered and emptiness greets the passenger where the Habib Railway Book Store and Money Changer once stood at the entrance to the arrival platform.

0740: A quick glance at what used to be M. Hasan Food Station on the arrival platform.

0741: A group of old timers who have hung out at the station for many years are seen having a last breakfast at what used to be M Hasan.

0741: Wall fans that were used to cool hungry passengers on the arrival platform prepare for their journey to the next destination.

0742: Where hungry passengers were once fed ...

0743: The queue for the train at the departure gates ...

0744: The station's staff look out for one last look down a deserted departure platform as the rain continues to fall.

0758: The main hall of the station is filled with passengers and KTM staff to see out the last day of the station's operations.

0805: A ticketing clerk smiles through the window of the ticketing counter.

0809: With the departure of the 0800 delayed, there is time to have a wander around the ticket counter when a familiar sign coily peeps out from behind another familiar sign at the ticket counter.

0828: The gate finally opens at 0820 ... and the last few passengers for the 0800 Ekspres Rakyat take one last walk through the departure gate, as a NHK film crew is seen filming them.

0829: A final glance at the departure gate.

0831: Some passengers seen making one last dash down a rain washed and otherwise quiet departure platform, in contrast to the frenzy that I met on my very first encounter with the departure platform.

0832: Passengers taking a final photograph on the departure platform.

0833: All aboard ... the Ekspres Rakyat prepares for a final departure from the station.

0838: The Ekspres Rakyat moves off for one last time.


Posts on the Railway through Singapore and 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“.






Faces of the Railway: the Firemen of Spooner Road

24 06 2011

Amongst the group of Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) staff who could once be found in Spooner Road off Kampong Bahru Road is a special breed of men, known as Firemen. The Fireman in KTM terms, is not one that fights the fires, but one that drives the train, a term that goes back to the days of steam locomotives when the fire that generated steam was fed by men in the driver’s seat. For a Fireman, life can be pretty tough, having to drive the train through the long and often delayed journeys which require a lot of waiting because of the single track that KTM operates on a substantial part of the line. In the major stations where they take a well deserved rest they can be found at a bungalow dedicated to housing train drivers on a stopover of a day or so such as the M R Running Bungalow at Spooner Road, off Kampong Bahru Road, near Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. One such Fireman that I met recently was a Encik Zulfikri who, despite his youthful appearance, has been with KTM for two decades, who was on a 24 hour stopover having just arrived at the station. For men such as En. Zulfikri, life is lonely on the road, putting up in one of sixteen rooms at the Running Bungalow on his stopovers here with only other Firemen for company, doing what he has done for twenty years of his life, thirteen years of which were in a capacity of a Fireman, the other seven having held junior and assistant positions.

Encik Zulfikri, who has been with KTM for 20 years, 13 years as a train driver seen inside the M R Running Bungalow in Spooner Road.


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“.






Faces of the Railway: the last Station Master at Tanjong Pagar

23 06 2011

On a train I took from Tanjong Pagar recently, I had the good fortune to bump into a certain Encik Ayub, who joined Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) some 30 years ago as a ticket clerk, serving in stations around that included that of his hometown, Segamat, for some 14 years. He has been in KTM’s Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for some six year as the Station Master, and will, at 10 pm on the 30th of June this year, wave the special last train driven by the Sultan of Johor, as the last Station Master of the grand old Tanjong Pagar Station. As of the 1st of July, En. Ayub will be transferred to Kluang Station.

Encik Ayub on his way back home to Segamat.


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“.






Faces of the Railway: a familiar face from the Railway Book Store

22 06 2011

Arriving at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and walking into the main hall, one of the first things a passenger would encounter is that of what is an institution at the station, the Habib Railway Book Store and Money Changer, of which I have an earlier post on. The so-called book store and money changer is owned by Mr Syed Ahmad, who started his business at the station in 1958, taking over his father’s which started in 1936 at the same station. The book store and money changer is certainly one that many, as passengers, would have patronised, buying a bottle of water, picking a book or magazine up, or getting one’s currency changed for that trip up north, something which I did on my very first encounter with the trains as a passenger back in the 1990s.

Mr Nazir, nephew of the store's owner, Mr Syed Ahmad, is perhaps one of the more recognisable faces at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

Manning the book store and money changer are many of Mr Syed Ahmad’s relatives, including a young man Mr Nazir who is a nephew of Mr Syed Ahmad and is perhaps one of the more recognisable faces of the station to a regular passenger. The book store and money changer will sadly see its last day of operation, bringing to a close a 75 year association with the grand old station on the 26th of June. As for that familiar face and Mr Syed Ahmad, life does go on … and for what is most certainly an institution at Tanjong Pagar, life may go on … in a colder and less friendly setting that is the new terminal station (I don’t know if one can actually call it a station) at Woodlands Train Checkpoint.


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“.






Faces of the Railway: the last Station Master at Bukit Timah

9 06 2011

Working tirelessly through the day to keep the stretch of the Malayan Railway passing from Woodlands through to Tanjong Pagar safe is a quiet and unassuming gentleman by the name of Encik Atan. For Encik Atan, who will pass into history as the last Station Master of Bukit Timah Railway Station, the last station along the Malayan Railway, now Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM, that still uses the old fashioned key token system to hand authority over to trains using the single track, his daily shift starts with the first train that passes through before the break of day, and ends with the passing of the last train for the day well into the night. He does this practically every day, making his way from the KTM flats in Spooner Road in Kampong Bahru in the darkness of the early morning, and making his way back in the darkness of the late night, taking a break only on his off days when a relief is sent from Johor Bahru.

Encik Atan at his desk.

I guess it doesn’t help that the trains are often delayed with a significant part of the railway in the peninsula running on a single track as well. Trains often for another to pass and seldom run on time, and delays of an hour on average are quite common. This often means that Encik Atan’s day often stretches beyond the scheduled passing of the last northbound train for the day just before 11 pm and getting off pass midnight is often the case. If you do pass by the way of Bukit Timah Railway Station as we enter the last three weeks of its operations, do say a quick hello and shake the hand of a man who deserves a pat on his back for his tireless efforts in keeping us safe.

Encik Atan at the signalling table.

Rain or shine ... the passing of the trains through what is the halfway point on the Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands stretch, keeps Encik Atan busy.

The Station Master in action - this time scurrying off on a bicycle to pass the key token to the driver of a south bound train.

Encik Atan seen running off on another occasion to hand the key token over to a southbound train over the railway bridge at Bukit Timah.

Taking shelter from the rain that resulted in rising waters just over 200 metres from the station on the 5th of June.

Speaking to curious visitors to the station.

Strangers on a Train:

Strangers on a Train is an attempt to celebrate the passing of an era by a gathering on what is scheduled to be the last train that pulls into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on 30th June 2011. If you are interested to join us, we are on Train 15 Ekspres Sinaran Timur (most of are in Coach 2 and are getting on that at Segamat). Do note that tickets for the Express services, which can be purchased up to 30 days in advance, to and from Singapore this June are fast selling, with trains for most weekends already quite full, and can be obtained at the station (advance bookings open from 8.30 am daily) or online at the KTMB website. If you would like to join us and have you tickets, you may drop an email to Notabilia or me with the subject line “Strangers on a Train”.


Further information 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“.