One last dance on the railway through the green corridor

25 06 2011

We are now into the last weekend of the old railway through Singapore. The old railway with its locomotive hauled carriages will after the next week, be something that we can only reminisce about, having seen it pass through areas of Singapore that I have since my childhood days associated with the railway. There is something about trains that always fascinates a child, and it was indeed in my childhood that I developed a fascination with trains, having seen trains speed across the black bridges of Bukit Timah and the level crossings of the north and having heard the whistles and horns that I will always associate with the annual Lunar New Year reunion dinners at my aunt’s place in Spottiswoode Park. At least for me, the passing of the railway into history will be a bittersweet moment, having not just had many childhood experiences watching the trains go by, but also having been a regular user of the railway in the 1990s. It will be the knowledge that it will only be in the memories that I hold that I will see the trains once more, across a world that seemed far away from the changing landscape in the land of my birth that I have less and less of a connection with, that saddens me. That I guess is something that is inevitable about Singapore, a Singapore that abandons its recent past for the promise of an unattainable slice of Utopia.

The last dance of the railway through what many Singaporeans hope will be a future green corridor.

It is in the interest that is generated by passing of the old railway into history that I have also come to realise that Singapore that matters does hold what it is about to lose dear. Passing through the stations and the during recent walks along the line, there is an unmistakeable sense one feels of an air of sadness that goes beyond the passing of the trains or the pleasure of boarding one at the platform of a grand old station. There is also that sadness that comes from the loss of a world that Singapore has left behind that one could escape to at the station as well as in many parts of the railway corridor and the possible loss of distinctive landmarks that many have identified the areas around the corridor with. It through the shared experiences of the last days of the railway and the collective attempts by many individuals, interest groups and media organisations, that I have not just a wealth of positive experiences, but made a lot of wonderful friends, something that I will hold dear as much as I hold what has been a wonderful wealth of memories and experiences of the railway dear.

The last week of the railway has seen an upsurge in interest in it and has seen individuals, interest groups and media organisations scurrying to film, photograph and document its last days.

Many have taken an exploration through the green corridor and have become aware of the wonderful green spaces the railway has given us.

The green corridor is a breath of fresh air to a greying Singapore.

There is a wealth of flora and fauna in the green corridor - a pair of Scaly Breasted Munias dancing on the railway tracks near Blackmore Drive.

An Oriental Pied Hornbill seen flying over the green corridor.

And now, I will look forward to a final rail journey out of and back for that final homecoming into Tanjong Pagar this 30th of June, knowing that it is inevitable that the railway that Singapore has seen for close to 108 years will on the very next day be gone, and it is in knowing this that I will celebrate not with joy in my heart, but with a deep sense of appreciation for the railway, the wonderful green spaces and most of all the people that made the railway that I will always hold dear. Thanks KTM for the memories … and hopefully for the wonderful green spaces that we can pass on to our future generations.

The 1st of July will see the railway land which by a 1918 Ordinance transferred ownership of the land to the FMSR, the predecessor of the Malayan Railway, pass back into Singapore's hands, bringing to an end 108 years of the railway's association with Singapore.

The dismantling of the railway infrastructure will begin shortly after the 1st of July, but what advocates of the green corridor hope is that much (if not all) of the green spaces the corridor has given us will be retained for recreational use.


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

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“.


A last dance with the railway through the Green Corridor on 26 Jun 2011:

Join the good people who support the Green Corridor and me on a walk through a road less travelled by the railway on the last Sunday of KTM’s operations through Singapore on “The Green Corridor walk along Upper Bukit Timah Road.“.






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.








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