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

1 11 2010

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

The narrow span girder bridge at Hindhede Road.

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

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

The view on top of the bridge at Hindhede Road.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The view of the railway land from Rifle Range Road.

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

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

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

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

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