Rail Corridor Roving Exhibitions & Community Workshops

26 02 2016

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will holding a series of roving exhibitions in March and April 2016 to bring the Rail Corridor concept master plan proposals to the communities around the corridor.

The Rail Corridor in greener days.

The Rail Corridor in greener days.

The schedule is as follows:

Date

Venue

Nodes to be Featured

2 – 8 Mar

Tanjong Pagar CC

Queenstown CC

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

Queensway Viaduct

9 – 29 Mar

Ulu Pandan CC

Bukit Timah CC

Buona Vista

Bukit Timah Railway Station

PIE Viaduct (Mayfair Park)

Former BT Timah Fire Station

30 Mar – 5 Apr

Yew Tee CC

Fuchun CC

Stagmont Ring

Kranji

Feddback provided to the URA will be used in refining the concept master plan.

Feddback provided to the URA will be used in refining the concept master plan.

Along with this, several community workshops will also be held. The workshops are aimed at small groups of stakeholders with limited experience with the Rail Corridor. The target audience includes the elderly, families, students, sports and hobby groups and the physically handicapped to allow the planners an understanding of how the Rail Corridor can best meet the needs of these groups.

To find out more and to register for the workshops, do visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1679154039004908/ and https://www.regonline.sg/Urail. The URA intends to utilise feedback and ideas generated from the exhibitions and workshops to refine the concept master plan. More on the Concept Master Plan and the Rail Corridor RFP can be found in the following posts: The Rail Corridor, what will be and The Rail Corridor that will be forgotten.





The Rail Corridor, what will be

10 11 2015

The header of a graphic produced by the Straits Times related to the winning concept master plan for the Rail Corridor Request for Proposal reads “On track for big changes”.  It isn’t a big change however that many who came out in support of the idea to keep the Rail Corridor, much of which had been untouched by development during the days of the railway, as a continuous and undeveloped green space, were hoping to see.

A new journey along the rail corridor.

A new journey along the rail and hopefully still green corridor.

A panel at the exhibition.

A panel at the ‘Rail Corridor – An Inspired and Extraordinary Community Space’ exhibition.

The long anticipated announcement of the winning entries for the RFP to develop a concept master plan and concept proposals for the entire 24 km stretch and two special interest areas, launched in March of this year, was made at yesterday’s opening of the ‘Rail Corridor – An Inspired and Extraordinary Community Space’ exhibition at the URA Centre, by Minister for National Development, Mr Lawrence Wong.

Minister for National Development announcing the awards for the RFP and opening the exhibition.

Minister for National Development announcing the awards for the RFP and opening the exhibition.

Among the five design teams shortlisted for Stage 2A, awards were made to two teams. One was made to the team led by Japanese architecture firm Nikken Sekkei Ltd and local landscape firm Tierra Design for the concept master plan and concept proposal for the entire stretch. Another two – for the concept designs of two special interest areas, namely the adaptive reuse of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for 20 years and the integrated blue-green public housing development at Choa Chu Kang, was awarded to the team from MKPL Architects Pte Ltd and Turenscape International Ltd.

Faces from the winning team for the concept master plan and concept proposal.

Faces from the winning team for the concept master plan and concept proposal.

The strength of Nikken Sekkei’s concept master plan and proposals, Lines of Life, seems not so much about big changes but interventions that many will argue is necessary to enhance the user experience and allow what really should be a community space to reach out to a wider group of users, many of whom will be from the estimated one million who live, work and go to school in the immediate vicinity of the disused rail corridor.

Viewing Nikken Sekkei's proposals.

Viewing Nikken Sekkei’s proposals.

What seems to be a plus point for the winning proposal is that it is built around core values of Space, Nature, Time and People. This with the aim to enhance the value of the space, build on its natural environment, remember the journey of the space through time and connect the various communities who will potentially use the space. The team sees nature being enhanced through four landscape strategies: a Grassland, a Rainforest, a Garden / Urban Park and a Wetland. Platforms – with a variety of amenities provided based on one of the four modular platform sizes are suggested to serve as much needed rest and comfort stops along the 24 km route.

An example of one of 21 modular platforms that perhaps resemble railway platforms to serve as a reminder of the corridor’s history.

Part of Nikken Sekkei's proposal.

One of the activity nodes of Nikken Sekkei’s proposal.

The team also suggests enhancing the flavour of what it sees as eight stretches with unique characters along the 24 km corridor, something that will allow a much more varied experience of the corridor that does following the departure of the railway, have the effect of leaving one with a feeling that it is more of the same.  Along with the themes, ten activity nodes are proposed. From the graphics on display, it does seem that large scale interventions are being proposed in and around the nodes. While this doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the hope some harbour for an undisturbed, natural and easy to maintain green corridor, it does have the desired effect of enhance the value of the space to the wider community.

The eight stretches and ten activity nodes that Nikken Sekkei sees.

The eight stretches and ten activity nodes that Nikken Sekkei sees.

One of the activity nodes proposed – The Community Cave under the PIE viaduct at Mayfair Park, includes a rock climbing wall that can be repurposed in the future.

The Cultural Valley at Buona Vista with the intention to cater to the working community at One North and the residential community at Queenstown.

A look out tower over the lush landscape at Bukit Timah Fire Station – The Green Connection, seems as a hub for eco-based activities.

The Station Garden at Bukit Timah Railway Station, which leverages on its idyllic setting. Amenities such a bicycle station and a cafe are envisaged for this node.

Plus points of the winning concept also include the introduction of much needed 122 access points along the corridor. The history and heritage of the corridor, sadly already minimised by the removal of much of the railway’s paraphernalia, will not be forgotten through adaptive reuse of former railway buildings and the restoration of its existing artefacts and structures. On this note, the railway line’s two very distinctive and iconic truss bridges will be gazetted for conservation – Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong also announced yesterday that the process to have the bridges conserved has commenced. The bridges, constructed for the 1932 Railway Deviation that turned the trains to the new terminal at Tanjong Pagar, elevated the railway and minimised the number of railway level crossings, have long been a feature of the Bukit Timah area and has given the area much of its character.

The truss bridge at the 9th milestone - one of two that will be gazetted for conservation.

The truss bridge at the 9th milestone – one of two that will be gazetted for conservation.

Besides the concept master plan and concept proposals for the 24 km corridor, visitors to the exhibition will also get to have a look at MKPL’s and Turenscape’s ideas for the adaptive reuse of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the Choa Chu Kang development. The proposal for Tanjong Pagar Railway Station sees it re-purposed into a multi-functional community use building for an interim 20 year period before future plans can be made in relation to the intended Greater Southern Waterfront development that will take place after the lease expires at the port in 2027.

MKPL's and Turenscape's vision for Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

MKPL’s and Turenscape’s vision for Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

Panels showing proposals for Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the Lines of Life.

Panels showing proposals for Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the Lines of Life.

What is proposed will see art clubs, a railway gallery, exhibition space, auditorium, cafés and modular pop-up community kiosks placed along the platforms with a landscaped are in front of of the former station. Also proposed is the integration of the Circle Line’s Cantonment Station, which will be built under the platforms, with the former railway station (see also: Closing the Circle). The proposals – done up when it was thought that the portion of the platforms to be removed to allow the MRT station to be constructed had to be demolished – sees a new interpretation of the removed platform constructed and also the station exits opening up to the area where the tracks were. We do know from the joint SLA/LTA 29 October announcement that ways to reinstate the removed portions of the platforms are being looked into. What would certainly be good to also see is that the perspective provided along the platforms – among the longest along the Malayan Railway’s line to accommodate the longest mail trains and a testament to the importance of the former station, is not altered by the suggested interventions.

The platforms at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station were dimensioned to accommodate the longest mail trains and are among the longest found along the Malayan Railway's lines - a testament to the station's importance.

The platforms at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station were dimensioned to accommodate the longest mail trains and are among the longest found along the Malayan Railway’s lines – a testament to the station’s importance.

Minister for National Development , Mr Lawrence Wong viewing MKPL/ Turenscape's winning proposal for Choa Chu Kang.

Minister for National Development , Mr Lawrence Wong viewing MKPL/ Turenscape’s winning proposal for Choa Chu Kang.

More information on the winning proposals can be found at the URA’s Rail Corridor RFP website. The proposals can also be viewed at the exhibition, which is being held at the URA Centre Atrium and runs from 9 to 28 November 2015. The master plan and design concepts, which have already incorporated many ideas from the consultation process, are not finalised proposals and there will be scope to have them be refined based on further feedback from stakeholders and the general public. This can be provided at the exhibition where one can provide feedback on forms in one of the four official languages, or online http://ura.sg/railrfp.

Feedback can be provided at the exhibition.

Feedback can be provided at the exhibition.

Feedback can also be made electronically.

Feedback can also be made electronically.

Forms are provided in the four official languages.

Forms are provided in the four official languages.

The exhibitions will also be brought to neighbourhoods along the corridor in the first quarter of 2016, during which time feedback may also be provided, following which Stage 2B and 2C of the RFP exercise will be held, starting in the second quarter of 2016. The awarded teams will work with URA to refine the ConceptMaster Plan and Concept Proposals, taking into account the feedback received during stage 2B. A preliminary design and feasibility study for a selected four kilometre-long signature stretch of the Rail Corridor, covering the area from Bukit Timah Railway Station to Hillview Road area, will also be carried out by Nikken Sekkei in Stage 2C. This will be followed by a public exhibition of the proposals scheduled in June 2016.


Around the exhibition

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The estate that Lee Kong Chian built

3 11 2015

Lying at the foot of Bukit Timah Hill is a tiny estate that if not for the Rail Mall that now fronts it and the nearby railway truss bridge, would probably go unnoticed.  The estate of 142 households, launched a SG50 coffee table book on Sunday, an event to which I was invited to and one that also saw the unveiling of a sculpture by Oh Chai Hoo dedicated to the estate. It was at the event that I was to learn that the estate traces its origins to Southeast Asia’s “Rubber and Pineapple King”, businessman and philanthropist Mr Lee Kong Chian, and that the estate had once been home to Mr S R Nathan (who was to become the sixth President of the Republic of Singapore).

Faces of Fuyong Estate, seen on the cover of the SG50 book.

Faces of Fuyong Estate, a SG50 coffee table book produced by residents of the estate.

The name of the estate holds the clue to this origin. Fuyong or Phoo Yong in Hokkien, and the pinyin-ised as Furong (芙蓉), names by which the estate went by, was the village in China’s Fujian province from which the illustrious Lee Kong Chian hailed from. The land on which the estate now sits was purchased by Lee from a Mr Alexander Edward Hughes. Lee, who pioneered a provident fund based housing scheme to allow his employees to own homes was persuaded by Mr Lim Koon Teck, his legal adviser and a Progressive Party politician, to allow much needed low cost housing built for the public there in the early 1950s and Phoo Yong Estate was born.

A page in the book. It was on land purchased by Mr Lee Kong Chian, pictured, that Fuyong Estate was developed to serve as much needed low-cost housing in the mid 1950s.

A page in the book. It was on land purchased by Mr Lee Kong Chian, pictured, that Fuyong Estate was developed to serve as much needed low-cost housing in the mid 1950s.

The row of single storey houses straddling Jalan Asas in 1989. The houses have since been converted into The Rail Mall.

Before the Rail Mall – one of the two rows of single storey houses straddling Jalan Asas in 1989 that have since been converted into The Rail Mall.

Much has changed about the face of the estate and its vicinity since the days when it was known as Phoo Yong, or even in more recent times. In an area once dominated by the factories on the hills, and once where the sounds heard through day included the rumble of trains and the blasts from the nearby quarries, the estate is today set in an area bathed in the calm of the verdant Bukit Timah Hill that now paints a much less rowdy backdrop. The rows of houses by the main road, which had housed a mix of businesses that included a coffin shop, have since the mid 1990s, become the Rail Mall – developed by a subsidiary of the Lee Rubber Company.

The now silent truss bridge, a long-time landmark along Upper Bukit Timah Road.

The now silent truss bridge, a long-time landmark along Upper Bukit Timah Road.

Two of the estate's oldest residents at the launch event cutting a cake with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Two of the estate’s oldest residents at the launch event cutting a cake with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The strong sense of community in the estate was very much in evidence through the launch event, some of which perhaps in embodied in the sculpture that was also unveiled in the estate’s Fuyong Park. Taking the form of the Chinese character for a person looking forward, the artist behind piece, Oh Chai Hoo, intends it as a symbol of the kampong spirit and the resilience shown by our forefathers.

Taking aim to unveil Oh Chai Hoo's sculpture, which takes the shape of teh Chinese character for a person.

Taking aim to unveil Oh Chai Hoo’s sculpture, which takes the shape of the Chinese character for a person.

The coffee table book is a good little read for anyone interested in the estate and in the area’s development. The book traces the estates transformation and also offers many interesting insights into the estate, such as how Mr Nathan became an early resident. One also learns of the meanings of the names of its roads in Malay. Asas for example means foundation, Tumpu, focus, Siap, readiness and Uji, challenge. There is also a little known fact that gets a mention. Having been built as a low cost housing estate, a regular visitor to the estate was the 32 door honey wagon. While there were initial efforts by a resident Mr Palpoo to bring in modern sanitation on a private basis in the early 1960s, it wasn’t until 1969 that the estate would fully be equipped with flushing toilets – something we in in the Singapore of today would find hard to imagine.

A scan from Faces of Fuyong with an aerial view over the estate in 1958. The photograph also shows the railway line, the truss bridge, and Hume Industries and the Ford Factory on the high ground across the road.

A scan from Faces of Fuyong with an aerial view over the estate in 1958. The photograph also shows the railway line, the truss bridge, and Hume Industries and the Ford Factory on the high ground across the road.

The verdant backdrop that bathes the estate in an air of calm.

The estate is set against a verdant backdrop that gives it an air of calm.

Residents pouring over the book.

Residents pouring over the book.

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The great “hold up” at the sixth mile

24 07 2015

1999 would have been a year that is celebrated by the residents of the area in and around the 6th Milestone of Bukit Timah. It was in August of that year when the Singapore Turf Club (STC) moved its race course from its sprawling 140 ha. site off Dunearn Road north to the site of the current race course at Kranji, bringing much relief to the area’s long suffering residents.

The old and new grandstands of the former Bukit Timah Race Course as seen today.

The old and new grandstands of the former Bukit Timah Race Course as seen today.

Opened on 15 April 1933 by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, who made his grand entrance riding in on the back of a horse; the race course was to experience its first race day traffic holdup at its inaugural race meeting in May of the same year. Described as “Saturdays Great Hold Up” in a 22 May 1933 report in the  Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, a motorist spoke of the 25 minutes it took him to cover the final mile into the car park, which was said to be almost three times as long as the time he had taken to cover the distance from town to the new race course.

A post card a newly built new Turf Club in the 1930s.

A post card of the then newly built new Race Course with its iconic 5000 seat grandstand.

That the 1933 opening was a grand occasion, there is little doubt. Among the 5000 guests at the opening was the Sultan and Sultanah of Johor, the Tunku Mahkota, as well as the Sultan of Perak – who was at the time the largest individual owner of racehorses in Malaya.

The original south grandstand.

The original south grandstand as seen today.

The new course, designed by Swan and MacLaren, was itself built as a replacement for the older race course at what is today Farrer Park. The older race course’s location in the city made it difficult for it to be expanded and a decision was taken in 1927 to sell off the site, the use of which went back to the Singapore Turf Club’s founding as the Singapore Sporting Club in 1842, to the Singapore Improvement Trust. A new site was identified and the 244 acres (99 ha.) acquired from the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate for it in 1929 required the felling of some 25,000 of the estate’s rubber trees and a huge effort in the levelling of the area’s undulating terrain. The new race course’s location also made it convenient to move racehorses around to the other venues in the Straits Racing Association’s circuit in the Peninsula by rail with the re-sited Bukit Timah Railway Station of the 1932 railway deviation located just a stone’s throw away.

A view of the south grandstand from the car park.

A view of the former south grandstand from the car park.

A reminder of its horsey past.

A reminder of its horsey past.

Among the features of the new race course and its spread of structures such as stables and quarters was its rather iconic grandstand with its distinctive central clock tower. The three tier grandstand at its opening contained a royal box and press box on its second level and stewards’ and owners’ boxes on the upper tier. The stand was also fitted out with some 2000 tip-up teak chairs, which was described as “the largest single chair order East of the Suez”.

A track-side  view of the former South Grandstand.

A track-side view of the former South Grandstand.

One thing that the Turf Club, renamed in 1924 as the Singapore Turf Club, wasn’t able to do was to commemorate its centenary with war interrupting the running of races from Octber 1941 to November 1947. The days leading up to the fall of Singapore saw the British Military move in and during the occupation the race course and its auxiliary buildings were reportedly used as a prisoner of war camp and its lawns used for growing food crops.

The area where the former race track was - now used as a sports ground.

The area where the former race track was – now used as a sports ground.

Much of the appearance that the former race course’s main structures display today, are the result of work carried out to expand its capacity in the 1970s and 1980s. A second grandstand, the North Grandstand, which expanded the seating capacity to 8,000 and a possible 50,000 standing, was added in 1981. The two-storey car park we still see on the grounds today, was an addition made at the end of the 1980s. Another addition made, a multi-storey car park with a capacity of 2900 cars at the corner of Swiss Club Road and Dunearn Road, has however since been demolished.

The north grandstand, which came up in the early 1980s.

The north grandstand, which came up in the early 1980s.

The upper deck of the two-storey car park that was added at the end of the 1980s.

The upper deck of the two-storey car park that was added at the end of the 1980s.

The grounds, zoned in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Master Plan for future residential use, was soon after the race course’s last meeting in July 1999, re-purposed in part for use as Turf City. Among the tenants during an initial ten-year period and the extension of its lease to 2012, were a hypermarket, dining outlets, early education providers and other retail outlets in the former grandstands as well used car dealers on the ground level of the spacious double-storey car park. During this time the building took on a rather worn and tired look.

The link way between the car park and the former grandstand.

The link way between the car park and the former grandstand.

A touch of the countryside nearby at the   Bukit Timah Saddle Club - which has been using part of the race course's estate since 1951.

A touch of the countryside nearby at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club – which has been using part of the race course’s estate since 1951.

Under a new leasee, the former grandstands and car park has been refurbished and reopened as The Grandstand in 2012. Besides the hypermarket and used car dealers from the Turf City days, The Grandstand has also attracted a host of dining outlets and a new-age food hall style market. This is however, only in the interim as under the terms of the new lease, even if some S$20 million has been pumped into the refurbishment, will see it used for a maximum of 3 + 3 years, after which the race course and its long association with Bukit Timah, will possibly only be a distant memory,

As Turf City - seen in early 2012.

As Turf City – seen in early 2012.

Another look at the inside of the South Grandstand in its Turf City days.

Another look at the inside of the South Grandstand in its Turf City days.

The last days of Turf City.

The last days of Turf City.

Other parts of the former race course site such as the former stables at 100 Turf Club Road have also been re-purposed - this as HorseCity.

Other parts of the former race course site such as the former stables at 100 Turf Club Road have also been re-purposed – this as HorseCity.

A residence belonging formerly to the Turf Club, which remains vacant.

A residence belonging formerly to the Turf Club, which remains vacant.





The first drive-in in Malaysia and Singapore

22 06 2013

For many of my generation, the very first encounters with American style fast-food would have probably consisted of root beers, hamburgers, fries and hotdogs at one of two A&W restaurants present in Singapore – at least mine was. That was at the drive-in at Dunearn Road, straddling the Bukit Timah canal close to the University of Singapore, which my parents brought my sister and me to for a treat (fast-food was relatively expensive in those days). It was also my one and only drive-in dining experience for which I remember the ice-cream that came at the end of the treat more than anything else.

A&W would have given the first American fast-food experience to many of my generation.

A&W would have given the first American fast-food experience to many of my generation.

Drive-in restaurants, or drive-ins were huge in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. The arrival of Singapore’s first – the A&W at Dunearn Road in 1970, two years after the first A&W outlet opened at the MSA Building (later SIA Building) in 1968, came at the end of a decade when we were to receive much greater exposure to American popular culture, of which both fast-food and drive-ins were very much a representation of, through the introduction of television (introduced to Singapore in 1963).

For some of us, nothing comes close to having a root beer at A&W in a mug chilled in a freezer.

For some of us, nothing comes close to having a root beer at A&W in a mug chilled in a freezer.

While the A&W outlet was the first drive-in in Singapore, it wasn’t the first drive-in to come to this part of the world. That distinction lies with the A&W drive-in that opened in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur in neighbouring Malaysia, in 1967 – four years after the first A&W outlet opened its doors at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in the Malaysian capital. The drive-in, which incidentally is still operating (although not as a drive-in), is one I have long familiar with. I would probably have developed an impression of it from one of the many driving trips I made in the back of my father’s car to the “Federation” – as my father often referred to Malaysia, as it was close to Shah’s Hotel – another long time landmark in the Taman Jaya area where the drive-in is located.

The first drive-in restaurant in Malaysia and Singapore - the A&W at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya, which is still operating (albeit not as a drive-in).

The first drive-in restaurant in Malaysia and Singapore – the A&W at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya, which is still operating (albeit not as a drive-in).

The hot and humid climate we do get in Malaysia and Singapore was possibly a reason that the popularity of the drive-in, a feature of life of American suburbia, did not really take-off. A few more drive-ins did appear on both sides of the Causeway over the years, including one that opened at Kallang near the stadium (where the cluster of fast-food restaurants is today) in 1978 – around the time I was chasing Coney Dogs, Root Beers and A&W straws at their outlet in Dhoby Ghaut close to Cathay. Sadly for us in Singapore who do have memories of drive-ins and first fast-food experiences at A&W restaurants, both have disappeared. The drive-in at Kallang was converted not long after it opened to a sit-in only restaurant. The original A&W drive-in closed in 1986, making way for a canal widening exercise. The restaurant itself, despite its ambitious expansion in the 1980s, could not compete with the big names in fast-food, who by the 1980s, had established themselves in Singapore. In 2001, it closed seven of its twelve outlets, when the last franchise holder in Singapore, KUB Holdings of Malaysia, took over. With losses amounting to an estimated 1.5 million dollars, KUB decided to shut A&W’s operations on the island in 2003, with the last outlet to be shut being the one at the airport. With that, the only way we in Singapore could get that root beer fix was across the Causeway. Looking at the state of the outlets in Malaysia, it doesn’t look that there is much time left for us to do that – and with it, the days of the Root Beer and Coney Dog (now in its 50th year) and more recently introduced A&W offerings such as the waffle and curly fries, will soon be days which have passed.





The changing landscape at the ninth mile

15 06 2013

One part of Singapore where the landscape has seemed to be in a state of constant flux – at least in more recent times, is the area from the 9th to the 10th milestone of Bukit Timah. The area is one that has long been associated with the old railway, being one of two locations in the Bukit Timah area where an overhead railway truss bridge can be found, and where the train used to run quite visibly along large stretches of the length of the road.

Seeing the tailend of the trains the area is very much associated with - train operations ceased on 30 June 2011.

Seeing the tailend of the trains the area is very much associated with – train operations ceased on 30 June 2011.

A passing train in the 9 1/2 mile area - the stretch was one where the trains running close to the road were quite visible.

A passing train in the 9 1/2 mile area being captured by a crowd in June 2011 – the stretch was one where the trains running close to the road were quite visible.

The truss bridge at the 9th milestone.

The truss bridge at the 9th milestone.

The ninth milestone area is now in a state of change.

The ninth milestone area is now in a state of change.

Another view northwards.

Another view northwards – road widening work is very noticeable.

A train running across the bridge seen just before the closure of the railway in 2011.

A train running across the bridge seen just before the closure of the railway in 2011.

Now abandoned by the railway – the railway ceased operations through Singapore with its terminal moving to Woodlands Train Checkpoint on 1 July 2011, the bridge does remain as what is perhaps one of two reminders of the railway, the other being the two rows of single storey houses facing Upper Bukit Timah Road straddling Jalan Asas which we now know as The Rail Mall, which in being named after the railway, does help to preserve its memory.

The row of single storey houses straddling Jalan Asas in 1989. The houses have since been converted into The Rail Mall.

The row of single storey houses straddling Jalan Asas in 1989. The houses have since been converted into The Rail Mall (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Cordeiro).

Another photograph of what today has become The Rail Mall.

Another photograph of what today has become The Rail Mall (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Cordeiro).

All around the area, the construction of  Phase II of the Downtown Line (DTL) of the Mass Raid Transit System (MRT) which started before the railway abandoned it, is very much in evidence. The work being done has left little in its wake untouched, with a wedge being driven between the two carriageways which make up Upper Bukit Timah Road at its junction is with Hillview Road, just north of The Rail Mall, and disfiguring much of the area as we once know it.

9 1/4 milestone Bukit Timah now dominated by new kids on the block as well as cranes and construction equipment.

9 1/4 milestone Bukit Timah now dominated by new kids on the block as well as cranes and construction equipment.

Local model and TV host Denise Keller with sister Nadine seen during a Green Corridor organised walk in the area on the final weekend before the train operations ceased in June 2011.

Local model and TV host Denise Keller with sister Nadine seen during a Green Corridor organised walk in the area on the final weekend before the train operations ceased in June 2011 – even since then, there has been quite a fair bit of change that has come to the area.

Looking down Hillview Road from the junction, we now see that two landmarks in the area which have survived until fairly recently, have also fallen victim to the developments which will also see roads being widened – a major widening exercise is currently taking place along Upper Bukit Timah Road. A railway girder bridge which looked as if it was a gateway to an area it hid which had housing estate and factories which came up around the 1950s and 1960s, has already been dismantled. That went soon after the railway did. Its removal does pave the way for the road to eventually be widened, thus permitting the private residential developments intended for the vacant plot of land that was occupied by the former Princess Elizabeth Estate. The land for the estate, based on newspaper reports from the 1950s, was a donation by Credit Foncier intended for public housing made to the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1950 and has somewhat sacrilegiously been sold off to the highest bidder.

A train crossing the now missing girder bridge at Hillvew Road in early 2011.

A train crossing the now missing girder bridge at Hillvew Road in early 2011.

Along with the bridge, a building that has long been associated with the corner of Upper Bukit Timah and Hillview Roads is another structure we would soon have to bid farewell to. Completed in 1957 as a branch of the Chartered Bank (which later became Standard Chartered Bank), the building has also long been one of the constants in the area. When the branch vacated the premises early this month, it would have have seen some fifty-six years and two months of operation at the building, having opened on 6 April 1957.

The recently closed Chartered Bank branch building with a notice of its closure.

The recently closed Chartered Bank branch building with a notice of its closure.

Rendered insignificant by hoardings, towering cranes and construction equipment – as well as more recent buildings in the vicinity that now dominate the landscape, the bank building occupying the corner of Hillview Road on a little elevation was one that, in greener and quieter days, was not missed. It provided great help to me as a landmark on the bus journeys I took to visit a friend’s house up at Chestnut Drive, two bus stops north, back in the 1980s.

The Chartered Bank, a popularly referred to landmark in the area, as it looks today.

The bank as it looked in 2010.

It would probably take a few more years for the dust in the area to settle. And judging by the way developments seem to be taking most of what did once seem familiar, by the time the dust does settle,  there may be little for us to make that connection with the world  the area did host in days that already seem forgotten.

A last look at a landmark soon to vanish.

A last look at a landmark soon to vanish.

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Bukit Timah Railway Station revisited

7 02 2013

It was in the final days of the Malayan Railway’s operations through Singapore just over a year and a half ago that the former Bukit Timah Railway Station drew crowds it that had not previously seen before. The station, built in 1932 as part of the Railway Deviation which took the railway towards a new terminal close to the docks at Tanjong Pagar, was one that was long forgotten. Once where prized racehorses bound for the nearby Turf Club were offloaded, the station’s role had over time diminished. Its sole purpose had in the years leading up to its final moments been reduced to that of a point at which authority for the tracks north of the station to Woodlands and south of it to Tanjong Pagar was exchanged through a key token system. The practice was an archaic signalling practice that had been made necessary by the single track system on which the outbound and inbound trains shared. It had in its final days been the last point along the Malayan Railway at which the practice was still in use and added to the impression one always had of time leaving the station and its surroundings behind. It was for that sense of the old world, a world which if not for the railway might not have existed any more,  for which it had, in its calmer days, been a place where one could find an escape from the concrete world which in recent years was never far away. It was a world in which the sanity which often eludes the citizens of the concrete world could be rediscovered. It is a world, despite the green mesh fencing now reminding us of its place in the concrete world, which still offers that escape, albeit one which will no longer come with those little reminders of a time we otherwise might have long forgotten.

Scenes from the station’s gentler days

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