The land beyond the tenth mile

13 06 2013

An area of the former rail corridor I did have some interaction with back in 1986 was the area just north of the level crossing that goes across Choa Chu Kang Road, up to Stagmont Ring. That was during a stint lasting several months that I had at Stagmont Camp while doing my National Service. The quickest way to get from camp to the bus stops at Woodlands Road was down the hill on top of which the camp was perched, past what then was left of a village, across the Pang Sua canal (which we  had to down into to cross it), over the railway tracks and out to the main road.

A missing link in the rail corridor - one of the rail girder bridges which has been returned to Malaysia.

A missing link in the vicinity of Stagmont Camp, the girder bridge at the 10th mile, one of the rail bridges which since been dismantled and returned to Malaysia.

Looking south to where the level crossing across Choa Chu Kang Road once was. The LRT line is a more recent addition to the landscape.

A southward view down to the level crossing across Choa Chu Kang Road. The LRT line is a more recent addition to the landscape.

A wooded area where the village through I took a shortcut once existed.

A wooded area where the village through I took a shortcut once existed.

The canal which I would have to cross ... a plank was laid across the recess through which water normally flowed.

The Pang Sua Canal which I would have to cross … a plank was laid across the recess through which water normally flowed.

Crossing the tracks.

The area of the railway tracks we used as a shortcut.

The proximity of the tracks to the camp, which housed the School of Signals, meant that it also made a convenient location for signal line-laying training  – which as a trainee at the school during the latter half of my stint, I was to be involved in, often finding myself, in the company of one or two of my fellow trainees, trudging up and down the area of the tracks, oblivious to the danger being by the tracks did pose. The training exercises required us to lay the lines, and then carrying out fault-finding and maintenance on the lines.

Evidence of line-laying exercised before the tracks were removed in August 2011.

Evidence of line-laying exercised before the tracks were removed in August 2011.

On one occasion, the training exercise involved a desperate search for a missing rifle – one I myself had left behind, somewhere along the tracks. It was probably a good thing that it was along the tracks that I had left it, as much to my relief, I did manage to recover the rifle after just half an hour of backtracking and groping in the dark with the help of the two other members of the detachment I was in. I shudder to think of what the consequences might have been if I had not found it – word was that it could mean seven years in the detention barracks.

The rail corridor in the area before the tracks were dismantled.

The rail corridor in the area before the tracks were dismantled – the tracks was a convenient place to conduct signal line laying training.

One of the areas we did find ourselves on our exercises was the Stagmont Ring area where the Mandai Gate Crossing was. As it was mostly in the dark that we did see it, I don’t quite have much of a visual picture of the area and a set of photographs I did came across recently is a godsend and does quite clearly show the area as it might then have been. The photographs are ones taken by Henry Cordeiro, a frequent visitor to the area in the second half of the 1980s – around the time I was based there. The photographs, which Henry has given his kind permission for me to post do show the gate hut (and the gateman’s quarters) on the side of the tracks across from the most recent gate hut which was demolished early this year.

The road bridge over the Pang Sua Canal at Stagmont RIng Road with the crossing and gate hut seen beyond it  in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The road bridge over the Pang Sua Canal at Stagmont Ring Road with the crossing and gate hut seen beyond it in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

A view of the road bridge and former crossing site today.

A view of the road bridge and former crossing site today.

The gate hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The gate hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The signal hut at Stagmont Ring Road (Mandai Gate Crossing).

The more recent gate hut seen in August 2011 around the time the railway tracks were being removed. The termite infested hut was demolished early this year.

The crossing seen in late 2010.

The crossing and hut seen in late 2010 while the line was still in operation.

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio)..

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio)..

A provision shop on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989  (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

A provision shop on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

Another view of the hut in August 2011.

Another view of the hut in August 2011.

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut already paved over in August 2011.

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut already paved over in August 2011.

A trolley loaded with gas tanks - used for the cutting of the tracks in August 2011.

A trolley loaded with gas tanks – used for the cutting of the tracks in August 2011.

One in Henry’s set of very valuable photographs is a rather interesting one from 1986. That shows metal framework on concrete supports built to carry pipes across the canal which we still see today. This and the road bridge are one of few reminders left of the sights around village. In the same photograph, we can also see the roofs of huts belonging to what Henry refers to as “Stagmont Ring Village” (or Yew Tee Village). If we look at the same area today (a photograph of which follows Henry’s photograph), we do see how the village rather than the trees then towering over the village huts, has “grown”.

Stagmont Ring Village seen across the Pang Sua Canal in 1986 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

Parts of Yew Tee Village seen across the Pang Sua Canal in 1986 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The same area today - showing how the village has "grown".

The same area today – showing how the village has “grown”.

The old photographs do show that much has changed. The zinc roofed wooden huts that once were common in an area I had up to then always thought of as the countryside, have all disappeared, replaced in a large part by new dwellings and flats which are part of one of the more recent “villages” of modern Singapore, Choa Chu Kang. The new housing estate is made up mainly of towering Housing and Development Board flats which extends the spread of what did start off as the Teck Whye Estate, close to Stagmont Camp. Despite the developments in the area, there is still a substantial amount of greenery left in and around the former rail corridor. It may be a matter of time before much of that does get developed as well, but as long as it hasn’t been developed, there is hope that considerations are made to incorporate what has in the last two decades or so developed into a lovely piece of woodland into the developments being planned for the rail corridor (which will be retained in some way as a continuous green corridor) that will certainly be of great benefit to the wider community.

Along the Pang Sua Canal close to Stagmont Ring Road today is still very green.

The woodland along the Pang Sua Canal close to Stagmont Ring Road today is a lovely green area.

The former Yew Tee Village - now dominated by the towering blocks of the new Singaporean village.

The former Yew Tee Village – now dominated by the towering blocks of the new Singaporean village.

The area around the rail corridor is still very green.

The area around the rail corridor is still very green.

It would be nice to see the now very green areas adjoing the former rail corridor also included in some of the rail corridor development plans.

It would be nice to see the now very green areas adjoing the former rail corridor also included in some of the rail corridor development plans.

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A final journey: the last passage to the north

5 07 2011

From where I left off on the previous post, the 0800 Ekspres Rakyat left Tanjong Pagar late at 0838. The train then continued its passage to the north, a passage that I would be able to take in for the very last time from the vantage point of a train – the final homecoming on The Last Train into Tanjong Pagar coming in the dark of night. The passage has been one that I have especially been fond of, taking a passenger on the train past sights of a charming and green Singapore that is hidden from most, sights which in entirety can only taken in from the train. This last passage in the dim light of the rainy morning was one that was especially poignant for me, knowing that it would be one that I would take accompanied by the groan of the straining diesel locomotive, the rumbling of the carriages over the tracks, and the occasional toot of the whistle.

The morning train offered passengers a last glance at the passage through the rail corridor in Singapore.

The short passage takes all but half an hour, taking the train from the greyer built-up south of the island around where Tanjong Pagar Station is, to the greener north of the island. The passage takes the train first out from the platform and through an expansive area where the view of the familiar train yard is mixed with the familiar sights of the Spottiswoode Park flats, the old and new signal houses, and the Spooner Road flats, before it goes under the Kampong Bahru Bridge towards the corridor proper. The initial 10 minutes of the passage is one that brings the train past Kampong Bahru, along the AYE for a distance, before coming to the first bit of greenery as it swings past Alexandra Hospital and up the Wessex Estate area towards the flats to the right at the Commonwealth Drive / Tanglin Halt areas – an area I am acquainted with from spending the first three and the half years of my life in. It is just after this, close to where the actual train stop which gave its name to Tanglin Halt first encounters a newer and more desired railway line, passing under the East-West MRT lines at Buona Vista.

The Spooner Road KTM flats on the left and the Spottiswoode Park flats in the background as well as the expansive train yard provided the backdrop for many a journey out of Tanjong Pagar.

It is soon after that the anticipation builds as the train passes by the Ghim Moh flats towards Henry Park. Just north of this is the area with arguably the prettiest bit of greenery along the entire stretch of the green corridor. We come to that the train passes under the concrete road bridge at Holland Road. The sight of the bridge also means that the train is just a minute or so away from what used to be the branch-off for the Jurong Line which served the huge industrial estate, and then what is perhaps the jewel in the crown along the corridor, the quaint old station at Bukit Timah. At Bukit Timah Station the old fashioned practice of changing the key token to hand back and over authority for the two sections of the single track through Singapore is undertaken, a practice replaced by technology along the rest of the Malayan Railway line. Beyond Bukit Timah is the rather scenic passage to the north through whichtwo truss bridges, four girder bridges and five level crossings are crossed before reaching the cold and unfriendly train checkpoint at Woodlands. That offered the passenger the last fifteen minutes to savour the passage through Singapore and some of the sights that will not be seen again. The level crossing are one of those sights – something that is always special with the sight of cars waiting behind the barriers or gates, yielding to the passing train – a rare sight that I for one have always been fond of seeing. All too soon it had to end … the rain washed morning provided an appropriate setting for what now seems like a distant dream, one of a forgotten time and certainly one of a forgotten place.

The 30th of June saw the last time the exchange of key tokens being carried out along the KTM line. Bukit Timah Station was the last place where the old fashioned practice of handing authority to the trains using a single track was carried out on the Malayan Railway.

II

the last passage to the north

0839: A last glance at Tanjong Pagar Station as the Ekspres Rakyat pulls out.

0839: A quick glance the other way at teh old signalling house ...

0839: The train pulls past the cluster of houses before the train yard comes into sight.

0839: The new signalling house comes into sight.

0840: The train passes a locomotive being moved from the train yard.

0840: A ast glance at where the Spooner Road flats which housed the railway staff and their families.

0843: A passenger Gen smiles in the passageway of the train carriage. Gen was the last to decide to join the group, deciding only to do so the previous day.

0848: The train passes under the new railway, the MRT line at Buona Vista. Hoardings around seem to indicate that the area would soon be redeveloped.

0848: The Ghim Moh flats come into view.

0851: Through the greenest area of the Green Corridor - the Ulu Pandan area close to where the Jurong Line branched off.

0853: Bukit Timah Station comes into view ...

0853: Key tokens are exchanged as a small crowd looks on ... the train slows down but doesn't stop.

0853: The train crosses the first of two truss bridges over the Bukit Timah Road ...

0854: A look back towards the bridge and Dunearn Road ....

0854: The train speeds past Rifle Range Road and the strip of land next to what was the Yeo Hiap Seng factory .... this is one area that I well remember on my first train journey in 1991 when the narrow strip of land hosted the small wooden shacks of many squatters who occupied this stretch of railway land.

0854: A glance at to the right at Rifle Range Road

0854: Passing over the danger spot close to where the short cut many take to Jalan Anak Bukit is.

0854: The train passes under the road bridges at Anak Bukit ...

0855: The bridges at Anak Bukit are left behind ...

0855: Over the girder bridge at Hindhede Drive

0856: The very green corridor near Hindhede Quarry ...

0856: Into the mist at the foot of Bukit Timah Hill towards the second truss bridge.

0857: A passenger Angie, sticks her head out to have a better look at the amazing greenery.

0858: The train continues on its way after crossing the second truss bridge.

0858: Through the Hillview pass.

0859: A lone man greets the train with an umbrella near the Dairy Farm Road area.

0859: The greenery greets the train around the Bukit Gombak area.

0859: The closed gate and waiting cars at the first of five level crossings at Gombak Drive.

0900: Towards the second and widest level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road ... Ten Mile Junction comes into view.

0900: A small group of people gathered at the Choa Chu Kang Road level crossing to greet the passing train. The signal hut marks the location of what was Bukit Panjang Railway Station from where the first train to pull into Tanjong Pagar Station departed on 2nd May 1932 at 4.30 pm.

0901: Across the Bukit Panjang (or Choa Chu Kang Road) level crossing and under another new railway line - the Bukit Panjang LRT.

0902: Past an area I became acquainted with through my days in National Service ... the Stagmont Hill area.

0903: Across the third level crossing at Stagmont Ring Road.

0904: The fourth level crossing the Mandai crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue.

0904: Past the KTM houses at Sungei Kadut Avenue and onward towards Kranji.

0907: Across the last (and narrowest) of the level crossings at Kranji Road and on towards Woodlands Train Checkpoint.

0907: Looking back at the Kranji level crossing and at the last of the rail corridor through Singapore ... time to get left to disembark the train for immigration clearance out for the very last time.

0908: Arrival at Woodlands Train Checkpoint - no photo taking allowed.


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

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

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






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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Crossings through the passage of time

26 11 2010

Writing about parts of the Malayan railway land in Singapore that I am familiar with has somehow fuelled a desire to discover parts that are less known to me, in an attempt to capture images from the railway line, parts of which would have gone back to the days of the Kranji-Singapore Railway in the early 1900s. Most of what we see today has in fact come about through the Railway Deviation of 1932 – one that gave us the two stations that we see standing today, Bukit Timah and the grand old dame at Tanjong Pagar, as well as some that have disappeared altogether. One of these in fact left its legacy behind, in the form of a name of an area – one that I have always had a fascination for, Tanglin Halt. As I have discovered on my walks of rediscovery through parts of the Bukit Timah corridor in which many of the railway “landmarks” I had become acquainted with on the many road and train journeys through the area are still around today, much of the land that the railway runs through look as if time in its passage through Singapore, has somehow passed by, leaving sights that belong in a landscape that we would have been more familiar with half a century ago.

Parts of Kranji Road, where the northernmost rail Level Crossing is in Singapore, looks very much as if time has passed it by.

On my more recent wanderings to parts that I am less familiar with, I was happy to see that time does seemed to have also stood still in many of the areas around, giving me as I strolled through them a sense that I was wandering through a world far removed in time and space from the big city Singapore has become. One of these wanderings took me to the north of the island to what are the three northernmost level crossings on the island, one of which is perhaps after the one at Choa Chu Kang Road, the busiest in Singapore, at Kranji Road. It is here that queues of vehicles form waiting not just for a train to cross, but due to the narrowness of the road lane where the crossing is, has the flow of vehicles across it restricted to one direction at a time. This along with the one I explored earlier at Gombak Drive and is one with that old fashion gate that gives a level crossing the character it should really have, and is close where an abandoned camp stands, skeletons of numerous Nissen Huts bearing testament to the forgotten era during which the camp would have been used. The road is in fact straddled by two former camps, the one on the other side appearing to be abandoned as well. Not being able to stop my car to explore the area on foot – I decided to move to the next crossing further south along Woodlands Road – at Sungei Kadut Avenue.

The northernmost rail Level Crossing in Singapore at Kranji Road. Traffic flow across the level crossing is regulated due to the narrowness of the road where the crossing is.

Skeletons of Nissen Huts at an abandoned camp along Kanji Road, in the vicinity of the Level Crossing bearing testament to a forgotten era during which the camp might have been used.

Another abandoned camp in the vicinity of the Level Crossing at Kranji Road.

The Sungei Kadut is today more known for the industrial estate which has been associated with sawmills and the woodworking and furniture industries since the 1970s. A mangrove swamp had in fact occupied much of the area where the industrial estate sits up to the end of the 1960s when the area was reclaimed to house concentrations of sawmills from areas such as Kallang, which were being relocated due to urban renewal. The crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue seemed to be one of the more dangerous around for some reason – with a collision occuring between a train and a car in the mid 1970s when the gate keeper had failed to closed the gates at the crossing, in which the car driver somehow escaped injury.

The crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue was where a train collided with a car in the mid 1970s.

The signal hut at the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing.

Abandoned houses belonging to KTM near the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing.

The refreshing rural scene around Sungei Kadut.

Further south along Woodlands Road, there is a smaller level crossing than the one at Sungie Kadut. This crossing is perhaps the prettiest level crossing in Singapore … with an old style signal hut set in a clearing off Stagmont Ring Road. The crossing is just about two kilometres north of the largest one at Choa Chu Kang Road, and one which I should have remembered from my days in National Service where I had a stint a a nearby camp which involved many exercises in the vicinity of the tracks, but somehow have no recollection of. What is interesting in the area is an old fashioned petrol station with an awning structure that suggests that it might not have changed very much over maybe two or three decades. There used to be a few of these along Woodlands Road – most had fallen victims to the widening of parts of the road. There is another old style station – an old Shell station nearby at Mandai Road – one that I would pass during my National Service days taking the bus service 171 towards Sembawang Road on the way back home from camp … I had a quick glance at it making my way down Woodlands Road and was happy to see that it was still there – signs of a recent makeover does tell me that it would be there for some time to come. Most of what we can see today in the area may soon be gone though, as once the terminal station for the southern end of the railway moves to Woodlands in mid 2011 – vast tracts of land which now belong to to the railway would be available for development and with that, we may see the last of the land that time forgot.

Stagmont Ring Road is where the prettiest level crossing is in Singapore.

The signal hut and level crossing at Stagmont Ring Road.

The crossing in operation ...

The outhouse at the level crossing.

The rural scene by the level crossing at Stagmont Ring Road.


Sights around the level crossing at Stagmont Ring Road.

An old fashioned petrol station along Woodlands Road near Stagmont Ring Road offers a feel of the countryside.





A walk down the Bukit Timah corridor: Wandering along the new railway and rediscovering the old

20 10 2010

During much of a rain and lightning interrupted eight kilometre walk with friends from the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road, I was surprised to discover that, despite the high-rises on the horizon and the other signs of modernity that have replaced what was a rural feel of much of Singapore beyond the city limits, I was able to immerse myself in a countryside where time seems to have forgotten. The walk, motivated by the sense of nostalgia for the old railway line which was prompted by the impending shift of the KTM station to Woodlands, allowed us to have a glimpse perhaps of a slice of Singapore that would be forgotten very soon after the last of the trains of the old railway which has been with us since 1903, makes a final stop at Tanjong Pagar sometime before the first of July next year.

Starting point of the walk - the Phoenix LRT Station in the new Singapore that has replaced the countryside of the old.

The walk took us through many of the areas that I have mentioned in another nostalgia related post on the railway, “Journeys Through Tanjong Pagar: The Station at Bukit Timah” (also on asia! as “Keeping Track of Time”), allowing me and several others a last look at the stretch of line that is characterised by the two black steel truss bridges that crosses Bukit Timah Road. For me, it was also a chance to revisit the area which I had become familiar with as a young child, and as a consequence, my childhood, having first been acquainted with it staring out of the opened window of my father’s Austin 1100 on the many road trips made through the area.

How the area might have once appeared to me ... a scene from the backseat of a car further south along Upper Bukit Timah Road (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The same general area as it looks today.

The first stop we made, having met at Phoenix LRT station, was the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road. This provided a wonderful opportunity for me to do what as a child I always enjoyed – that is catching the train traversing what must certainly be the last major level crossing in Singapore, a crossing that is today, made across the six lanes of Choa Chu Kang Road. Somehow, watching the trains running across at road level, just in the shadow of a modern elevated urban railway line, the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, seemed surreal … as was the scene around the level crossing. Looking up the tracks on the north bound side of the crossing, it looked as if the tracks were taking a path to an abyss – the abyss being a plot of land that I had once been familiar with from the many occasions that I had walked through it as a shortcut to Woodlands Road from one of the camps I had been at during my National Service – Stagmont Camp. I had on many occasions as well been on training exercises during my stint at the camp which involved walking up and down the areas around the tracks – once leaving a rifle behind in the dark, which I was fortunate enough to find with the help of my army mates, only having discovered my carelessness a few kilometres up the tracks.

The northbound track into the "abyss" that I once was familiar with from my days in National Service.

On the other side of the crossing, a little hut that serves as the control station for the crossing stands – with a little yellow outhouse behind it, as well as a village like house that was perhaps a common sight in the area once, that served as the quarters of the railway staff manning the crossing. The area of the control hut is probably close to the site of Bukit Panjang Station, one of the stations on the original Singapore to Kranji Railway line. Bukit Panjang Station was also one of the main stops along the line after the 1932 Railway Deviation which gave us the grand station at Tanjong Pagar and the two black truss bridges we see in the area. I am not sure when the station stopped functioning or was demolished – but perhaps like the Phoenix that the nearby Phoenix Estate and LRT station is named after, a new Bukit Panjang Station is slowly – but surely, rising out of its ashes nearby – part of the new railway line – the Downtown MRT line, which for a large part, will run parallel to the original railway line which ran from Kranji down via Newton to the original terminal at Tank Road.

The KTM control hut at on the other side of the level crossing.

A scene reminiscent perhaps of the countryside of old.

The KTM staff was kind enough to allow the use of the outhouse ....

The new railway is being built to replace the old ... the Downtown Line is being constructed parallel to the old railway line.

Deciding that it was too dangerous to walk physically along the tracks, not just because of the dangers of walking along or close to the railway track, but also in anticipation of the fury that, the god of thunder, Thor, seemed to want to unleash, we made our southward trek first along Upper Bukit Timah Road. This took us past the Murugan Hill Temple, a relatively recent addition to the area, having moved to its current location in 1992 from its original home in Sungei Tengah where it could trace its history back to a shrine that was put up in 1962. In getting there, we had also walked past a structure that is reminiscent of the very first overhead bridges in Singapore – constructed of steel with open sides – a temporary overhead bridge erected across Upper Bukit Timah Road that has perhaps been recycled from a decommissioned first or second generation overhead bridge.

An overhead bridge reminiscent of the first overhead bridges in Singapore.

The new Murugan Hill Temple which shifted to the Bukit Panjang area from its original home in Sungei Tengah in 1992.

Continuing further south, we had a quick look at the second level crossing in the area – a smaller one with a delightful old wooden gate, and some of the abandoned buildings around before the sheets of rain that accompanied Thor’s fury came down forcing us to take what little shelter the KTM buildings in the area had offered. After a while, with the rain not showing any signs of abating, we decided to cross the road to wait the rain out at a coffee shop and it was probably an hour before we were able to continue with our walk.

A scene from the "countryside" enroute to the level crossing at Gombak Drive.

Parts of Upper Bukit Timah Road still have that old world feel.

More of the old world feel ...

 


The railway building near the level crossing at Gombak Drive where we took shelter from the storm.

Looking north from the level crossing at Gombak Drive.

Further along the route, we walked past the Boys Town complex … this was the destination that, as boys growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, many feared they would end up in for misbehaving – or so many of our parents then had us believe. It was probably a huge misconception that existed then that Boys Town was a correctional facility and a home for delinquent boys – although it did actually house a boys home, as well as a vocational school which did also take in troubled boys as well as orphans, with a view to providing a home as well as an education. The home and vocational school was started in 1948 by the Gabrielite Brothers, a Catholic Missionary group, as the St. Joseph’s Trade School before being renamed as “Boys Town”.

The once feared Boys Town complex ...

Further along the way, we decided to explore the Stations of the Cross at St. Joseph’s Church – probably one of the last remaining village Catholic churches in Singapore – with a cemetery in its yard. The cemetery had once been a shortcut for me – getting from the church to a friend’s house up Chestnut Drive. Back then, the church side of Chestnut Drive had been lined with single storey wooden houses that were rented from the church who owned much of the land around Chestnut Drive. What is unique about the Stations of the Cross is that this is the only Catholic church in Singapore where the stations are located outside the church. The church building in itself is also rather unique – featuring a 33 metre tall pagoda like roof structure that rises above the area rather prominently. The building was completed in 1964 and consecrated by the then Archibishop of Malacca-Singapore, Michael Olcomendy on August 30, 1964, and built to cater for the growing congregation on the site of a previous building that had been built some 110 years prior to that.

The St. Joseph's Church building built in 1964 on Upper Bukit Timah Road features a pagoda style roof that rises some 33 metres.

The original St. Joseph's Church, built 110 years before the structure we see today (source: St. Joseph's Church website http://www.stjoseph-bt.org.sg/St_Joseph_Website/About_Us.html).

The outdoor Stations of the Cross - unique to St. Joseph's Church in Singapore.

Chestnut Drive as it appears today. It used to be lined with houses that were rented from the church.

There are probably not many who know this, but Chestnut Drive was where a temporary Magistrate’s Court was set up in 1967 in the newly built school building that became the Chestnut Drive School. The next part of the walk continued southwards towards the area where the first of the two black truss bridges in the area, as well as the girder bridge that straddles Hillview Road are … which I will continue with in another post.





Crossroads in my journey

18 10 2010

Wandering around the Bukit Panjang area with a group of old friends and some new found ones … I was transported back to a time when I had somehow seen the Bukit Panjang area as a crossroads of sorts. It had in fact, always been one in the physical sense – the former Bukit Panjang roundabout – what is now the junction of Woodlands Road, Upper Bukit Timah Road, Choa Chu Kang Road and Bukit Panjang Road, serving as a major intersection where north or south bound traffic could make a turn towards the rural and industrial areas that lay to the west via the then long and narrow Choa Chu Kang Road. The area was I guess where I had once come to another crossroad in life – one in which seated at the back of a 3-ton truck, I was transported into a journey into the abyss that was Pulau Tekong, first stopping off at Keat Hong Camp off Choa Chu Kang Road to pick up the kit bag that was to accompany me for the next two years of my life.

The intersection of Choa Chu Kang, Woodlands and Upper Bukit Timah Roads had always been a major crosss road ... back when Bukit Panjang Roundabout served the junction. The area which one boasted of a Railway Station has seen a huge transformation and now sees a Light Rail Line running across the old railway.

I had first come to know the area in my childhood on the many journeys through the area on the way to the Causeway when life in the back seat of the car involved taking the scenes that flashed by the opened windows rather than that on the 3 inch screen of a hand held game console. There were also several journeys especially those taken during the lunar New Year holidays on which we would turn off to the west – towards the Teck Whye area where a friend of my mothers ran an orchid nursery on a little road that turned upwards from Choa Chu Kang Road – and it was on those journeys that I first became acquainted with the level crossing just a short distance up the road.

The level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road ... the last major rail level crossing in Singapore.

I am not quite sure how I had developed a fascination for trains –something that might have been fed through the many visits to the Robinson’s toy department which had a wonderful collection of model train sets that I often had my sights on and perhaps having had many encounters with the Hooterville Cannonball on black and white television, while being entertained by the then popular comedy, Petticoat Junction, but having had a fascination for trains – I also found anything else that had to do with trains fascinating – including many of the features seen along the tracks, particularly the few level crossings that I had come across, of which the first was the one on Choa Chu Kang Road.

Could my fascination with trains have been from the diet I had of black and white television in which I had become acquainted with the Hooterville Cannonball in Petticoat Junction? (Source: http://petticoat.topcities.com/hooterville_cannonball.htm)

I am not sure when I had first seen that particular crossing in operation, but it was something that I would look forward to seeing each time we were in the area. It always seemed surreal somehow how traffic would grind to a halt, as the man who manned the crossing, flag in hand, hurried about closing the wooden gates of the crossing, followed by the sight beyond the gate of a train zooming its way across the road …

I had always looked forward to seeing a train zooming past the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road whenever I was in the area ...

The wonderful sight of a train crossing the road ...

Signal flag used at the level crossing.

The crossing had been one that in the later part of my youth, I had left behind me, as school going years intervened and visits to the orchid nursery became less frequent. It was only many years later when I was doing my National Service that I had become reacquainted with the crossing during the four months that I had spent at nearby Stagmont Camp. By that time, much of the area had become unrecognisable and the roundabout had taken a bow. Somehow it did not seem the same – with most of what was around had disappeared, only a few rows of old shop houses along Upper Bukit Timah Road and Woodlands Road had been left behind … one for some reason that I had remembered for a fruit shop that seem to have the juiciest lychees that I had ever seen. I guess with that and perhaps not having had to time to explore much of the area which I had previously been familiar with, I took less of an interest in what was arond – passing at most a cursory glance at the crossing that I once held a fascination for.

The area which I would have used as a shortcut coming down from Stagmont Camp to Woodlands Road ... I crossed the tracks here on many occasions, as well as having been involved in many exercises along this same set of tracks.

The area where Ten Mile Junction is today used to have a row of shop houses as well as the huts of villages behind them and Stagmont Camp.

The new railway is being built to replace the old ... the Downtown Line is being constructed parallel to the old railway line which will be disused after the shift of the KTM station to Woodlands. Bukit Panjang used to also be where a main Railway Station had once been located - now a new Bukit Panjang station for the DOwntown Line will erase any memories we may have of the old Bukit Panjang Station.

With the impending shift of the KTM station in Singapore to Woodlands – we would soon see the last of level crossings such as the one at Choa Chu Kang Road, the last major level crossing that remains in Singapore – there are two other smaller ones that are along the same stretch of the railway line, one at Kranji Road and another at Gombak Drive. There isn’t much time left for me I guess … to relive that childhood fascination I had for them …

Besides the crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road, there are also smaller level crossings at Gombak Drive and Kranji Road.


We will soon see the last of the railway level crossings that had once been a feature of the railway in Singapore.