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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A send off at the weekend for our old friends …

27 06 2011

Singapore residents were out in force to wave goodbye to the Malayan Railway that has been very much a part of the island’s landscape for over a century during the final weekend of its operations. It wasn’t just at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station which possibly because of the last day of operations of its food stalls today, has seen a large increase in visitors over the last week, but many other places along the line. At the We Support the Green Corridor’s walk in the morning, the largest crowd seen in the series of walks conducted over several months to raise awareness of the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) or NSS to retain the soon to be vacated railway corridor as a continuous green corridor through Singapore, of more than 120 that included local model and TV host Denise Keller gathered at the Rail Mall at 8 am to take a 3 km walk north not only to acquaint themselves with glimpses of the green corridor, but also to an area that was of historical significance to the first days of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, being the area where the first train that pulled in to Tanjong Pagar, had departed with its load of passengers that included Sir Cecil Clementi, the then Governor of Singapore, who opened Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on the 2nd of May 1932.

Among the more than 120 participants in the We Support the Green Corridor Walk was local TV personality and model Denise Keller.

The starting point of the We Support the Green Corridor walk was in the shadow of one of one of two truss bridges that give the Bukit Timah area its character, which was referred to in a comment left on the Facebook Page of the We Support the Green Corridor by the Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan Jin, which seemed to indicate it, along with the bridge at Bukit Timah Road near Bukit Timah Station and the bridge at Hindhede (at the entrance to Bulit Timah Hill Nature Reserve) would be retained. The news of this was certainly greeted by many with relief and even expressions of joy. The ending point of the walk was at the Bukit Panjang level crossing, what is the widest level crossing in Singapore close to where that first train to Tanjong Pagar had departed from at a station that no longer exists, Bukit Panjang. Through much of the walk, signs of the massive construction efforts to get what is ironically a new railway in the form of the Downtown MRT Line that takes a course for much of its way along what was the original Singapore to Kranji Line that was deviated to turn the line towards Tanjong Pagar. It is also ironic that the new railway would in all probability hasten the greying of a corridor that the old railway has for so many years kept green for us.

Participants on a We Support the Green Corridor walk caught a glimpse of a southbound train on the black truss bridge over Upper Bukit Timah Road. Many on the walk expressed relief when they learnt that this bridge was not part of the structures that would be removed in tender awarded to Indeco to dismantle the tracks and ancilliary structures scheduled to be carried out from July to November 2011.

Through much of the accessible parts of the green corridor and at Bukit Timah Station, there were indeed many who were seen to greet the passing trains, a last chance for many to see the passing of trains through Singapore and to bid farewell to a railway that will leave many who have taken a ride on it through the archways of the magnificent station at Tanjong Pagar with a sense of sadness and loss and to a group of people who through their dedication has provided Singapore with a wonderful association with the railway going back to 1903 when the Singapore to Kranji Line was completed. The outpouring of feeling is perhaps driven by the sense of loss not just for a railway that has served us for so long, but also for a landscape that could change drastically once the railway stops operating through Singapore. It is this landscape that many hope will be preserved, there is of course a balance between development and conservation that has to be found in all this, and while the railway land does free up development opportunities in many parts of Singapore, the benefits of maintaining a continuous green corridor as a shared recreational space which can also be used as an uninterrupted path from the north to the south of the island with which the use of bicycles as a means of transport becomes viable, cannot be understated. It is therefore encouraging that the Mr Tan Chuan Jin has in his comments stated that the authorities “remain committed to working closely with NSS and others who love this stretch of land so that we can develop this sensibly together”.

Many gathered at many places along the line to wave at the drivers of passing trains.

Many others were seen walking down the tracks for one last time ...

With that, there certainly is hope for a solution that would, as we wave our goodbyes and extend our gratitude to a railway and the men of the railway that we will soon lose, perhaps see some of the wonderful places and spaces that the railway has left behind be retained as it is for not just us but also for our future generations – that may at least preserve that fond memory of an old railway line that once ran right through the heart of Singapore.

The crowd at Bukit Timah Station.

... a passage to the north which on the 30th of June will no longer be used ...


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

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

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


Comments made by Minister of State for National Development Mr Tan Chuan Jin on the We Support the Green Corridor’s Facebook Page:

These 3 bridges are part of the agreement that will go back to Malaysia (Sg Mandai, Junction 10 and over Hill View Road). It has been a long negotiation process over many many things. We have retained what we can, including stretches of railway in areas near the stations. I am sure you know that these 3 are not the same as the iconic steel girder (believe he meant “truss”) bridges across Upper Bt Timah and Bt Timah Rds. The one at Hinhede will also remain. The other one close to Sunset Way that spans across Ulu Pandan Canal already belongs to us and will remain so.

We remain committed to working closely with NSS and others who love this stretch of land so that we can develop this sensibly together.

Our friends at URA and NParks care for the environment and heritage as much as many of you do but they also have to grapple with the dilemmas of ensuring living space for the many young Singaporeans who will be coming of age in the years ahead. As I have pointed out in my note, we are actively greening and blueing where we can and to work with the environment as much as possible.