A final journey from Tanjong Pagar: the slow train up the length of Johore

3 12 2010

Leaving JB Sentral Station, the train on which we were on for what would probably be the last train journey out of Tanjong Pagar for my friends and me, continued on its journey north. It was a journey that in its early stages, had already been delayed by the stops and starts at Bukit Timah Station and was as one should expect on the KTM trains, that would be delayed further en route to our destination, Gemas. Nevertheless, it was still very much worth the experience, not just for the fact that it would represent a last for me out of Tanjong Pagar, but to be able to have a leisurely glance at the interesting places en route. The route takes the train through much of the length of the state of Johore, passing town after town that can be read from the list of significant positions as they fell in reverse order, in the dark final days of the Battle of Malaya in early 1942, during which the relentless push by Japanese invasion forces towards Singapore during World War II, saw much of the area overrun in a matter of two weeks. Our intended destination, Gemas, just north of the state border in Negri Sembilan, had in fact been where a significant battle took place, one that might, on another day, have turned the tide. That it did not, allowed the invading forces to reach Singapore’s doorstep some 16 days following the engagement in Gemas, with Singapore falling only a month after that engagement.

Time Table for the Ekspress Rakyat out of Singapore and back into Singapore ... the journey to Gemas takes a route through towns in Johore which read like a list of defensive positions taken up by the British forces as they retreated towards Singapore in the face of the Japanese invaders in the January of 1942.

Along the initial part of the journey from Johor Baharu, the unmistakable landscape that characterises much of the urban areas along the railway line was very much in evidence with zinc roofed huts that was once commonly seen lining many of the areas by the tracks in Singapore, lining parts of the tracks. One of the first stops along the way was Kulai, a town some 30 kilometres north of Johor Baharu which was one of the last areas to fall before the Japanese arrived at Johor Baharu on the final day of January in 1942. Kulai had previously been known to me from the road trips I made in my father’s car across the Causeway. It was one of the last towns we would arrive at on the long journeys back home before the final pit stop in Johore Baharu where we would always stop to do some final bits of shopping – particularly for school shoes at Bata (which were because of the rise in the Singapore Dollar against the Malaysian Ringgit in the early 1970s a lot cheaper in Malaysia than it was in Singapore). Later in life, I would associate Kulai with a friend, Paul, whom I met whilst attached to Sembawang Shipyard in the mid 1980s. He had come form Kulai to work at the shipyard, putting up in a tiny room in a wooden shack in the old Chong Pang Village on work days, returning to Kulai only on Saturday nights to visit his mother.

Squatters along the railway line north of JB Sentral - this was a common sight on the KTM Railway land in Singapore up to the 1990s.

Kulai - a town which featured in the march of the Japanese invading forces towards Singapore in January 1942.

Passengers alighting at Kulai Station.

A rail carriage at Kulai.

Rail carriage carrying containers.

Leaving Kulai Station.

Passenger holding a ticket up.

North of Kulai, the next major stop is at Kluang, some 90 kilometres from Singapore. Kluang also featured prominently in the push by the Japanses invading forces – being abandoned by the retreating British led forces to allow them to regroup further south in the face of the Japanese advance through Johore. Kluang was in fact where General Yamashita moved his headquarters to, from Kuala Lumpur, at the end of January 1942, as the forces under his command prepared for the final assault on Singapore. Kluang was also known to me in my childhood, not so much from the road trips, but as the town where my maternal grandmother paid a visit to on her only trip to Malaysia that she made without me that I could remember. She had spent a weekend there with a Catholic group on a pilgrimage at the end of the 1960s.

Passing a level crossing at Kluang.

Pulling into Kluang Station.

Kluang Railway Station is well known for its coffee shop which has even been recreated in places such as shopping centres in Kuala Lumpur.

The tracks at Kluang Station.

A scene along the tracks from Kluang to Paloh.

The view inside the Superior Class coach.

A young passenger ...

The next major stop, Segamat, was the last stop before arriving at Gemas. Before that, there was a stop to make at Paloh, a rather small town set amongst palm oil and rubber plantations – Sime Darby features prominently in the area. Paloh was, during much of the 1950s, caught up in the Malayan Emergency and being one of the notorious “black areas” where Communist activity was rife. Much of its notoriety came from ambushes and killings made by Communist insurgents operating in the area and it was only about ten years after the Emergency was declared that the area was re-designated as “white area”.

View opposite Paloh Station.

Arriving at Paloh.

Kilometre marker at Paloh.

KTM logo at Paloh Station.

View of the area along the way to Segamat.

View of the area along the way to Segamat.

View of the area along the way to Segamat.

1st view of Segamat.

Segamat was again another significant town during the war. It was where the Australian forces had retreated to after being forced back from Gemas. Segamat is of course well known to Singaporeans as being where some of the best durians originate from. My only previous encounters with Segamat had been once again on the many road trips made in the 1970s on the old trunk road leading up to Kuala Lumpur. Here the landscape around the station is dominated by warehouses and some old buildings associated with the railway, which we got a good view of as the train did a bit of backtracking after making its stop, southwards to the truss bridge south of the station, to move to another track and wait for a passing southbound train. This is a common feature in rail journeys through much of the southern part of the Malaysian railway as for most part, there is only a single track. This often makes the journeys longer than it should really be as trains often wait for each other to pass before being able to continue on their journey.

Pulling into Segamat Station.

View opposite the station.

Railway workers' quarters near Segamat Station.

Backtracking along the track to change tracks ...

On a truss bridge south of Segamat Station.

On a truss bridge south of Segamat Station.

Godowns near Segamat Station.

Godowns near Segamat Station and an old train carriage.

Segamat Station.

Another view of Segamat Station.

A member of the KTM staff walking along the train at Segamat Station.

Southbound train pulling into the station.

Southbound train passing a waiting northbound train. The line in the far south is a single track and trains often have to wait for one another to pass at some of the main stations such as Segamat - very often resulting in delays.

Southbound train heading towards the truss bridge.

View opposite Segamat Station.

Close up of a train's undercarriage.

A child looking out of the window of a passing train.

Leaving Segamat ... and on to our destination Gemas.

A companion is often necessary for the long and often delayed train journey.

After Gemas, it was our final push to Gemas. With a lot of stopping for passing trains that morning – it was only one and a half hours later than our scheduled arrival time of 1210, that we arrived at the station, somewhat weary from the journey, and somewhat hungry. Gemas, however was waiting to be discovered and we very quickly got off, found ourselves a place to eat, made arrangements for transport, and were ready for the next part of the adventure…

Arriving at Gemas Station.

Sign at Gemas Station ...

Gemas is the main railway junction in the Malayan Peninsula where the north bound lines split into an eastern line and a western line. The map shows the Singapore station in Tanjong Pagar, this would soon change when the terminal station moves to Woodlands.





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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