The sun sets over the rail corridor

21 07 2011

The 17th of July was a day when the railway corridor would have been seen in its original state for the very last time. The corridor, having been one of the few places in Singapore where time has stood still – little has changed over the eight decades since the railway deviation of 1932, would after the 17th see an alteration to it that will erase much of the memory of the railway, barely two weeks after the cessation of rail services through Singapore and into Tanjong Pagar. It was a railway that had served to remind us in Singapore of our historical links with the states of the Malayan Peninsula – the land on which the railway ran through having been transferred to the Malayan Railway through a 1918 Ordinance, a reminder that has endured well into the fifth decade of our independence.

The 17th of July offered most in Singapore a last chance to walk the tracks ... removal work started the following day with only a short 3km stretch of the tracks opened to the public unitl the end of July.

It was in the pale light of the moon that my last encounter with the railway tracks in the Bukit Timah Station area began.

The corridor is one that I have had many memories of, having had many encounters with it from the numerous train journeys that I made through Tanjong Pagar, as well as some from encounters that I had from my younger days watching from the backseat of my father’s car and also those that I had in clothed in the camouflage green of the army during my National Service. There are many parts of it that are special in some way or another to me, having always associated them with that railway we will no longer see, and the last day on which I could be reminded of this warranted a last glance at it, one that got me up well before the break of dawn, so that I could see it as how I would always want to remember it.

A scene that would soon only be a memory - the rail corridor on the 17th of July 2011.

It was at a short but very pretty stretch of the corridor that I decided to have a last glance at – a stretch that starts at the now empty and silent building that once served as Bukit Timah Station and continues south for another two kilometres or so. It was one that is marked by some of the most abundant greenery one can find along the corridor which even from the vantage of the train, is always a joy to glance at. Arriving in the darkness of the early morning, it was only the glow of the light of the waning but almost full moon that guided me towards the station which is now encircled by a green fence which I could barely make out. I was greeted by a menacing red light that shone from the end of the building, one that came from the security camera that even in the dark seemed out-of-place on the quaint structure that been the last place along the line where an old fashioned practice of exchanging a key token took place. The crisp morning air and the peace and calm that had eluded the corridor over the two weeks that followed the cessation of railway operations was just what I had woken up for and I quickly continued on my way down towards the concrete road bridge over the railway at Holland Road.

First light on the 17th along the corridor near Holland Green.

It wasn’t long before first light transformed the scene before me into a scene that I desired, one that through the lifting mist, revealed a picture of calm and serenity that often eludes us as we interact with our urban world. It is a world that I have developed a fondness for and one in which I could frolic with the colourful butterflies and dragonflies to the songs of joy that the numerous bird that inhabit the area entertain us with. It was a brief but joyous last glance – it wasn’t too long before the calm with which the morning started descended into the frenzy of that the crowds that the closing of the railway had brought. That did not matter to me as I had that last glance of the corridor just as I had wanted to remember it, with that air of serenity that I have known it for, leaving it with that and the view of the warm glow of the silent tracks bathed in the golden light of the rising sun etched forever in my memory.

First signs of the crowd that the closing of the railway brought.

A last chance to see the corridor as it might have been for 79 years.

For some, it was a last chance to get that 'planking' shot.

Signs of what lay ahead ... the secondary forest being cleared in the Clementi woodland area to provide access for removal works on the railway tracks in the area.

Weapons of rail destruction being put in place.

The scene at the truss bridge over Bukit Timah Road as I left ...

Despite coming away with how I had wanted to remember the rail corridor, I did take another look at another area of it that evening. It was at a that stretch that is just north of the level crossing at Kranji, one that would in the days that have passed us by, would have led to a village on stilts that extended beyond the shoreline, one of the last on our northern shores. The village, Kampong Lorong Fatimah, now lies partly buried under the new CIQ complex today, and had stood by the side of the old immigration complex. Today, all that is left of it beyond the CIQ complex is a barren and somewhat desolate looking piece of land, one that feels cut-off from the rest of Singapore. The stretch is where the last 2 kilometres of the line runs before it reaches Woodlands Train Checkpoint, an area that is restricted and one where it would not be possible to venture into. And it is there where the all train journeys now end – a cold and imposing place that doesn’t resemble a station in any way.

What's become of the last level crossing to be used in Singapore - the scene at Kranji Level Crossing with road widening works already underway.

Another view of the former level crossing, concrete blocks occupy the spot where the yellow signal hut once stood.

An outhouse - the last remnant of the crossing left standing.

Walking through the area, it would not be hard to notice what is left of the huge mangrove swamp that once dominated the area – evidence of which lies beyond a girder bridge (the northernmost railway bridge in Singapore and one of three that would be removed) that crosses Sungei Mandai Besar some 700 metres north of the level crossing. The corridor here for the first kilometre or so is rather narrow with a green patches and cylindrical tanks to the east of it and an muddy slope that rises to what looks like an industrial area to the west. It is through the area here that I pass what was a semaphore signal pole – the northernmost one, before coming to the bridge.

The scene just north of the crossing.

The northernmost semaphore signal for the crossing in Singapore.

The last trolley on the tracks?

The northernmost railway bridge - the girder bridge over Sungei Mandai Besar. The bridge is one of three along the line that will be removed.

Sungei Mandai Besar.

It is about 200 metres beyond the bridge that the corridor starts to fan out to accommodate a loop line which looked as if it had been in a state of disuse with sleepers and rails missing from it. To the east of this widened area, tall trees and a grassland line the corridor and to the west, line of dense trees and shrubs partailly obscures part of the mangrove that had once stretched down to the Sungei Kadut. It is just north of this that the relatively short trek comes to an abrupt end. On the approach to Woodlands Train Checkpoint, sandbags over what had been the main line and a huge red warning sign serving as a reminder of what lay ahead. It is at the approach to the checkpoint that two signs serve as barriers to entry. It is beyond this that one can see a newly installed buffer at the end of the main line, and it is in seeing this that the realisation that that now is the end of a line, not just for the railway that ran through Singapore, but also for that grand old station which now lies cut-off from the railway that was meant to elevate it to a status beyond all the stations of the Far East. With the physical link now severed, that promise would now never be fulfilled, and all that is left is a building that has lost its sould and now stands in solitude, looking somewhat forlorn.

200 metres north of the bridge, the corridor widens to accommodate a loop line.

Evidence of the mangrove that once dominated the area right down to Sungei Kadut.

The northernmost stretch of the corridor.

Walking the bicycle over the wide strecth just short of Woodlands checkpoint.

Dismantling work that was already in evidence.

Sandbags on what was the main line and a warning posted ...

The end of the line- Woodlands Train Checkpoint lies beyond the signs.

It was at this point that I turned back, walking quietly into the glow that the setting sun had cast on the railway corridor. It is at Kranji that the setting sun and the skies above seemed to have conspire to provide a fitting and brilliant show over the place where there had once been an equally colourful crossing with its yellow hut and old fashioned gate. It was in the golden glow of the sunset that I spotted a fmailiar face, one of a fellow traveller on that tearful final journey out of Tanjong Pagar on the morning of the last day of train operations through Singapore, Mr Toh. Mr Toh is one who has been travelling on the trains out of and back into Tanjong Pagar since he was one, was on his final nostalgia motivated journey that final day just as I was, and was at Kranji to complete a final leg of his own exploration of the entire length of the tracks through Singapore. We exchanged our goodbyes, at the same time saying one last goodbye to the railway, as night fell on the last level crossing that was used in Singapore, and on the railway corridor as we had known it for one last time.

A track back into the colours of the setting sun.

A final look south towards Kranji Road.

The view of the setting of the sun over the railway at Kranji Road.

Night falls over the railway corridor as we knew it for one last time.


Posts on the Railway through Singapore and on the proposal 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: 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 walk on the wild side of the north

17 06 2011

In the company of a few friends, I took a walk down a part of northern Singapore that what will soon be a memory. It is a stretch of land that i had made an acquaintance of only through my many railway journeys that had started at Tanjong Pagar, during which the stretch has always seemed like a green oasis in the grey urban landscape of Singapore. It is I guess the knowledge that this, and many other stretches which are there only because of the Malayan Railway’s existence, will soon be lost to us – a tender awarded by the authorities in Singapore will see the removal of much of the beloved railway: the tracks, the signal posts, the level crossings, and the girder bridges (there is no mention of the two iconic truss bridges in the tender). With work scheduled to commence on the 1st of July and expected to end in November, chances are, these last few weeks of the railway in Singapore will be our last chance of seeing the wonderful green corridor that the railway has given us.

Evidence of the railway including these pulleys for the signal post will soon be removed. In tender has been awarded by the authorities, work to remove all these is scheduled to commence in July and end in November.

Evidence of the railway, not just along the stretch from Kranji to Sungei Kadut, but all through the railway corridor would soon be gone.

The 30th of June will see the last train cross a road in Singapore ... a sign along the railway line indicating the approach to a level crossing.

The stretch from Kranji to Sungei Kadut that we walked along, would have once been along a swampy area – part of a large mangrove swamp that stretched from the northern shoreline to the Sungei Kadut industrial area which was reclaimed in the 1960s. Although there is some evidence of the mangrove swamp still around, mcuh of the area around the tracks has become a wonderfully green corridor in which the urban landscape seems like its light-years away.

The starting point of the most recent walk was the Kranji Level Crossing close to Woodlands Train Checkpoint.

A view of the tracks through the signal hut.

Label plates on the crossing's control levers.

The new railway passing over a stretch of the old railway at Kranji.

A damsel in distress? A damselfly seen along the northern green corridor.

Wild flowers growing by the wild side of the tracks.

Orange bracket fungus growing by the side of the tracks.

It is sad to think that all this might soon be gone, and while the signs are encouraging with the news that the Minister of State for National has come out and stated the Ministry’s interest in the proposals, chances are that many areas through which the railway runs through is really too valuable from a developmental point of view not to be sold to the highest bidder – which I hope is not to be the case. There are but two weeks left for us to see the wonderful green corridor as it is and probably as it has been for some 79 years when the railway deviation of 1932 gave us the line as we know today. And, just a note of caution if you are to explore the railway corridor on your own – the land is essentially private property, and walking on or along the track is extremely dangerous (as well as carrying the risk of a fine). Trains can be deceptively quiet and walking on the track or along it is not recommended especially for children – a distance of some 3 metres should always be maintained (moving trains have the effect of creating a low or suction pressure as the pass at speed) and always pair up and do make it a point to look out for each other. Do also remember that proper (and covered) footwear is necessary.

A directional sign to the zoo seen through a clearing.

The approach to Sungei Kadut.

A view of the luscious greenery near Sungei Kadut.

The approach to the level crossing at Sungei Kadut.

Skull and crossbones not of the Jolly Roger, but a dog that was run over by the train.

The end point - the crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue.


Information that may be of interest:

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“.


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Faces of the Railway: the railway men of the North

11 06 2011

In addition to the Station Master, Encik Atan, there are several other members of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) staff along the KTM railway line that passes through Singapore that play a big part in keeping the line as well as road users passing over the railway level crossings safe and sound – the men that just as tirelessly as Encik Atan mans Bukit Timah Station, man the five level crossings, out of a small naturally ventilated wooden hut in what has to be some of the loneliest spots in northern Singapore. These men often man the huts alone, and get to work as soon as they are alerted to the passing of the train through a previous station or crossing, and can be seen then scrambling around with their signal flags, changing signals, closing the gates and opening them after the trains have passed. Two such men are two Encik Roslans, one who mans the northernmost crossing at at Kranji Road, and the other who maintains the barriers, as well an Encik Azman who mans the crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on my walks around the area.

Encik Roslan of the Kranji Level Crossing at work.

Encik Roslan, who is too shy to want to be photographed in his hut. He revealed that the KTM flats in Spooner Road have been vacated as the staff have all already moved into quarters in Johor Bahru. Encik Roslan will be transferred to Kluang come the 1st of July.

The signal hut at Sungei Kadut Avenue.

Encik Roslan and Encik Azman who man the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing, standing outside the hut.

Encik Roslan at the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing - understand he maintains the barriers to the crossings.

Encik Azman of the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing.

A young assistant whose name escaped me at Sungei Kadut.





The last level crossing in Singapore

19 05 2011

Minutes before arriving at Woodlands on the 30th of June, the last of the Malayan Railway trains to cut across our island would have passed what would be the last operational level crossing in Singapore. It is probably appropriate that the crossing, one of two gated crossings left (the other being at Gombak Drive), is the last that will see a train pass through, being close to the terminal point of the original Singapore-Kranji Railway which commenced operations in 1903. The original line had featured numerous level crossings, particularly in the busy city centre and in planning the Railway Deviation of 1932, a stated objective had been the elimination of the level crossings in the city which proved not just to be costly to maintain, but also contributed to significant congestion on the city roads as well as being dangerous. What we are left with today are five operational manned level crossings, three of which are closed by a barrier rather than a gate. The crossings are at Gombak Drive, Choa Chu Kang Road (the widest), Stagmont Ring Road, Sungei Kadut Avenue and Kranji Road.

A train crossing Kranji Road. The Kranji level crossing would be the last one to operate on the 30th of June 2011.

The Singapore-Kranji Railway started operations on New Year’s day of 1903 after some two years and eight months of construction with the opening of the line from Bukit Timah to the original terminal at Tank Road. The departure of the first train from Tank Road Station is described by the 2nd January 1903 edition of the Straits Times: “Yesterday morning at 6 o’clock sharp, the first train drew up at the platform awaiting those daring spirits who had decided to test the line, in an initial run as far as Bukit Timah. There were two or three Europeans and a similar number of Chinese babas as passengers … A few minutes after 6 o’clock, one of the few railway officials present waved his hand to the driver as a signal to start, the passengers scrambled in, the engine tootled once or twice, and then slowly steamed out of the station passing a large notice board which proclaimed in English, Malay and Tamil that the station was ‘Singapore’. Thus the first public run on the Singapore-Kranji Railway has commenced”. Based on the same article, the published fares for the passage were 56 cents on 1st Class, 35 cents on 2nd, and 21 cents on 3rd. The full line was completed some four months later with the opening of the final section from Bukit Timah to Kranji on the 10th of April 1903. The Straits Times on the 11th of April 1903 describes the passage of the first “through train”: “the first through train left ‘Singapore’ station at Tank Road punctually at 7 o’clock yesterday morning for ‘Woodlands’, at the Johore end of Singapore, a little run of fifteen miles. The train consisted of seven carriages and was well filled with a very cosmopolitan lot of passengers”. The article also interestingly describes the scene along the line from Bukit Timah onwards towards Woodlands: “the line runs through some of the prettiest country in the island and the lover of tropical scenery will be delighted with the trip”. The return fare was reported to be $1.80 and the passage across the Straits of Johor on a steam driven ferry cost 10 cents.

The original Singapore-Kranji railway had run to the 'Singapore' Station at Tank Road. Operations started on New Year's Day 1903 to Bukit Timah and was extended to Kranji on 10 April 1903 when the rest of the line was completed.

That was some 108 years ago, when the railway made its first tentative journeys across the island. And now, after a little more than a century, the last will leave, not tentatively, but possibly in a determined manner, no longer wanted by a country it has served so well, but where land has become too valuable to allow the old railway to weave its way through it. And so, in the cover of the night, perhaps not silently, but with a large groan, the railway will take its leave with the last train as it passes the last crossing to be swallowed up by the CIQ complex where the trains will after the last on the 30th of June, terminate at. No longer will we as train passengers see that scenery that was in 1903 described as “the prettiest country in the island”, a scenery that still, despite the appearance of civilisation, is still one of the prettiest in the country, and no longer will I get to see what has held my fascination of the railway since my earliest encounters with it in Singapore – a train crossing a road.

When the Kranji level crossing sees the back of the last train on the 30th of June 2011, we would be minutes from saying goodbye to 108 years of the railway passing through Singapore.

A Vanishing Scene: The Kranji Level Crossing


To read my series of posts on Journeys through Tanjong Pagar, please click on this link.


Party on the last train:

If anyone is keen to join Clarissa Tan, Notabilia, and myself on the last train into Singapore (not the last train which will be the northbound train from Tanjong Pagar), do indicate your interest by leaving a comment at Notabilia’s post on the subject.









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