The mosque at the 778.25 km marker

16 05 2012

It was a year ago that interest in the former Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway line that ran through Singapore started to peak as the realisation hit many in Singapore that the last days of the railway line were upon us. Many embarked on their own journeys through Tanjong Pagar Station to have the experience of the railway and a journey through the grand old station. There were many who also explored the land on which the railway ran on foot – catching glimpses and taking snapshots to remember a world that was about to change forever. Whether it is from the vantage of the rail carriage or from the ground, there is no doubt many would have realised that a world far apart from the one we lived in existed along the corridor along which the railway ran through, one that in many ways took one, without leaving Singapore’s borders, far away from Singapore.

Masjid Hang Jebat as seen from a passing train. Many otherwise hidden parts of Singapore, some which takes us far away from the Singapore we now know, could be seen from the trains that used to run through Singapore.

One of the places along the corridor that would certainly have been noticed is a cluster of zinc roofed buildings close to where the 778.25 km distance marker was, a place if one was on the northbound train one would pass about 7 minutes out of the station just around the bend after passing under the Gillman Flyover and Alexandra Hospital. The cluster of buildings belongs to the Masjid Hang Jebat, a mosque that lies not on railway land but on a part of Singapore, Wessex Estate, that once was home to British army personnel. It is to Wessex Estate that the mosque owes its establishment; but that it exists to this day is probably a result of the railway that ran beside it – protecting the area from being developed all these years. The name of the surau and later the mosque, comes from Jalan Hang Jebat in Wessex Estate, at the end of which the mosque stands.

The mosque as seen in July 2011, just after the cessation of KTM railway services to Tanjong Pagar.

The 778.25 km marker that once stood close to the mosque.

The setting for the mosque certainly takes one far from the Singapore we have come to know. Set amid the wonderful greenery that the area is blessed with, the coconut palms that tower over the mosque and the cluster of banana trees reminds us of an old Singapore we have quickly sought to forget. On one of my recent visits to the area, a man emerges from the cluster of buildings now decorated with green floral motifs and greets me. He is Jimmy – the man who apparently is behind what now decorates the buildings. Jimmy tells me that the motifs are fairly recent addition, painted on to coincide with the Prophet’s birthday. “The decoration changes every year,” Jimmy says, going on to explain that he was the artist behind the decorations.

The rural setting in which the Masjid Hang Jebat is in.

All evidence of the railway has since been removed.

As I step through what looks like a little canteen that is reminiscent of the ones we find in the villages across the Causeway, Jimmy relates how he has been connected to the mosque since he was a young boy. He then lived in a block of flats in Queens Crescent which has since been demolished and has come to the mosque ever since. Saturdays he says are especially busy days at the mosque and like he did in his younger days, many come for religious instruction (including intending converts to the religion) and to play Sepak Takraw in the yard.

The recently decorated hall.

The artist, Jimmy, posing for a photograph.

It was in fact in serving the residents of the area, Queens Crescent being one, as well as nearby residential clusters in the early days of Queenstown that included Queens Close, Stirling Road and Tanglin Halt, that was instrumental in seeing what was started as surau, a prayer room, expand into the mosque it is today. The surau was built in the early 1960s exclusively for use by Muslim serving in the British forces based in Wessex Estate, in what was an area that was fenced-up (although many in the area managed to find a way in). With the British withdrawal in 1971, the surau and the land on which it sits on were opened up and donations were collected to expand the prayer room into a mosque to accommodate the growing population in the area.

Warong Hang Jebat … a stall set in the mosque’s canteen that is reminiscent of village stalls across the Causeway.

Today, the mosque sits in relative silence, no longer serenaded by the sounds of the railway, evidence of has been removed. It is a refreshing escape from the noise and haste of the new world that Singapore is, but for how long, we don’t know. Behind the mosque, a clump of banana trees reminds me of a world we have long since abandoned. I observe a few kampung chickens coming down from a wooden coop running freely around the grassy area by the banana trees. The chickens, I am told, had until recently been wild – having emerged from the surrounding vegetation after the railway stopped running. That perhaps is a sign that the wild world that was once part of the railway land will inevitably be tamed … My hope is that tamed it is not and the wonderful parts of that world which still are there such as this mosque, will still be there to remind us of that gentler world from which the cold grey one we now live in once came from.

A clump of banana trees reminds me of a gentler world we have long abandoned.

Behind the mosque … a chicken coop holds village chickens that until recently, had run wild.

A view of the mosque from a path that leads to Wessex Estate.

Kampung Chickens.





A gradual reopening of the Rail Corridor

2 09 2011

Members of the media and the Rail Corridor working group were provided with an update on the track removal works and plans to reopen parts of the Rail Corridor as work is being completed early this morning during a walkabout in the vicinity of Bukit Timah Railway Station with Minister of Law, Mr. K Shanmungam, the Minister of State (National Development) BG Tan Chuan-Jin, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Law, Ms Sim Ann, and officers from the SLA, MND, URA and Nparks.

Minister of Law, Mr Shanmugam briefed members of the media and the Rail Corridor Consultation Group on the progress of SLA's track removal work and the reopening of the Rail Corridor for use by the community.

Mr Shanmugam being briefed by a SLA officer near the truss bridge.

The Minister also responded to concerns raised by members of the public about damage to existing vegetation during track removal works in the vicinity of the station and explained that the SLA had been “aware of the need to preserve vegetation and no trees were removed”. He also stated that turfing works over the area of the removed tracks, which is now quite evident, was necessary to ensure that there was little risk of water ponding. The tracks, all ancilliary structures such as signal posts, kilometre markers and the ballast are being removed and returned as part of the agreement with Malaysia, with the exception of a stretches in way of the platforms of the two conserved stations and the three bridges that will be retained.

Turfing work south of Bukit Timah Railway Station.

A section of the tracks in way of the Bukit Timah Railway Station platform is being retained.

Another view of Bukit Timah Railway Station. Besides the tracks, one sign and several other structures are being kept.

A map at the station showing SLA's removal plans which identify the bridges that will be retained.

The truss bridge at Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads with trufing work and the portion of tracks to be retained very much in evidence.

The SLA also announced the reopening of a 1.4 kilometre stretch of the Rail Corridor where track removal and turfing work is being completed from the 16th of September. The stretch is from the steel truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Road southwards. This will allow members of the public to enjoy walks along the stretch. Work to remove the tracks is scheduled to be completed by 31st December this year and portions of the former railway land will be progressively opened to the public as the removal works are being completed.

Rather than the green SLA signs we are used to, signs welcoming the public are being put up along the stretches of the Rail Corridor that are bing reopened.

The portion of the track being retained at the truss bridge at Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads. a 1.4 km stretch from the bridge southwards is being opened up to the public from 16th September.

Mr Shanmugam being interviewed by members of the media at Bukit Timah Railway Station.

Mr Shanmugam speaking to Mr Leong Kwok Peng of the Nature Society (Singapore).

The public will also have access to the former Bukit Timah Railway Station building. Members of the public are advised refrain from acts vandalism, which the bridges and the tracks have been subject to. The station as we see today, has been stripped of items belonging to the railway, including signalling equipment and signal levers (except for six that remain). The station sign on the north end has also been returned to Malaysia, with Singapore retaining the one on the south end. The longer term plans for Bukit Timah Railway Station will be part of the URA’s comprehensive review of development plans for the former railway land and their surrounding areas and as part of its review, the URA will study the possibility of marrying development and greenery, such as applying innovative strategies to maintain a continuous green link along the rail corridor without affecting the development potential of the lands.

The Station Master's room at Bukit Timah Station, stripped of the safe which sat on the yellow support structure next to the door.

Another view of the room where the key token signal equipment had once been placed.

All that are left are six signal levers.

Another view of the six signal levers.


Photographs proivided by SLA explaining the track removal process:






The Green Corridor has the PM’s support!

15 08 2011

In his speech during the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made what appears to be an endorsement of the efforts of the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Urban redevelopment Authority (URA) in engaging various interest groups and the public on the use of the former KTM rail corridor, and also for the idea to develop a green corridor through the land. He cited this as an encouraging example in which Singaporeans are engaging the Government and “going beyond giving views … and coming forward to work with one other and with the government on projects which matter to them”. PM Lee also mentioned creating of “a green corridor along the railway land” citing “many views outside encouraging the government to make this a beautiful green corridor to add to the amenities of living in Singapore” and said that the MND and URA and he are all very keen on this and URA is carrying out an extensive public consultation to look for “creative ways of preserving green spaces without affecting development potential of the land”.

The Green Corridor has received the PM's support ... a butterfly seen at the Clementi Woodland area near Holland Road as track clearing work is being carried out.

PM Lee also mentioned that there were many bright ideas from students, architects, design professionals to use sections as creative arts and performing spaces and to develop a leisure corridor, linked to the park connector network and highlighted a proposal which he mentioned was “creative and imaginative” from a recent graduate of the NUS Architecture Department, Ms Regina Koo who suggested building a “Velo-Park” with bikeways, bike rental stalls, bike club and bike café “where one can have a bite on a bike”, saying that the Government would be looking forward to other good ideas saying “don’t just tell us what to do, but help us to do it”.

A proposal by Regina Koo, a recent Architecture graduate from NUS involves a Velo-Park (MND image via Channel NewsAsia).


Recent images around the Clementi Woodland / Holland Road area:

Tracks have been cleared and beyond the stretch where work first started to remove the tracks, clearance work seems more contained.

Another view of the area - much of the vegetation here is intact.

The scene closer to Bukit Timah Station from the south - turfing work over where the tracks lay is very much in evidence.






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 walk around the yard

14 07 2011

In the days that led up to the closure of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, I was able to meet many people who were in some way connected to the station and to the Malayan Railway or what is KTM in its current incarnation. That allowed me to not just hear the wonderful stories some had to share, but also to be brought around places that would have otherwise been hidden to me. One of the places I did get to see was the train yard at Tanjong Pagar, sandwiched in between what was the KTM flats at Spooner Road in Kampong Bahru and the Malaysian Customs yard, and the lead up to the station itself.

A walk around the yard took me back to a time we have forgotten. The highlight was the turntable which was installed in 1932.

The end of the line ... the yard closed together with the station on the 30th of June 2011.

The yard is a wonderful place to discover, one on which I had heard many stories about from friends who went to school in the area at a time when perhaps access to the area was much less controlled. One of those that I met in and around the neighbourhood who was actually a son of a signalman with the Malayan Railway and lived in Spooner Road in the 1960s spoke of how the children growing-up in and around the area would see the yard as a huge playground, one which provided a host of hiding places when playing hide-and-seek. Many were oblivious to the danger playing in the yard posed, and there were several occasions during which unfortunate incidents involving a moving locomotive and a child did occur.

The yard was a playground for many who grew -up in and around it.

A general view around the train yard.

The yard is also where the most wonderful of railway implements could be found, one that was used to turn a locomotive of more than a hundred tonnes around with only the strength exerted by a single person. The turntable which according to a caption on a wonderful aerial photograph of it published in The Straits Times 2nd July 2011′s edition (a scan of which can be found at this link), was built in 1892, and installed in the yard when the station was built in 1932.

The locomotive turntable which was installed in 1932.

A view of one of the girders and wheels of the turntable which supports weights of well over 100 tonnes.

The lever (in a vertical locked position) which can be lowered to turn a locomotive on the table through the effort of just one person.

As with much of the former railway land around Singapore, stepping into the yard seems like a step back in time … one which takes one back to the softer and gentler Singapore that we have somehow lost in trying to catch up with the developed world, not just in the setting one finds oneself in, but in the many people that one meets. It is in meeting the wonderful folks who kept things running behind the scenes at Tanjong Pagar that I have come to understand the attachment many have for the places these folks have not just worked in, but which has become very much a part of their lives – some having worked and lived around the yard for over a quarter of a century. Some expressed a sense of loss. Loss for a life that they would soon leave behind as they prepared to make that big move out of Tanjong Pagar.

Spanners in the works ....

Scenes that we have lost in the modernisation of our island nation.

Familiar scenes for many who lived and work around the yard which is now lost with the big move out. Many workers at the yard have worked there for many years.

A reflection we will no longer see ...

Even as the move out wasn’t quite complete, there were signs that some of the structures in the area were already being dismantled. Walking past the carriage washing and maintenance sheds and the locomotive shops and sheds, and turning around the corner, I could see that the maintenance shed for the luxury E&O Trains, the last of which departed from Tanjong Pagar on that very wet Sunday in June when the flood waters rose, was already being taken down.

The locomotive shop and shed.

The loco shop.

The loco workshop.

A locomotive in the shop.

Coming to a halt.

The E&O maintenance shed being dismantled.

Continuing on past the yard on the approach to the station – a route that is taken by the staff at the station on a daily basis, there is a cluster of buildings, some which were meant to house senior officers at the station, and one that served as the Railway Sports and Recreation clubhouse. Further along, we come to the final stretch that leads to Tanjong Pagar … one that goes past the section of tracks to and from the station’s platforms, and past the new and old signalling houses, which for many who would have seen it everyday on the way into the station, would be on a road that will never again be taken.

The railway sports and recreation club house.

The railway inspector's shed.

A daily walk down a road that as of the 1st of July for many who worked at the station, will never again be taken.

A last glance down the road.


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“.









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