Lost beauty

15 07 2016

I can’t help but feel a sense of loss wandering around the former Bukit Timah Railway Station. Set in one of the greener and isolated stretches of the rail corridor in the days of the railway, it was a magical place that had the effect of taking one far away from the madness of a Singapore that had come too far too fast. Now a sorry sight behind an unsightly green fence, its still green settings is an much altered one scarred by the removal of the railway’s tracks and ballast, turfing and maintenance work.

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The station had a special charm. Built in 1932 as part of the railway deviation scheme, it wore the appearance of a rural railway station, especially in surroundings that were most unlike the post-independence Singapore we had come to know. A passenger station in its early days and a point where racehorses transported for races at the nearby turf club were offloaded, the station in its latter days functioned more as a signal box for the exchange of key tokens (the token handed authority to the passing trains for the use of the single track that ran south to Tanjong Pagar and north to Woodlands).

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The world around station is due to be upset further. Work to lay a water pipeline that will supply Singapore’s future needs, will start in the area of the station, is due later this quarter.  It will only be at the end of the 2018 before the area is to be reopened, when it will, without a doubt, bear the scars left by the activity. There is however hope for its restoration, at least as a green space. This future, is now in the hands of the winning design consultants for the Rail Corridor concept plan.

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As part of the concept plan, a detailed design exercise is being carried out for a 4 km signature stretch. This includes the area of the former station. Feedback obtained through engagement efforts with various stakeholders and the public is being taken into consideration for this. What is left to be seen is its outcome, which should be interesting to see. This should be made public in the months ahead. It would of course be impossible to recreate the world that once was, but what would be good to see in the detailed design is that it remains a place in which one can run far from a Singapore we already have too much of.

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Update on closure of the Rail Corridor

24 06 2016

The first stretch of the Rail Corridor affected by the Murnane Pipeline Project, will be hoarded up and closed from Monday 27 June 2016. The stretch is  from Holland Rd (near Greenleaf Estate) to Tanglin Halt Road (including the former Rail Corridor Art Space). Exact dates for the closure of the remaining stretches affected (see graphic below), which are scheduled for the third quarter of 2016, are still being worked out. The corridor will be reopened in parts as work is completed from the end of 2017 to the end of 2019. More information on the project and the how the Rail Corridor could be affected is available in some of my earlier posts:

And a northward view.

A view of the first stretch of the Rail Corridor to close for the pipeline project.

Updated schedule for closure of the southern stretch of the Rail Corridor (click to expand).

 





Goodbye for now my friend

3 06 2016

Like a thief in the night, change in Singapore comes swiftly and suddenly. One big change, albeit temporarily, that will soon be upon us, involves yet another space I have a fondness for. This is the stretch of the former rail corridor between Bukit Timah Road and Holland Road. The greenest part of the Green Corridor, as the very green rail corridor has been christened by the movement calling for its preservation as a green space, it has been one the the few escapes I am able to find from a Singapore that has been over concretised. While the work is not meant to leave a permanent scar on the Green Corridor, the changes it may bring to the corridor visually could take many more years before it regains the appearance of the world I had grown to love.

The Rail Corridor in greener days.

My favourite stretch of the Rail Corridor in greener days.

Work will soon begin to lay a pipeline that is intended to address the growing city centre’s needs far into the future. Some 11 kilometres of the former corridor will be affected stretching from Rifle Range, where the Murnane Service Reservoir is, southwards to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station (which will itself be closed off from 2017 to 2025 for the construction of a Circle Line MRT Station below ).

Existing water pipelines close to Murnane Reservoir.

Existing water pipelines close to Murnane Reservoir.

The affected parts of the corridor will be closed off in phases, commencing with the stretch between Holland Road and Commonwealth Avenue in the later part of June 2016 with the other stretches being closed from te third quarter of 2016. The various stretches will be reopened as work is completed with the Holland Road and Commonwealth Avenue stretch’s opening scheduled for the end of 2017. The stretches between PIE / Jalan Anak Bukit and Holland Road and Commonwealth Avenue to Jalan Kilang Barat are scheduled to reopen by the fourth quarter of 2018, while the southernmost stretch of the corridor will be the last to reopen at the end of 2019.

One of the stretches affected, at Tanglin Halt, during the days of the railway.

One of the stretches affected, at Tanglin Halt, during the days of the railway.

First announced close to two years ago in June 2014, one of the tasks before work was to start was the development of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to look at possible impacts and recommend mitigation measures during the period of pipe laying. An environmental consulting firm, CH2M Hill Singapore Consulting Pte Ltd, was engaged to carry this out and also to develop an Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan (EMMP). This, as members of the Rail Corridor Partnership who attended a briefing on it earlier this week had understood, has been accepted by the various Government agencies involved.

Bukit Timah Railway Station, one of four activity nodes for which concept designs are to be proposed.

Bukit Timah Railway Station, around which the pipeline would be run to avoid damage to the heritage structure.

While EISs and EIAs  may involve qualitative identification of threats and assessments of the severity of their impacts, and contain an element of subjectivity, they have an important role to play in the management of invasive activities in environmentally sensitive areas. In the case of the pipeline, work is certainly needed, and having an EIS carried out is better that not having one done at all.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Vivian Balakrishnan along the rail corridor during Saturday's briefing to the Rail Corridor Partnership.

Another heritage structure, to which impact is avoided, the truss bridge at Bukit Timah. Here the pipejacking method will be employed and the pipeline will be run deep underground, under the Downtown MRT line.

One key finding of the EIS was on the impact the initial planned routing of the pipeline in the vicinity of Murnane Reservoir would have had on the flora nad fauna rich area of dense secondary forest through which the pipeline was to be run (on the opposite side of Rifle Range Road). This prompted a rethink, which involved much effort, to have the pipeline’s path altered to avoid the secondary forest. In most instances, impacts following mitigation measures are maintained at negligible to minor, with the a few exceptions.

A Oriental Pied Hornbill seen (and heard) during Saturday's walk.

A Oriental Pied Hornbill in the sensitive Holland Woods area.

One especially sensitive area identified by the EIS is in the Holland Woods area, just south of the former Bukit Timah Railway Station, which contain several fauna hot spots. Several unexpected species of animals were recorded during the survey carried out as part of the EIS, including the Malayan Giant Frog and the Civet. The impact to fauna in this area after mitigation is expected to be moderate. In all, some 188 species of fauna were recorded, 11 of which are non-native, with 458 species expected. Other impacts considered, include that to the landscape, airborne noise, ground borne noise and vibration, damage to waterbodies as well as to commercial and recreational activities.

Disruption to users of the rail corridor such as walkers, joggers and cyclists, will be minimised throughout the construction period.

Disruption to users of the rail corridor such as walkers, joggers and cyclists, will be minimised throughout the construction period by the provision of alternative pathways.

Beyond the laying of the pipeline, the former rail corridor will probably be the subject of redevelopment efforts aimed at preserving it as a continuous green corridor that will at the same time be of use to the wider community. Based on the information previously provided by the Urban Redevelopment Authority overseeing this, the detailed design for a 4 kilometre signature stretch from Bukit Timah Railway Station (BTRS) to Hillview Road area. The outcome of this, which would have taken in public and stakeholders’ feedback, and the visual impact it will possible have on the corridor, is yet to be seen.





The rail corridor at the halt at Tanglin

30 03 2016

Change is about to come to the Rail Corridor. Its southern half will be closed from the second quarter of 2016 to allow a water pipe to be laid under it, and I suppose that before it can recover from this intervention, we could see work being started on transforming parts of the corridor into a space that will have an appeal to the wider community.

The stretch of the corridor in the days of the railway at the former Tanglin Halt - a place that could transport you far from the madness that is Singapore.

The stretch of the corridor in the days of the railway (c. 2010) at the former Tanglin Halt – a place that could transport you far from the madness that is Singapore.

I wish to remember the corridor as it was in days when it attracted little interest. Ignored and left to the railway, the space grew into one that had a magical feel to it, a space one could quite easily lose oneself in. While the space still serves as an escape some four and a half years after the railway ceased operating through it, its magic has diminished. Stripped of most of its railway paraphernalia, turfed over, trampled on and worked on, there is now quite a different feel to the corridor.

The Rail Corridor in greener days.

The Rail Corridor, near the Clementi woodland, in greener days.

One stretch of the railway I would like to remember as it was is what, if the planners have their way, will become a “Cultural Valley”, “a vibrant activity space where workers and nearby residents can enjoy activities such as outdoor film screenings”. It is what I hope will not be, a transformation that threatens to have us forget the joy the space would once have given us.

What parts of the same stretch look like today.

Already in a state of flux – parts of the same stretch near the Clementi woodland have temporarily taken on the appearance of the concretised world that the railway has long kept away.

Already, we have all but forgotten it as a train stop, Tanglin Halt; even if this is remembered in the name of the adjacent public housing neighbourhood. Lines also branched off in the area, serving the British military at Wessex Estate and at Ayer Rajah. The stop, the branch lines, and its platform, had disappeared by the time I first set eye on the stretch. All that was left of the halt was a rather worn looking building, decorated as all abandoned buildings outside of Singapore might be (technically it stood on a piece of Malaysia). That vanished from sight almost immediately after the land was handed back; an aberration perhaps in the landscape that needed to be removed once it had become incorporated into the overly manicured Singaporean landscape.

A 1945 map showing the train halt.

A 1945 map showing the train halt.

The Tanglin Halt area today.

The Tanglin Halt area today.

The Cultural Valley being proposed at Buona Vista.

It is strange that similar renderings found on the missing structure, have, with official sanction, decorate the structures under a road bridge just a stone’s throw away. The Rail Corridor Art Space, thought up by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the National Arts Council (NAC), which was launched in December 2013, provided would be graffiti artists with an outlet to add colour to what would otherwise have been the grey of dull concrete.

The southward view.

The southward view.

And a northward view.

And a northward view.

Like the corridor, the space will soon lose its colour. Work to lay the pipe will require the corridor south of Holland Road, including this Buona Vista stretch, to be closed. While we can look forward to sections of it progressively reopened from the fourth quarter of 2017, this stretch of the corridor would probably bear no resemblance at all to the magical world I might once have found an escape in.

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Coloured concrete under the Commonwealth Avenue viaduct.





In the pipeline – a partial closure of the Rail Corridor

4 03 2016

Information received from PUB:

The PUB will be commencing work for the laying of Murnane Pipeline Project (see also : The Rail Corridor that will be forgotten) in the 2nd quarter of 2016. Half of the pipeline will run beneath the Rail Corridor. The works will be carried out in phases and is expected to complete by 2019. For public safety, PUB will temporarily close off the stretch of the Rail Corridor south of Holland Road during this period, and progressively reopen sections from the 4th quarter of 2017 after the pipeline has been laid and the ground reinstated.  The rest of the Rail Corridor will remain open to the public.

The Rail Corridor in greener days.

The Rail Corridor when it was in use  – the stretch south of Holland Road will be closed from Q2 2016 and will reopen in sections from Q4 2017to allow a new service pipeline for treated water to be laid.

PUB’s Facebook page will provide updates on the Murnane Pipeline Project.

PUB Graphic on the Murnane Pipeline Project (click to enlarge):


Click here for an update of the closure on 24 June 2016





So, what’s next for the Rail Corridor?

21 05 2015

Almost four years have passed since the rumble of the last train, we hear new noises finally being made over the Rail Corridor. Also known as the Green Corridor, calls were made by nature and heritage groups and enthusiasts for its preservation in the lead up to the move of the terminal from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. The hopes were that the space, long spared from development due to the railway, be kept untouched, uninterrupted and green; a space that will allow us in Singapore not just to remember the links we long have had with our northern neighbours, but also as a connector of green spaces down the length of the island.

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It wasn’t long after the railway’s last journey, that we in Singapore embarked on a new and uncharted journey through the 23 kilometre long corridor with the Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, providing an assurance, in July 2011, that the corridor would be preserved as a green corridor. This was reinforced by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally speech of the same year.

There was much discussion that followed as to how this could be realised. An ideas competition held at the end of 2011 as a primer for a design competition, all with the 2013 Master Plan in mind. A dispute on development charges on the former railway land between Malaysia, which owned the land prior to the terminal’s move, and Singapore, however, meant that a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a master plan and concept proposals for the Rail Corridor could only be held this year. The pre-qualification for the RFP, which attracted a massive response with 64 teams making submissions, was recently concluded with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) shortlisting five teams yesterday for participation in the next stage.

The five teams, who all have strong lead landscape architects – not surprising given the emphasis on the landscape element in the Rail Corridor, will be given until 21 August 2015 to make submissions for Stage 2A. This stage involves the development of an overall Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals that will include two special interest areas: the urban-green-blue integrated concepts at Choa Chu Kang and a concept design for the adaptive reuse of the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

Having had a glance at the pre-qualification submissions made of the selected teams, what does seem encouraging is that there has been a lot of thought put in not just in retaining as much of the Rail Corridor’s natural environment, but also in enhancing it. The natural environment is to me one of the features of the Rail Corridor that makes it what it is and I am all for keeping it as natural as possible, with as little intervention (I do recognise that some intervention would be necessary) as is possible. While it is important that it does become a space available to the wider community, what would be nice to see is that some of its unique spaces retained as they are and that as a whole the corridor remains a place one can always find an escape in.

After the submissions are made on Stage 2A, one team will then be selected, an announcement for which can be expected in October 2015. There will also be exhibition held from October to November 2015 that will put on display the submissions of all participating teams. During the period of the exhibition, members of the public will be provided with an opportunity to give their feedback. Along with feedback from stakeholders and the respective agencies, this will be taken into account in the next stage, 2B, which will involve a 8 week revision of concept designs (January to March 2016). The team will then move on to Stage 2C, a 12 week long preliminary design effort that will be undertaken for a 4 kilometre signature stretch of the Rail Corridor. More information on the RFP is available at the URA’s Rail Corridor RFP site.

Further information:





A new journey through Tanjong Pagar begins

18 03 2015

Close to four years since the close of the railway that ran through Singapore, the  much anticipated Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Rail Corridor is finally out – announced at 11 am today. Key highlights of the RFP include the submission of a Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals. This will require the development of concept designs for four key activity nodes and two special interest areas, one of which is Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which involves a proposal for its reuse as a community space for a period 20 years until the port is moved out.  Also noteworthy is the identification of the Kranji MRT area as a northern gateway, which I understand will also involve a realignment of the rail corridor in the area. More information on the RFP can be found in the press release which is appended and at t http://ura.sg/railrfp.

We waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore close to 4 years ago on 30 June 2011.

We waved goodbye to the Malayan Railway trains through Singapore close to 4 years ago on 30 June 2011.

Bukit Timah Railway Station, one of four activity nodes for which concept designs are to be proposed.

Bukit Timah Railway Station, one of four activity nodes for which concept designs are to be proposed.


NEWS RELEASE BY THE URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

URA LAUNCHES REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL FOR THE RAIL CORRIDOR

Input from the community to crystallise Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals

18 March 2015 – The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) launched the ‘Rail Corridor – An Inspired and Extraordinary Community Space’ Request for Proposal (RFP) today, inviting design professionals to develop a Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for Singapore’s Rail Corridor.

The Rail Corridor: A unique community space of exceptional possibilities

The 24 km-long Rail Corridor spans north to south of Singapore. It threads through diverse landscapes such as housing, business, industrial, and recreational areas, and key landmarks that are rich in nature and heritage. See Annex A for the current uses along the Rail Corridor.

Over the past three-and-a-half years, the URA has engaged different segments of the community extensively through various platforms to gather feedback on their aspirations for the Rail Corridor. The URA has taken on-board the community’s input and distilled them into a set of Planning and Design Goals that now forms part of the RFP brief, to guide participating teams’ proposals for the Rail Corridor. See Annex B for this set of goals.

Mr Ng Lang, Chief Executive Officer of the URA, said, “The return of the former railway land presented a unique opportunity for us to shape the future of the Rail Corridor and its surrounding areas together with the community. The Corridor has the potential to become an extraordinary cross-island green artery and an inclusive community space that provides an exceptional experience for Singaporeans from all walks of life. We have taken the time to engage the community widely, and their input will now guide the development of the RFP proposals. Our intention is to continue to sensitively stage the development of this project with the community, and not rush into developing the whole stretch at one go.”

The RFP will be looking for design professionals to develop an overall Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for the Rail Corridor. The proposals should have nature and greenery, celebration of heritage, and connectivity as hallmarks of the Rail Corridor experience. They should be sensitive to the local context so that the Rail Corridor will become more accessible and comfortable for the wider community to enjoy. Retaining and enriching the signature ‘green corridor’ experience is also one of the key requirements. In addition, the proposals must be robust to accommodate the evolving needs of the community.

The RPF calls for an overall Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals for the Rail Corridor. These include concept designs for four key activity nodes as well as smaller community nodes. There will also be Concept Designs for two special interest areas.

(1) The Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals should create a unique and endearing Rail Corridor experience. The Concept Master Plan should be embedded with a strong identity and clear design approach that includes proposals for a community connector, amenities, and programming for community use. It should also include landscape, heritage and urban design strategies. Teams should also propose innovative design strategies to sensitively integrate developments with nature and greenery along the Rail Corridor. In addition, participating teams are to propose creative concept designs for four key activity nodes along the Corridor that can support a range of activities, namely:

(i) Buona Vista (near one-north)

This can become a vibrant community space for the nearby business park and research community, as well as residents of the Queenstown neighbourhood. Its design should consider integrating the Rail Corridor with surrounding developments using appropriate urban design strategies. As it is located next to the Buona Vista MRT interchange station and is easily accessible by the public, the space could be designed to accommodate mass activities and events. Formerly the site of the Tanglin Halt Railway Station, teams can also look at recapturing the railway heritage of the area in a creative way.

(ii) Bukit Timah Railway Station area

This is the green heart of the Rail Corridor. This midway point of the Corridor can become its green gateway with supporting visitor facilities. The planning and design of this node should be complementary to its idyllic natural setting anchored by the conserved Bukit Timah Railway Station. The Station itself should be repurposed for uses that complements the vision for this node. This is where occasional community events can be held. At most other times, it can be a place of retreat and where one can enjoy the serene, green landscape.

(iii) Former Bukit Timah Fire Station

The former Bukit Timah Fire Station and quarters will become a new gateway into the Rail Corridor. A new pedestrian link will be provided from the Fire Station site directly into the Rail Corridor where visitors could explore the parks fringing the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve such as Dairy Farm Nature Park and Bukit Batok Nature Park. The buildings within the Fire Station site will be retained and should be repurposed for uses that complement its function as a gateway into the Rail Corridor.

There could also be suitable linkages from the former Fire Station to nearby heritage sites such as the Old Ford Factory and site of the Battle of Bukit Timah, which are steeped in World War 2 history.

(iv) Kranji (opposite Kranji MRT Station)

This is envisioned to become the northern gateway into the Rail Corridor. Located across from the Kranji MRT station, it is highly accessible as a major gathering place for the community to hold events and start the journey south towards the city. Its design should complement and be sensitive to key landmarks in the area such as the Singapore Turf Club, Kranji War Memorial, and Mandai Mangroves.

The successful team for the Concept Master Plan will also be required to carry out a preliminary design for a selected 4 km signature stretch of the Rail Corridor. More details of this selected stretch will be provided to shortlisted teams.

(2) Special interest area 1: Concept Designs for the adaptive reuse of the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

This National Monument located at the edge of the city will become the most prominent and important gateway into the Rail Corridor. Participating teams should consider how the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station can be put to adaptive reuse as a community building for the next 20 years, pending the development of the Greater Southern Waterfront. They are to propose suitable uses that will give the building a new lease of life. The space should allow for multi-functional community activities that supports its position as the anchor node into the Rail Corridor. The public should have unfettered access so that they can appreciate the heritage of this building and its surroundings.

(3) Special interest area 2: Concept Designs for an urban-green-blue tapestry at Choa Chu Kang

The stretch of the Rail Corridor at Choa Chu Kang that is adjacent to the Sungei Pang Sua Canal provides an opportunity to weave a unique urban-green-blue tapestry in the precinct. Currently, that stretch has low plant biodiversity, while the Sungei Pang Sua is fully canalised. Participating teams are to come up with innovative design concepts to enhance and integrate that segment of the Rail Corridor with Sungei Pang Sua to create an ecologically richer and more vibrant natural environment, and merge it seamlessly with future housing design in the area.

See Annex C which highlights the Rail Corridor, the four key activity nodes, and the two special interest areas.

Request for Proposal process

The RFP exercise comprises a 2-stage Tender Selection Process. Participating teams’ submissions will be assessed by a distinguished 11-member Evaluation Panel. Collectively, the panel members have deep and extensive experience and knowledge in urban planning and design, architecture, landscape architecture, building heritage, nature conservation, sustainable development, and park management. See Annex D for details of the RFP process and Annex E for the list of Evaluation Panel members.

The successful team(s) of consultants will be announced in October 2015. There will be a public exhibition of all shortlisted submissions from October to December 2015.

Continued community involvement

To ensure that the Rail Corridor lives up to its vision as an outstanding and inclusive public space for the community, the URA will continue to engage the community to gather further feedback on the proposals during the public exhibition. Following that, URA will work closely with the consultant(s) to refine the awarded Concept Master Plan and Concept Proposals, taking into account the public’s input.

The implementation will be studied carefully, taking into consideration various factors including the broader development plans for surrounding areas, the laying of underground services below the Rail Corridor, and the needs and aspirations of the community.

More information on the RFP exercise is available at http://ura.sg/railrfp.








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