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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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.






A walk down the Bukit Timah corridor: Wandering along the new railway and rediscovering the old

20 10 2010

During much of a rain and lightning interrupted eight kilometre walk with friends from the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road, I was surprised to discover that, despite the high-rises on the horizon and the other signs of modernity that have replaced what was a rural feel of much of Singapore beyond the city limits, I was able to immerse myself in a countryside where time seems to have forgotten. The walk, motivated by the sense of nostalgia for the old railway line which was prompted by the impending shift of the KTM station to Woodlands, allowed us to have a glimpse perhaps of a slice of Singapore that would be forgotten very soon after the last of the trains of the old railway which has been with us since 1903, makes a final stop at Tanjong Pagar sometime before the first of July next year.

Starting point of the walk - the Phoenix LRT Station in the new Singapore that has replaced the countryside of the old.

The walk took us through many of the areas that I have mentioned in another nostalgia related post on the railway, “Journeys Through Tanjong Pagar: The Station at Bukit Timah” (also on asia! as “Keeping Track of Time”), allowing me and several others a last look at the stretch of line that is characterised by the two black steel truss bridges that crosses Bukit Timah Road. For me, it was also a chance to revisit the area which I had become familiar with as a young child, and as a consequence, my childhood, having first been acquainted with it staring out of the opened window of my father’s Austin 1100 on the many road trips made through the area.

How the area might have once appeared to me ... a scene from the backseat of a car further south along Upper Bukit Timah Road (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The same general area as it looks today.

The first stop we made, having met at Phoenix LRT station, was the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road. This provided a wonderful opportunity for me to do what as a child I always enjoyed – that is catching the train traversing what must certainly be the last major level crossing in Singapore, a crossing that is today, made across the six lanes of Choa Chu Kang Road. Somehow, watching the trains running across at road level, just in the shadow of a modern elevated urban railway line, the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, seemed surreal … as was the scene around the level crossing. Looking up the tracks on the north bound side of the crossing, it looked as if the tracks were taking a path to an abyss – the abyss being a plot of land that I had once been familiar with from the many occasions that I had walked through it as a shortcut to Woodlands Road from one of the camps I had been at during my National Service – Stagmont Camp. I had on many occasions as well been on training exercises during my stint at the camp which involved walking up and down the areas around the tracks – once leaving a rifle behind in the dark, which I was fortunate enough to find with the help of my army mates, only having discovered my carelessness a few kilometres up the tracks.

The northbound track into the "abyss" that I once was familiar with from my days in National Service.

On the other side of the crossing, a little hut that serves as the control station for the crossing stands – with a little yellow outhouse behind it, as well as a village like house that was perhaps a common sight in the area once, that served as the quarters of the railway staff manning the crossing. The area of the control hut is probably close to the site of Bukit Panjang Station, one of the stations on the original Singapore to Kranji Railway line. Bukit Panjang Station was also one of the main stops along the line after the 1932 Railway Deviation which gave us the grand station at Tanjong Pagar and the two black truss bridges we see in the area. I am not sure when the station stopped functioning or was demolished – but perhaps like the Phoenix that the nearby Phoenix Estate and LRT station is named after, a new Bukit Panjang Station is slowly – but surely, rising out of its ashes nearby – part of the new railway line – the Downtown MRT line, which for a large part, will run parallel to the original railway line which ran from Kranji down via Newton to the original terminal at Tank Road.

The KTM control hut at on the other side of the level crossing.

A scene reminiscent perhaps of the countryside of old.

The KTM staff was kind enough to allow the use of the outhouse ....

The new railway is being built to replace the old ... the Downtown Line is being constructed parallel to the old railway line.

Deciding that it was too dangerous to walk physically along the tracks, not just because of the dangers of walking along or close to the railway track, but also in anticipation of the fury that, the god of thunder, Thor, seemed to want to unleash, we made our southward trek first along Upper Bukit Timah Road. This took us past the Murugan Hill Temple, a relatively recent addition to the area, having moved to its current location in 1992 from its original home in Sungei Tengah where it could trace its history back to a shrine that was put up in 1962. In getting there, we had also walked past a structure that is reminiscent of the very first overhead bridges in Singapore – constructed of steel with open sides – a temporary overhead bridge erected across Upper Bukit Timah Road that has perhaps been recycled from a decommissioned first or second generation overhead bridge.

An overhead bridge reminiscent of the first overhead bridges in Singapore.

The new Murugan Hill Temple which shifted to the Bukit Panjang area from its original home in Sungei Tengah in 1992.

Continuing further south, we had a quick look at the second level crossing in the area – a smaller one with a delightful old wooden gate, and some of the abandoned buildings around before the sheets of rain that accompanied Thor’s fury came down forcing us to take what little shelter the KTM buildings in the area had offered. After a while, with the rain not showing any signs of abating, we decided to cross the road to wait the rain out at a coffee shop and it was probably an hour before we were able to continue with our walk.

A scene from the "countryside" enroute to the level crossing at Gombak Drive.

Parts of Upper Bukit Timah Road still have that old world feel.

More of the old world feel ...

 


The railway building near the level crossing at Gombak Drive where we took shelter from the storm.

Looking north from the level crossing at Gombak Drive.

Further along the route, we walked past the Boys Town complex … this was the destination that, as boys growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, many feared they would end up in for misbehaving – or so many of our parents then had us believe. It was probably a huge misconception that existed then that Boys Town was a correctional facility and a home for delinquent boys – although it did actually house a boys home, as well as a vocational school which did also take in troubled boys as well as orphans, with a view to providing a home as well as an education. The home and vocational school was started in 1948 by the Gabrielite Brothers, a Catholic Missionary group, as the St. Joseph’s Trade School before being renamed as “Boys Town”.

The once feared Boys Town complex ...

Further along the way, we decided to explore the Stations of the Cross at St. Joseph’s Church – probably one of the last remaining village Catholic churches in Singapore – with a cemetery in its yard. The cemetery had once been a shortcut for me – getting from the church to a friend’s house up Chestnut Drive. Back then, the church side of Chestnut Drive had been lined with single storey wooden houses that were rented from the church who owned much of the land around Chestnut Drive. What is unique about the Stations of the Cross is that this is the only Catholic church in Singapore where the stations are located outside the church. The church building in itself is also rather unique – featuring a 33 metre tall pagoda like roof structure that rises above the area rather prominently. The building was completed in 1964 and consecrated by the then Archibishop of Malacca-Singapore, Michael Olcomendy on August 30, 1964, and built to cater for the growing congregation on the site of a previous building that had been built some 110 years prior to that.

The St. Joseph's Church building built in 1964 on Upper Bukit Timah Road features a pagoda style roof that rises some 33 metres.

The original St. Joseph's Church, built 110 years before the structure we see today (source: St. Joseph's Church website http://www.stjoseph-bt.org.sg/St_Joseph_Website/About_Us.html).

The outdoor Stations of the Cross - unique to St. Joseph's Church in Singapore.

Chestnut Drive as it appears today. It used to be lined with houses that were rented from the church.

There are probably not many who know this, but Chestnut Drive was where a temporary Magistrate’s Court was set up in 1967 in the newly built school building that became the Chestnut Drive School. The next part of the walk continued southwards towards the area where the first of the two black truss bridges in the area, as well as the girder bridge that straddles Hillview Road are … which I will continue with in another post.








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