Escape from Tanglin Barracks

16 04 2021

Tanglin Village or Dempsey Hill, a spacious and joyous site on the fringes of Singapore’s city centre, has a history that goes back more than a hundred and fifty years. Established as Singapore’s first purpose-built military camp, Tanglin Barracks, it is a place with stories abound. There are quite a few that I find especially intriguing, including one which has as its leading protagonist a rather flamboyant German mariner by the name of Julius Lauterbach, whose exploits on and off the high seas make for quite an interestIng read.

Tanglin Village today

Lauterbach’s chapter in Tanglin’s history is set against the backdrop of the First World War, a conflict which pitted his native Germany against Singapore’s colonial master, Great Britain. Almost overnight, friends found themselves on opposing sides and even if the war may have been raging far from Singapore’s shores, its fallout extended to the island in one way or another. On 24 October 1914, some three months into the conflict, nationals of Germany and Austria in Singapore received an order to report to the P&O Wharf. There were a number of prominent members of the mercantile community amongst the group. Initially interned on St John’s Island, the group would be moved into Tanglin Barracks‘ vacant blocks and were joined by internees who had been detained in Malaya.

St. John’s Island.

The choice of Tanglin Barracks as a place of internment was only possible as the British infantry units who would have normally be quartered at the barracks were most — in Europe. This arrangement however, would leave Singapore with threadbare defences, although there seemed to be little of concern with the main threat to the island’s security having been ascertained as internal rather than external. The responsibility for maintaining order was placed squarely on the shoulders of the officers and men of a British Indian Army infantry regiment — the 5th Light Infantry, which was quartered at Alexandra Barracks.

The former Gillman Barrack’s officers’ mess – close to the site where the first shot was fired to signal the start of the mutiny.

At Tanglin Barracks, a total of about 250 civilians were held, accommodated in a cluster of barrack buildings which had been ‘wired in’ with scaffolding used as watch towers. The 5th Light Infantry provided the camp’s security details together with a handful of men from the volunteer units. Within the confines of the camp boundary was also a ‘small bungalow’ that was converted for use as a hospital for internees. Tanglin Barracks’ Teutonic flavour was also to be enhanced by a group of about sixty Prisoners of War (POWs) from the German naval cruiser, SMS Emden, which brought the total number of internees at the camp to 309. The POWs were housed separately within the confines of the camp in a barrack block that acquired the name ‘Emden Villa’.

The cricket field and P-Block.

The Emden must have been quite well known in Singapore, having gained notoriety for the damage and disruption to Allied shipping in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea that it had inflicted in the early months of the war. Among the cruiser’s exploits was a daring raid on Penang harbour during which two ships — a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer — were sunk. The Emden, as did many naval vessels on both sides, also employed tactics that could be compared to pirate ships in sending boarding parties to storm merchant ships, either to scuttle them, or if the cargo was valuable enough, to commandeer these vessels as a ‘prize’. The men of the Emden who had found their way to Tanglin were in fact members of ‘prize crews’ of three ships that were recaptured by the Allies, the most senior of whom was Reserve Lieutenant Julius Lauterbach. Lauterbach was taken along with the prize crew of the collier, Exford, which was carrying a cargo of 6000 tons of coal when it was recaptured by the armed auxiliary cruiser, HMS Empress of Japan, off Sumatra on 11 December 1914.

Postcard, S.M.S. Emden, circa 1914, Germany, maker unknown. Te Papa (GH002110)

Lauterbach was already well known in many circles in Singapore in his days as a master mariner who was based at the port of Tsingtao (Qingdao), which Germany held as a concession port from 1898 to 1914. He had been an established fixture on the merchant marine scene and many among the civilian internees had made the passage on ships that Lauterbach had captained. His arrival at Tanglin was said to have been greeted with a loud cheer because of his fame. Being the highest ranking officer among the POWs, Lauterbach was afforded with a degree of respect by his captors, who put him in a three-room house on his own within the camp perimeter and close to the Emden Villa.

Julius Lauterbach at Tanglin

As soon as Leuterbach arrived in Tanglin, he set out plotting an escape and after having observed security arrangements at the camp, he determined that a tunnel would best serve his purpose. On 27 January 1915, with help from a group of trusted men he started on his dig right under the noses of the camp guards, under the guise of doing gardening. It could also have been that the members of 5th Light Infantry who were guarding the camp and who were free to interact with the internees, was under Lauterbach’s influence. Lauterbach was also able to have the company of a French-Chinese Eurasian admirer during his internment, albeit with a locked gate in between them. The young lady, according to a boast that Lauterbach made, had come to Singapore to see to his wellbeing having made her way from her native Shanghai once she got wind of his plight and was also able to hand information such as maps to him to aid in his intended escape.

A very special ward.

Mutiny

All this while, unhappiness was fermenting (some say fermented by Lauterbach and company) among members of the 5th Light Infantry. In January 1915, a decision was made to deploy the 5th to Hong Kong. The destination was however not communicated to the troops. There were rumours abound that the destination was not East, but West in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). With it large Muslim contingent, many among the rank and file were incensed by the prospect of having to fight fellow Muslims. In a move to quell the growing sense of unease, the transfer was brought forward. With the 5th due to be sent out on 16 February 1915 — the day after the three day Chinese New Year holiday weekend, the unit stood down from its duties at Tanglin on 14 February 1915 and camp security was left in the hands of one British and three native officers and twelve men of the Johore Military Forces, who were without ammunition, and a deployment of volunteers.

Remembering the victims of the Mutiny – a plaque at the Victoria Concert Hall.

The growing sense of unhappiness and the impending move to what was rumoured to be Mesopotamia provoked members of the 5th Light Infantry into action and just after 3 pm on the afternoon of 15 February 1915, members of the regiment’s Right Wing — numbering just over 400 men, mutinied (infantry regiments were then split into two wings, each with four companies). A group of about eighty rebels headed to Tanglin, intent on freeing German prisoners in the hope that they would lend support to the rebellion. At 3.45 pm, the mutineers reached Tanglin with a group among the eighty laying siege to Tanglin Military Hospital and firing into its administration building. In spite of coming under fire, Staff Sergeant Vickers, RAMC, managed to make his way to the medical officers bungalow some 300 yards away (270 metres). Finding the Medical Officer out, he was able to raise the alarm to the police, Fort Canning and a Dr Fowlie. A group of fifteen men reached the POW camp about half an hour later around 4.15 pm and also fired on the guards. The lock to the gate was then blown up. In the chaos of the attack, four officers were killed along with ten men. One German prisoner was also fatally wounded.

Buildings of the former Tanglin Military Hospital.

An eyewitness, Corporal J F Bray, RAMC, who was stationed at the prisoner hospital recalled being roused by the firing. German prisoners then told him that a mutiny had broken out. He then rushed to the POW hospital’s dispensary to get dressings in order to attend to the wounded, one of whom was a prisoner in W-Block (now Block 17). Inside W-Block, Bray witnessed six to seven members of the 5th freeing German prisoners before moving them into Y-Block (Block 26). Bray also witnessed the leader of the mutineers shaking hands with the German prisoners. Unsuccessful in their attempts to enlist the help of the Germans, the mutineers then left, promising to return with arms and ammunition. The bulk of the German prisoners, including Lauterbach, had in fact refused to take up arms; some went on to help in attending to the wounded, and transport the more seriously hurt to Tanglin Military Hospital.

Block 17 – a block that many who served National Service in the army will remember as the Enlistment Centre

Lauterbach’s Epic Escape

In the commotion of the disturbance at Tanglin, Lauterbach made a final push to finish the tunnel that he had been working on. Determined to get away unnoticed, he decided against walking out the open camp gate and use the tunnel he had worked on. Selecting a handful of prisoners to go with him for their ability to speak English made the escape as the darkness fell, having to making a vault over a final set of barbed-wire that lay beyond the tunnel exit. Leaving at around 8pm, the group decided that the main roads were to be avoided and took a route through grass, lallang and rubber plantation — a decision that got their guide and themselves lost. With some further help obtained through a handsome bribe, the group eventually found their way to the coast, some five hours after leaving Tanglin. There the scene was set for a voyage to Karimun. The long twelve hours that it would take them to get to the islands, which lay on the neutral Dutch side of the Melaka Strait, would only be the first leg of what was to become an epic journey of escape. The journey was to involve trudging through the jungles of Sumatra, a journey from Padang to Batavia (Jakarta) to Surabaya, a passage on a Dutch steamer to the Celebes (Sulawesi), a five day passage across the Celebes Sea to Mindanao in a leaking boat that required water to be bailed out by hand continuously, a voyage disguised as a Dutchman from Manila to China’s north coast where he made his way down to Shanghai. From Shanghai, he would head east to Japan, then Hawaii, and San Francisco from where he boarded a train for New York. At Hoboken — across the Hudson from Manhattan, Lauterbach signed on to a Oslo bound Danish ship as a Swedish stoke. Making landfall in Europe, he made his way to Copenhagen before finding himself on German soil on 10 October 1915 — some eight months after his escape from Singapore and ten months after his capture onboard the Exford.





The Class VIII Government quarters at Haig Road

26 10 2019

Built as government housing by the Public Works Department (PWD) in 1951, the cluster of 42 simple two-storey houses off Haig Road in the news this week, are representative of the period of austerity they were built in. Originally 48 units, arranged in 8 rows of 6 (1 of which has since made way for a road project), their design was a departure from the housing that the government had provided its officers with prior to that. Given a “Class VIII” designation, the two-bedroom units housed junior officers of various departments, including Broadcasting, Civil Aviation, Education, Postal and Telecoms. The quarters line streets named after common trees, Tembusu, Gajus (cashew), Binjai (a type of mango), and Beringin (weeping fig).  

A 1951 PWD Photograph.

The construction of the quarters was part of a PWD effort that also saw the erection of three schools over a 12 ha. site. The unique quality of the development was reported by the Singapore Free Press, who in a June 1951 article, made the observation that “there would be nothing like this when it is completed”. The schools that came up with the housing were two primary schools Haig Boys’ School, Haig Girls’ School, and a secondary school, Tanjong Katong Girls ‘s School.


The houses today

The houses have been rented out by the State on short term (2-year) tenancy agreements through managing agent Knight Frank, with 34 units currently tenanted. Despite the short term nature of the arrangements and the age of the properties, the very attractive rents (I have been advised that the median rate is $2700/- per month for the 100 square metre built-up area units) make the houses an appealing proposition. A walk around the neighbourhood will reveal the varied tenant mix this has attracted, as well as the condition that some of the houses are in. Feedback has been given by some tenants on leaking roofs and choked toilets, pipes and drains.

The southern section of Jalan Tembusu.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), who maintains the property on behalf of the State, will be carrying out extensive repair and upgrading works from January 2021. This will address the issues raised and ensure that the properties are in good condition for the longer term and will include electrical, plumbing and roof works. SLA has been engaging tenants individually since April 2019 on this, and has permitted an extension to existing tenancy arrangements to the end of 2020. The works are expected to be completed at the end of 2021 and existing tenants who are interested in returning once the works are completed will be able to register their interest to rent the property, which will be let out at prevailing market rates.

Part of the demolished row at the northern section of Jalan Tembusu.

 

One of the units that is in a relatively better condition.

 

The southern section of Jalan Tembusu – its proximity to East Coast Road and its shops and eating places also makes the houses an attractive choice for short term rental.

 

The meeting of Haig Road and the southern section of Jalan Tembusu.

 

The house have both front yards …

… and back yards that allow tenants to grow fruit tree and daily use items.

 

One of the since demolished units – seen in 2018.

 

Another unit from the northern section of Jalan Tembusu. The units feature living and dining spaces at ground level and two bedrooms on the upper level. Access is provided by a well-lit staircase arranged in the extended part of the house.

 

A vacant unit in relatively good condition.

There are signs of water seepage in quite a few of the units.

Ventilation openings – an essential part of the tropical architecture of old – is very much in evidence.


A look around the unit that is probably in the worst condition among the 42

The inside of a unit that will require a quite a lot of work to be done on it.

There seems a fair bit of water seepage from the roof of this unit – as is evident in the condition of the ceiling boards.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 





The Jacksons of Sembawang

30 07 2019

Sembawang is one of just a few places in Singapore in which still holds the charm of a bygone era. The modern world, dominated by the sea of concrete is however, knocking increasing at its door; its latest convert being the the wonderful settings that lent context to (old) Admiralty House. The National Monument, built as the home of Commander of the huge British naval base in 1940, has seen the isolation it was provided with taken away in the effort to provide residents in the area with a sports and community hub. Similarly threatened with modernisation is the area by the coast just east of Sembawang Park and once an area of idyllic seaside villages where the villages of the new world have started to take root. One project that quite thankfully bucks the trend is the recently announced dementia-care village at Gibraltar Crescent. Currently the subject of a URA tender exercise, the village will make use of existing structures inherited from the days of the naval base and (hopefully) preserve some of the environment that the structures now find themselves in – at least for a 30-year period following the award of the tender.

A window into the past.

A quiet area of seemingly typical colonial residences,  a closer examination of the buildings of Gibraltar Crescent will reveal that they are actually quite unique even if they bear quite a fair bit of resemblance to and have many of the features of the residences that have come to be described as “black and white houses”. With the exception of a building that served as the former Dockyard Theatre or the “Japanese Theatre”, the longer than typical structures are raised on concrete columns of a height sufficient to permit a person to walk comfortably underneath the floorboards. Wood is also the main material on the buildings and masonry seems to have been used quite sparingly and used, besides in the supporting columns, in wet areas and in the ground level service structures. Quite interesting because of the wood featured in the buildings’ exterior walls, the structures tended to look more black than white in the days of the naval base as black bituminous paints that weatherproofed the wood.

A view towards the former Dockyard Theatre – a uniquely built structure along Gibraltar Crescent. It is the only large building along the street that is not raised on columns.

There are quite good reasons for the features adopted in the buildings, which were among the first to be erected by the contractor for the naval base, Sir John Jackson & Co, for the purposes of housing its European staff. Known as The “Jacksons” for this reason, they were completed in mid-1929. Features found in other “black and whites”, such as the raised supports, generous verandahs and openings, pitched roofs and wooden floorboards, kept the interiors cool, airy and bright. Although now among the oldest “permanent” residences in the former naval base, as well as being the first to have been purpose built, the buildings were intended as quasi-permanent residences and hence the extensive use of wood.

The Jacksons are raised on concrete supports and feature wooden walls except in the service areas and wet spaces.

Two “Jacksons” under construction in April 1929 (online at National Archives of Singapore).

It is also interesting to note how the various residences, while similar in appearance, have been laid out in what seems to be two distinct arrangements. One type seems to have had more of a layout with more common spaces and was perhaps used to house the lower ranking staff. This design has a centrally arranged service area and besides the access staircases at the back has two arranged at each end in the buildings’ front. The other design seems to have been subdivided into individual units, each with a service area and with what appears to have been an access staircase at both the front and the back.

A unit with a layout that lends itself to a more dorm-like use.

A Jackson which would have been subdivided into three individual units – each with its own service area.

Reports relating to the construction of the base, point to it being one of the largest engineering projects in the world at the time. The contractor employed a daily average of 3,000 coolies and had at least 30 European staff at any one point supervising through the 8 year period (from 1928 to 1936) over which the main contract was executed. The reports point to some 23 residences were built for European staff, along with numerous coolie lines. The residences were eventually handed over the the Admiralty and several among the 23 survived including the structures that are now the subject of the tender survived the war.

The front of one of the Jacksons with projections that would have served as staircase landings.

An exception may have been the Dockyard Theatre, the site of which, based on older maps seems to have been occupied by another of the “Jacksons”. Thought to have been constructed during the occupation – hence the references to it as the “Japanese Theatre” – the multi-use hall is built on a ground-level platform of concrete and is also built primarily of wood. The theatre was used as a to hold live performances including pantomimes and performances by the Naval Base Singers, as well as serving as a hall in which badminton was played in the period after the war until the British pull-out in 1971.

One of two access staircases at the rear in the first type of residence.

The verandah of the second type with privacy screens at what would have been the boundaries of the individual units.

Inside one of the residences.

Inside one of the residences.

Inside one of the residences. 


News related to the tender for the dementia care village:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





A look at the One Historical Map app

6 12 2015

I had a little go at the One Historical Map app that was launched by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) on Friday. The app, while not by any means perfect, is a useful tool – especially for those like me who are in the habit of pouring over old maps in trying to connect old Singapore with the greatly altered Singapore of today.

The One Historical Map app is accessible via the Web Portal (www.oneHmap.sg) or via a Mobile App now available on Android.

The One Historical Map app at the media launch. It is accessible via the Web Portal (www.oneHmap.sg) or via a Mobile App now available on Android.

The currently focus of the app is with the developments since independence and it offers access to five old editions of street maps from 1966, 1975, 1984, 1995 and 2007, along with that of the current year, 2015. Not only is there an ability to refer to these maps – already available on the SLA’s very handy Singapore Historical Map and the OneMap portals, there is also the ability to lay them side-by-side for comparison. This certainly is a powerful tool – a natural progression perhaps from the two wonderful mapping initiatives SLA has undertaken, that will allow the user to view how an area has changed over the years and also provides a very quick tool to determine locations of former landmarks. One thing that would be nice as a future feature is the capability to overlay maps and also incorporate maps from from the National Archives of Singapore.

An added feature of the app is that it allows users to upload and geo-tag personal photographs to it. The app does already come with some 300 images pre-loaded, 200 of which were curated by the National Heritage Board (NHB) who SLA has partnered with in bringing the app to the public this SG50 year. The remaining 100 or so photographs were contributed by SLA’s supporters and geo-historical enthusiasts. One concern that the “crowd-sourcing” of photographs does raise is the difficulty in ensuring the complete accuracy of the information being uploaded to the app, although the SLA has stressed that the intention to do this is more to allow the app to serve as a repository of memories.

SLA is looking at improving the app and as such welcomes feedback on it. While it currently is available only for Android mobile platforms, users on other platforms have access to it via the app’s web portal at www.oneHmap.sg.


Some examples of what the app offers:

In search of old Somapah. The ability to compare maps side-by-side on the go is especially useful. Here we can see how the area around the once bustling Somapah Village has changed, how Somapah Road has since been re-aligned and pin-point the locations of landmarks in the area such as Red Swastika School.

The ability to compare maps side-by-side on the go is especially useful. Here we can see how the area around the once bustling Somapah Village has changed, how Somapah Road has since been re-aligned and pin-point the locations of landmarks in the area such as Red Swastika School.

Laying old and current maps side-by-side provides the ability to see changes to the coastline and in this case where the red cliffs at Tanah Merah Besar (where Tanah Merah Besar Road met Wing Loong Road) now are - buried under Changi Airport.

Laying old and current maps side-by-side provides the ability to see changes to the coastline and in this case where the red cliffs at Tanah Merah Besar (where Tanah Merah Besar Road met Wing Loong Road) now are – buried under Changi Airport.

The search for the lost Mata Ikan village leads to Changi South Avenue 2.

The search for the lost Mata Ikan village leads to Changi South Avenue 2.

Finding where old Tuas Village now is.

Finding where old Tuas Village now is.

The app allows users to upload and geo-tage photographs and provide short descriptions.

The app allows users to upload and geo-tage photographs and provide short descriptions.

Example of an uploaded geo-tagged photograph.

Example of an uploaded geo-tagged photograph.


 





The fire station at the 8th mile

9 06 2015

One of those things almost every young boy dreams of becoming is a fireman. I had myself harboured ambitions of becoming one at different points during my childhood; the inspiration coming from picture books and what I must have caught on the television and perhaps from the constant reminder I had in the form of the rather eye-catching Alexandra Fire Station, which was close to where I lived in Queenstown.

The former Bukit Timah Fire Station, a landmark in my many road journeys.

The fire station at the 8MS, Bukit Timah Fire Station, a landmark in my many road journeys and a fire station of old marked by a distinctive hose-drying tower.

Sadly, that station is long gone. The monster of a building that replaced it, besides housing a fire station, also has a police centre operating from it. Without the distinctive hose-drying tower and red doors, the new building, unlike the stations of old, is no longer one to fuel the aspirations of childhood, and certainly not one in which I am able to reconnect with days that I often wish to return to.

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That connection to my youthful days can fortunately be found in several other fire stations of old. Of these, the pretty red and white Central Fire Station, Singapore’s oldest and now a National Monument is still in operation. That, in the days of my childhood, loomed large at the far end of a street now lost, Hock Lam Street, along which I often found comfort in a bowl of its famous beef ball soup.

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Two others that I regularly set my eyes upon, while still around, are no longer operational. One is the red brick former Serangoon or Kolam Ayer Fire Station, along Upper Serangoon Road. Now reassembled, having been moved due to the construction of a road where it had stood, the station was one that was close to my second home in Toa Payoh.

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The other was Bukit Timah Fire Station. Sited at the 8th milestone Bukit Timah, it was close to the giant Green Spot bottle that stood tall at the Amoy Canning Factory (see: a photograph of the Green Spot bottle  on James Tann’s wonderful Princess Elizabeth Estate blog) and was at the foot of Singapore’s highest hill. The station stood out as a landmark in the many road journeys of my childhood. The pair (the station and the giant replica bottle) seemed then to mark the edge of the urban world and on the long drives to the desolate north and the wild west, the sight of them would represent the start of the adventure on the outward journey, and would signal the return to civilisation on the journey home.

The former station, just after its closure (online at http://m5.i.pbase.com/u41/lhlim/upload/22296575.DSCF0029_02.jpg).

The former Bukit Timah Fire Station has a mention in the National Heritage Board’s Bukit Timah Heritage Trail booklet. This tells us that it was in 1956, the fourth fire station to be built; a fact that I assume is in relation to the stations that were built for the Singapore Fire Brigade, coming after Central Fire Station and the sub-stations at Geylang and Alexandra. Kolam Ayer (Serangoon), built for the volunteer Auxiliary Fire Service in 1954 would have already been standing at the time. That only came under the Singapore Fire Bridage in 1961, following the disbandment of the volunteer force. Another station that would have existed, was the Naval Base Fire Brigade’s Sembawang Fire Station. Built in the 1930s, the station’s building is now conserved.

Signs of very different times.

Signs of very different times.

Bukit Timah sub-station’s appearance, is perhaps one of the strongest clues to its vintage, its clean and understated elegance is typical of the 1950s Modernist style. One of the few adornments on its uncluttered façade, is a coat of arms. That of the Colony of Singapore, it is also is a telltale sign of when the station would have been commissioning – the coat of arms was in use during the days of the Crown Colony from 1948 to 1959.

The coat of arms of the Crown Colony.

The coat of arms of the Crown Colony.

The station is designed in the 1950s Modernist style.

The station is designed in the 1950s Modernist style.

The station’s grounds, also speak of the past. Besides a sign slowing us down to 20 miles per hour, there are many other signs of the times, the most noticeable of which would be the now recoloured low-rise apartment blocks. The blocks provide evidence of days when the various services provided for the accommodation needs of servicemen and their families as well as point to a period in our history when Singapore, even if administered by the colonial masters as a separate entity, was a part of the greater Malaya. It would have been common then to find men in service hailing not just from the Crown Colony but also from parts of the Federation. The seven three-storey blocks, each with six comfortably proportioned apartments, are in the company of a single storey house at the back, which would have been the residence of the station master.

The former firemen's quarters, seen in 2010.

The former firemen’s quarters, seen in 2010.

Some of the apartment blocks today.

Some of the apartment blocks today.

A view through a wall to the former station master's residence.

A view through a wall to the former station master’s residence.

Having been in operation for close to half a century, the station was to close its red doors for good in 2005 when a larger and modern replacement at Bukit Batok Road was built. Missing from the new station was the hose-drying tower that once seemed to be the defining feature of a fire station. The introduction of machines to handle tasks such as the drying of hoses meant that stations built from 1987, starting with the one in Woodlands, would take on a new appearance.

The ladder up the hose-drying tower.

The ladder up the hose-drying tower – something firemen are no longer required to climb.

The entrance to the hose-drying tower.

The entrance to the hose-drying tower.

One of several former stations still standing, only the buildings belonging to Bukit Timah have found interim uses. These were initially leased out by the State for three years in April 2008 to serve as a venue for corporate events, adventure camps, arts, education and sports.

A world recoloured.

A world recoloured.

Letter boxes where hoses were once hung.

Letter boxes where hoses were once hung.

Since then, the premises has seen a second master tenant leasing the property on a 2+2 year term, with whom it was relaunched as a lifestyle and education hub in 2012. Besides the take-up of units in the former quarters by businesses running enrichment activities aimed at the young, there is also a food and beverage outlet that now operates out of the station’s former garage.

The former station's red doors, seen in 2010.

The former station’s red doors, seen in 2010.

A F&B outlet now operates from the former garage.

A F&B outlet now operates from the former garage.

As of today, the buildings do not have conservation status. There is hope however for their future retention, even if the current edition of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Master Plan seems to suggest otherwise. A Request for Proposal (RFP) for a Concept Master Plan for the Rail Corridor initiated by the URA identifies the former station as one of four activity hubs for which shortlisted teams are required to submit a concept design in which the buildings are retained and “repurposed for uses that complement its function as a gateway into the Rail Corridor(see A new journey through Tanjong Pagar begins).

Now a enrichment hub, will it be a future gateway to the Rail Corridor?

Now a enrichment hub, will it be a future gateway to the Rail Corridor?

It would certainly be a cause for celebration should this happen. The station, as one of the last to survive from an era during which the area developed as a industrial corridor and as a prominent landmark, serves not just as a link to the area’s development and history, but also as a reminder of a Singapore we might otherwise be quick to forget.

The hose-drying tower and one of the blocks of the former quarters.

The hose-drying tower and one of the blocks of the former quarters.

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The beautiful campus at Hyderabad Road

19 03 2015

A good reason to visit the S P Jain School of Global Management’s campus at 10 Hyderabad Road, I am told, is the great naan and curries that the canteen there serves. Set in generous and lusciously green surroundings with two glorious old buildings from the 1930s, even if not for the naan, the school and its grounds are well worth a visit.

The Singapore campus of the S P Jain School of Global Management is surrounded by lush greenery,

The Singapore campus of the S P Jain School of Global Management is surrounded by lush greenery,

The S P Jain School of Global Management with a bust of its founder.

The S P Jain School of Global Management with a bust of its founder.

S P Jain’s Singapore campus, one of Asia’s top ranked business schools, lies on the fringe of Alexandra Park, an area with a distinctively colonial flavour, seen in the structures and in the street names. That is, except for Hyderabad Road. Curiously out of place next to Berkshire, Bury, and Cornwall, it is suggested that Hyderabad became so due to a connection it has with the Nizam of Hyderabad.

The canteen, where good naan is served.

The canteen, where good naan is served.

The Nizams, a line of princes that stretched back to the last days of Mughal India, held great wealth during their reign, all of which was to come to an abrupt end with the passing of the British Raj. The last Nizam, once labelled as the world’s wealthiest man, is said to have owned property along the road (see The Hindu, 10 April 2007), and so the road was named after the then princely state1.

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Whatever the case may have been, the links the road has with the subcontinent has now been reaffirmed with the Mumbai based business school having established one of its three international campuses there in 2007. The school, which came to Singapore at the invitation of the Singapore government, runs both graduate and undergraduate programmes and students enrolled in its MBA courses get to spend a term at its beautiful Singapore campus and a term each at its two other campuses in Sydney and Dubai.

A portal for learning that is also a portal into the past.

A portal for learning that is also a portal into the past.

Having taken over the tennancy for the premises from the Singapore Land Authority in 2006, the school set off by refurbishing the buildings for its use. The work also involved restoration on the two heritage buildings. Having been left vacant since 1998 when its previous occupants, the Institute of Dental Health (IDH), moved out, the structures needed quite a fair bit of effort to bring them back to their original glory.

The condition of the heritage building before S P Jain refurbished it (photographs courtesy of S P Jain School of Global Business.

The condition of the heritage building before S P Jain refurbished it (photographs courtesy of S P Jain School of Global Management).

The current boundaries of the property would probably have been defined in the early 1970s when the Ministry of Health (MOH) took over. It housed the Dental Health Education Unit in 1973 and then the IDH, into which the Dental Education Unit would be incorporated into. The setting up of the IDH in 1975 was to allow for the centralisation of training for dental therapists, nurses, dental assistants and technicians, and in doing so, also provided outpatient dental health facilities. A six-storey third building on the grounds was constructed in 1976 for this purpose, for which two older buildings were demolished. This new annex is the same building that the business school now uses as a learning centre (where it holds its classes) as well as a hostel.

The IDH gate still graces one of the exits that is now used as a service gate.

The IDH gate still keeps one of the exits that is now used as a service gate, closed.

At its opening in 1977, the annex housed administrative offices, demonstration surgeries, X-Ray rooms, dispensaries, laboratories, sterilising rooms, teaching facilities, as well as two dental surgery wings. It also played host to the Ministry of Health (MOH), when that had to be moved there temporarily in 1978 after a fire had damaged the building MOH was using in Palmer Road.

The 1977 annex, seen from the corridors of the heritage buildings.

The 1977 annex, seen from the corridors of the heritage buildings.

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It is the two older buildings that have more of a story. The two, one probably an annex of the other, provide the clearest hint of what the grounds were before the MOH took over. Visually, they can very quickly be identified as the remnants of the British military build-up in the Far East that took place between the wars, the height of which was in the 1930s. The build-up was part of a strategy of deterrence the British adopted against what was seen to be an increasingly aggressive Japan. This saw airbases and a naval base established on the island with buildings with identical appearances, replicated in the several other barracks established during the era across the island.

The heritage buildings are recognisable as structures put up by the British military.

The heritage buildings are recognisable as structures put up by the British military.

The two buildings, built in 1935, feature a Classical style adapted for the tropics. Featuring large windows or doors and provided with generous ventilation openings and corridors, the rooms buildings were light and airy, keeping their occupants cool in the oppressive tropical heat. The two-storey design, is one seen in at least two other buildings from the era we still see, each built as an Officers’ Mess. One, the former Tanglin Barracks Officers’ Mess, is now used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Another is the former Officers’ Mess of Selarang Barracks, now Selarang Camp. This is still in active military service and is now the home of the army’s 9th Division HQ.

A front to back corridor in the middle of the main heritage building - very much the same as a similarly designed building at Selarang Camp.

A front to back corridor in the middle of the main heritage building – very much the same as a similarly designed building at Selarang Camp.

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The buildings at Hyderabad Road, were built to be used as the Officers’ Mess for Gillman Barracks, a large part of which was on the opposite side of Alexandra Road. Together with other military propetry, they were handed over to the Singapore government when the pull out of British forces was completed in 1971. Initial thoughts on the reuse of these two structure included their conversion for use a motel or a rest house – something that perhaps one of the buildings is now partly used as.

The upper corridors where rooms for visiting faculty are laid out.

The upper corridors where rooms for visiting faculty are laid out.

A visiting faculty room.

A visiting faculty room.

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The transformation of the buildings by S P Jain has seen twenty very comfortable rooms on the upper level of the main heritage building fitted out so that visiting faculty could be put up on the premises. Along with this, a beautifully decorated lounge and banquet hall has been provided on the lower level. The buildings also see rooms fitted out for staff as well as students such as administrative offices, faculty offices, discussion rooms, a music room, a really cool chill-out lounge and a library, which is on the upper level of the smaller building.

The music room.

The music room.

The Banquet Hall.

The Banquet Hall.

The Lounge.

The Lounge.

The Library.

The Library.

Beautifully bright office space created by closing the arches along the corridor of the smaller building with glass.

Beautifully bright office space created by closing the arches along the corridor of the smaller building with glass.

Having visited the campus, I must say it is the nicest belonging to an institution of higher learning that I have come across in Singapore. The grounds and its buildings, is a perfect fit with the school, providing an environment that is well-suited to learning that seems far away from the urban word – an wonderful example of how old places and buildings that have lost their original purpose can be retained and made relevant to a world that would rather have them forgotten.

Discussion room.

Discussion room.

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The greenery that the school's campus is set in.

The greenery that the school’s campus is set in.

What I am told are mounds that hide underground bunkers that were used for storage.

On the grounds: what I am told are mounds that hide underground bunkers that were used for storage.


Notes:
The probable origins of the road’s name would be the Russell’s Infantry’s 95th Battalion, who were stationed at Alexandra Barracks from 1905 to 1908. The British Indian Army unit traced its origins to one of two Russell Brigade regiments raised in 1813 by Sir Henry Russell – the British Resident of Hyderabad for the Nizam of Hyderabad’s Army.   Besides Hyderabad Road, a Russells Road can also be found in the area – all of which was once part of Alexandra Barracks.






Mount Washington, an old world restored

17 02 2015

It will probably come as no surprise the elevated and lush green surroundings provided by the south facing slopes of Singapore’s southern ridges, with the magnificent views of the coastline it offers, plays host to several palatial residences of an old and forgotten Singapore. One that has seen some of its lost glory recently restored, is a majestic two-storey house perched on Telok Blangah Hill, Alkaff Mansion. Once a weekend escape belonging to the very prominent Alkaff family, the mansion stands today as reminder of a world we long have left behind.

The Alkaff Mansion, restored to its former glory.

The Alkaff Mansion, restored to its former glory.

The mansion, referred to as “merely one of the Alkaff family’s weekend bungalows” and situated “at the end of a long road winding from Pasir Panjang Road through the country”, is described in an article in the 16 September 1934 edition of The Straits Times:

It commands a unique view of the coast, the city and indeed, almost the entire island … Viewed from the bottom of a steep drive leading through the well-kept grounds to the foot of a long flight of stone steps, Mount Washington looks large. It has a broad façade and at each end are two turrets. On the ground floor, a verandah leads to a long narrow dining room. Behind the dining room are the servants’ quarters. On the second floor is another verandah, another long room and behind it one large and two small bedrooms … 

It is not very liberally furnished but the verandah on the first floor is a most refreshing retreat, armchairs and settees of teak having blue tapestry fittings. There are many gilt-framed photographs on easels in the house, also many heavy gilt and Venetian mirrors …

With its semi-circular white stone balustrade at the top of the bank on which it is built, its stately firs and its view, it is a most tempting place to live.

Alkaff house seen in its heyday in the 1920s (National Archives of Singapore online catalogue).

Standing on the terrace where the house stands today, it would not be difficult to imagine how grand appearance it might have appeared at the time of the article, when it was known as Mount Washington – the name the hill also seemed at some point in time to have been referred to. The article also makes mention of a garden party the Alkaffs hosted in June of that year. The party, which had over 400 guests on Mount Washington’s grounds, was held to celebrate the appointment as a Justice of the Peace, of the Alkaffs’ General Manager, Haji Shaikh Yahya bin Ahmad Afifi.

The staircase leading up to the terrace.

The staircase leading up to the terrace.

While there have several suggestions that property had so been named due to the close relations the Alkaffs had with the American community, it does seem that its had been called Mount Washington even before Syed Abdulrahman Alkaff purchased the property for $32,000 in 1916 (see “Property Sale“, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 21 June 1916, Page 12). Advertisements placed in the local press show that a mortgagee had made several attempts since the end of 1913 to dispose of Mount Washington, several years before it was purchased by Syed Abdulrahman Alkaff.

A newspaper advertisement for the sale of Mount Washington in 1916.

A newspaper advertisement for the sale of Mount Washington in 1916.

Whether it was from the property, the grounds of which was “planted with rubber trees and also coconut trees”, that the name of hill would be derived from, is also a source of debate. Previously known as Bukit Jagoh, there are several references made to the hill as Mount Washington in newspaper reports that go back to 1908.

A view of the building's side.

A view of the building’s side.

The mansion, as is laid out today, is thought to originate to 1926 and since its heydays in the 1920s and 1930s has experienced a mixed bag of fortunes, having been abandoned after the war. It was to see use again in 1970  when it served as the headquarters of the World Buddhist Society. In 1984, the society had to vacate the premises when it was acquired for an extension to Mount Faber Park and it was only at the end of the 1980s that some of its former majesty was to be restored, when it was converted into a restaurant.

The former weekend residence of the Alkaffs is now a fine-dining Italian restaurant.

The former weekend residence of the Alkaffs is now a fine-dining Italian restaurant.

Unfortunately, the restaurant closed in 2003 and it was left vacant until an exercise in 2010 by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) resulted in a lease being taken up by the LHN Group. The group has since restored the now conserved mansion (it was gazetted for conservation by the URA in 2005) beautifully and since the end of 2011, has operated a fine dining Italian restaurant on the premises – serving to reminds us of days of glory that might otherwise have been forgotten.

The former Alkaff house in the 1980s after the World Buddhist Society vacated it (National Archives of Singapore online catalogue).

The former Alkaff House used as the headquarters  of the World Buddhist Society.

The former Alkaff House was used as the headquarters of the World Buddhist Society (Radin Mas Heritage Guide).





New journeys on the Rail Corridor

23 12 2013

It has been over two years since we saw the last train make its journey through the 26 kilometres of the Rail Corridor from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. While we do know that the corridor will be preserved as a continuous and green corridor in its entirety, detailed plans have not as yet been developed on its future usage. Much of the corridor is today opened up as a space for the public to enjoy leisure and recreational activities and it is nice to see the corridor being used for events such as mass participation runs along stretches of it. One further use it will see in the interim is as an art space – the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in partnership with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the National Arts Council (NAC) has announced that an interim art space will be made available underneath the Commonwealth Avenue viaduct structure along the Rail Corridor from Jan to Dec 2014.

The (former) rail corridor embarks on a different journey.

The (former) rail corridor embarks on a different journey.

The sheltered space – two walls beneath the viaduct structure, is to be transformed into a canvas that will provide an opportunity for street artists to develop their skills in producing artwork and perhaps bring life to a part of the Rail Corridor. RSCLS, an urban art collective and a recipient of the NAC Seed Grant, has been engaged by the NAC to curate the art work at space from February 2014 onwards and we can look forward to Street Art jams that will provide opportunities for first-hand experiences with street art. 


More on the Rail Corridor, it as a Green Corridor and the public effort to preserve it:






The silence of a world forgotten

10 12 2012

I recently had a look in and around the former Bukit Timah Railway Station, lying quiet and abandoned while plans have not been made for its future use. The station, the last on the old Malayan Railway (known in more recent times as Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM), where the old key token exchange system was employed, was vacated on 1 July 2011 when the southern terminal of the railway was moved to Woodlands, and is now a conserved building.

A bridge that's now too far.

A bridge that’s now too far.

Bukit Timah Railway Station is now world that almost seems forgotten.

A world that almost seems forgotten.

The station is one that was built as part of the 1932 railway deviation. The deviation raised the line (hence the four bridges south of Bukit Panjang – one of which, a grider bridge over Hillview Road, has since been removed), as well as turned it towards Holland Road and the docks at Tanjong Pagar. Bukit Timah Railway Station in more recent times prior to its closure operated almost forgotten, seen mainly by passengers on passing trains, operated only in a signalling role. It was only as the closure of the railway line through Singapore loomed that more took notice of the station and the archaic practice of exchanging key tokens.

A window into the forgotten world.

A window into the forgotten world.

The ghost of station masters past?

The ghost of station masters past?

Together with the nearby truss bridge, one of two longer span railway bridges over the Bukit Timah area, which in some respects gives the area some of its character, the station lies today somewhat forgotten. The frenzy that accompanied the last days of the railway and the days that followed prior to the removal of the tracks has since died down – the post track removal turfing work intended to level the terrain and prevent collection of rain water has probably served to do the opposite and rendered the ground too soft and mushy to have a pleasant walk on).

The tracks along much of the rail corridor has since been removed with only short sections such as this one at the truss bridge at close to Bukit Timah Railway Station left behind.

The tracks along much of the rail corridor has since been removed with only short sections such as this one at the truss bridge at close to Bukit Timah Railway Station left behind.

The last half dozen or more than 30 levers that were once found in the signalling room of the station.

Through broken panes, the last half dozen of more than 30 levers that were once found in the signalling room of the station is seen.

While interest in the rail corridor seems to have faded with the passage of time, there may yet be motivation to pay a visit to it in the next month or so. A recent announcement (see Removal of structures along Rail Corridor dated 23 Nov 2012) made by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) points to the removal of unsound structures. These unsound structures include two of the signal huts at the former level crossings, one of which does have a memorial of sorts to the last day of railway operations and the last train. Besides the huts, some buildings that served as lodgings including the ones at Blackmore Drive, will also be demolished. Work on removal of the structures, based on the announcement, are to be completed by the end of January 2013 and this December probably offers the last opportunity to see the affected areas of the rail corridor as it might once have been.

A Brahminy Kite flies over the formaer railway station.

A Brahminy Kite flies over the formaer railway station.

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Bananas may be allowed to grow on State Land after all

15 05 2012

Back in March this year, several illegal occupants of plots of former KTM land along the old Jurong Line along Sungei Ulu Pandan (just north of the Clementi Avenue 4) received notices of eviction from the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) (see Let the bananas grow on State Land). SLA had on acting on complaints made by residents in the area on the nuisance and potential fire hazard caused by the burning of branches and leaves by the occupants, found that the occupants had fenced up plots of State Land for private use, as well as erected make-shift structures that included an outdoor toilet. Stagnant water collected on the plots of land also raise a concern of mosquito breeding. All this made it necessary to evict the illegal occupants.

The farms that received eviction orders are along a stretch of the former Jurong Rail Corridor which has been disused since the 1990s and returned to the State by the railway operator KTM.

While the reasons cited by SLA were not in dispute, several of the individuals occupying the land did express hope that they would be allowed to continue, seeking the help of the Member of Parliament representing the area Ms Sim Ann, who also happens to be the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Law the SLA is under. A positive development that seemed to come out of this was that while in the past very limited discussion would have been possible, discussions conducted with the SLA through Ms Sim Ann seemed to be encouraging with several options explored to allow the use of the land for regulated farming that would benefit the wider community which would involve the granting of Temporary Occupancy Licenses.

Possible location of a 50 x 25 metre plot of land which will be divided to smaller plots which occupants will pay a nominal fee annually for use (click to enlarge).

Based on news that has filtered through this afternoon, it does seem that a somewhat positive outcome has emerged out of the discussion. While it does not seem to be entirely what the occupants had hoped for, it appears that a certain level of farming activities will be tolerated in the area on a 50 by 25 metre plot of land (see map) that will be divided into 30 parcels each measuring 8 by 4 metres for which a nominal annual fee for usage will be charged. The parcels would also be provided with potable water for their use. This would mean that the occupants of the farms in the area would be required to vacate the plots they occupy and move into the designated area – which I understand the majority are in support of as it would allow them to continue with their gardening activities.





Let the bananas grow on State Land

14 03 2012

There has been a fair bit of news on the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) eviction of farmers occupying land along Sungei Ulu Pandan just north of the Clementi Avenue 4 area. The issue first came to light when an impassioned letter, written by the son of one of the farmers was sent to SLA on 7 March to appeal the eviction, which was followed by a Straits Time report “Group told to clear out ‘farm’ on state land” published on 10 Mar 2012. The SLA has since clarified their position, stating the reasons behind the eviction of the farmers who have for several years illegally occupied what is State Land.

Vegetable plots along a former rail corridor. An eviction notice has been posted on each of the farms occupying what is State Land along Sungei Ulu Pandan.

The land in question lies along the Jurong Rail Corridor. The rail corridor was built in the mid 1960s to serve Jurong Industrial Estate and has been disused since the mid 1990s – after which the land was returned to the State by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM). The writer of the letter, had written of what the farm had meant to his 71-year-old father who tended to it, which provided “much joy, personal well-being and an avenue for physical activity”. He also added that the space had also allowed his children an education beyond what the classrooms are able to provide.

The farms being evicted are along a stretch of the former Jurong Rail Corridor which has been disused since the 1990s and returned to the State by the railway operator KTM.

The SLA in exercising its right to evict the farmers – not least for the illegal occupation of State land, also cited several reasons beyond illegal occupation. These include the fencing up of the parcels of land involved, the erection of make-shift sheds and an outdoor toilet, as well as the collection of stagnant water which had a potential for mosquito breeding. It does appear that the SLA has acted on complaints made by residents in the area on the nuisance caused by the burning of branches and leaves which has affected the air quality in the area – as well as the act being a potential fire hazard. SLA position has also drawn support from some members of the public – one, Mr Tony Lee, in a letter to the Straits Times Forum published today, brought up an important consideration that “if such squatters are tolerated, more and more will occupy state land illegally”.

Banana trees on State land - some of the younger generation have never seen bananas growing on trees.

There isn’t any doubt about the validity of the concerns raised over the illegal use of land, or on the need to carry out the necessary enforcement on the SLA’s part. This episode does however, open a window of opportunity for the Authorities to look beyond the enforcement of the law (which is there for good reason) and take a step towards a gentler and more inclusive society that has very much been talked about of late. The signs are certainly encouraging based on a news report in today’s edition of the Straits Times (“Let’s talk, SLA tells farmers”, Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2012). The report does indicate that the SLA has changed its tact slightly and has now opened a channel for discussion with farmers who willing to come forward by 20 March.

A makeshift scarecrow at one of the farms?

While in all probability the discussion would be on a possible extension to the deadline of 20 March imposed by the SLA for the clearance of illegally occupied State Land, I do hope that it goes far beyond that. While that the farms have been illegally set-up and fenced up and that there are public safety and health concerns associated with them is never in question, there is some scope to look into maintaining what is already there and extending access to them to the wider community in the interim (the SLA does note that there are no immediate plans for the use of the particular stretch of land). An idea mooted by a guide during one of the walks organised by the good people behind “We Support the Green Corridor” I attended a while ago, Ms Margie Hall of the Nature Society of Singapore, was that the Authorities grant temporary occupation licences to the farmers. This would not only allow the farmers – mostly retirees, a useful pursuit in their advanced years, it will also permit the use of land to be regulated. This will also allow concerns of residents and the Authorities to be managed and eliminated and its use opened up to the community. It is the community that would stand to gain most from this – allowing both young and old a space in their neighbourhood to which they would be able to escape the urban Singapore we have become to a calmer, gentler and greener Singapore – a Singapore from which we have all emerged from and a Singapore we have long forgotten of.


SLA’s reply to Straits Times article “Group told to clear out ‘farm’ on state land” published on 10 Mar 2012:

SLA makes available vacant State land, pending their development, for interim use by the community for recreational activities. Over the years, SLA has upgraded vacant State land for such uses. There are today 270 community use sites in various parts of Singapore for the community to use and enjoy.

However, State land is a precious resource and must be maintained and managed responsibly. An important principle that we uphold without exception is that individuals or groups of them are not allowed to encroach and lay claim on State land for their private use. Where State land is allowed for community use, it is important that it does not cause disamenities for the neighbourhood, and does not adversely affect the land and the environment, such as causing ground contamination or mosquito breeding.

In this case, some individuals have not only encroached on State land for their private purposes but several of them have also fenced up parcels of land as their “own” and padlocked them for their exclusive use. There are also illegally erected make-shift sheds and even an outdoor toilet (photos attached). During our inspection, we found several ponds with stagnant water which are potential mosquito breeding grounds if left unchecked. We have also received feedback of the burning of branches and leaves which affects the air quality for the residents nearby and are a potential fire hazard.

In the interest of all residents living in the vicinity, SLA’s immediate priority is to stop the burning of leaves and commence vector control measures. We will also give those responsible for the encroachment a reasonable period of time to dismantle and remove the enclosed areas and illegally erected structures, failing which we will have to take action to remove them.

The land is zoned as “Reserve” under the Master Plan 2008 and there are no immediate plans for the site at this point in time. In the interim, SLA will seek and consider the views of the grassroots organisations whether the land can be put to some form of community use for the enjoyment of the residents in the vicinity. However, any such use is interim and will have to cease when the land is required for future development.






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 mourning after the morning after

1 08 2011

A month after the cessation of the old Malayan Railway’s services through Singapore and into Tanjong Pagar, we are seeing, besides the removal of the tracks, a complete alteration in the physical landscape of one of the prettier parts of what the Nature Society hopes would be a Green Corridor through Singapore, and possibly erasing features of the landscape that one would associate with a former rail corridor.

The view down the corridor in the Bukit Timah Station area on 1st July 2011.

The view from Bukit Timah Station.

Another look at the work in the vicinity of the station. Earth is being filled over the corridor erasing any traces of the former rail corridor.

There is no doubt that the area is one of the favourites amongst the many Singaporeans who now have walked the length of the rail corridor, being one that in its relative isolation was blessed with lush greenery and a wonderful array of bird and insect life. It was here that one can get up close to the munias that frolic on the railway tracks, the noisy parakeets that flutter on the branches of the trees above and even oriental pied hornbills flying overhead. It was also here where one could dance with the wondrous colours of the delightful dragonflies and butterflies and get a breath of wonderfully fresh air as dawn turns into day.

The area was where one could once dance with dragonflies.

There was a wealth of flora and fauna in the area - a pair of Scaly Breasted Munias seen on the railway tracks in June 2011.

The area is also probably one of the less accessible areas of the tracks and there was already some concerns raised prior to the work commencing to remove the tracks in the area about an access road that was being built into the area through the lush Clementi woodland that separates the area from Clementi Road to which the authorities have explained was necessary to facilitate the removal works which was being carried out within an extremely tight schedule and the authorities pledging that SLA and the contractors involved would work with NParks to plan access routes and minimise the damage to the existing flora and fauna. That however does not seem to be what is happening on the ground, and even with photos I have seen and feedback I have received from friends, I was unprepared for what I saw in my first visit to the area since it was closed up to the public on the 18th of July. What greeted me was a scene beyond what I imagined could have happened in a mere two weeks. Beyond the removal of the tracks, sleepers and other structures along that stretch of the corridor, it looks as if the whole area has been transformed into a dusty work yard where there had been some of the most wonderful greenery. The entire width of the corridor seems as if it is not just an access road to the area that is being built, but an entire highway through from Holland Road to Bukit Timah Station, with even soil being brought in to raise the level of what had been the rail corridor erasing any traces that it might have once been a rail corridor. While the vegetation and the animals that make the area such a wonderful place to run off to, may find its way back to the area once work is completed, what is certainly of concern is that all the work that is being done has also altered the landscape of one of the prettiest parts of the rail corridor and with that, a lot of how it had been and any evidence of the railway it may have had is now a thing of the past.

Another view of the clearing and earth filling works.

A wide area has been cleared and now looks like a huge work yard.

The undisturbed view towards Bukit Timah Station on 17 July 2011.

Captioned on a previous post 'The sun sets over the rail corridor': 'A scene that would soon only be a memory - the rail corridor on the 17th of July 2011 just as I want to remember it'. How true it now all seems.

The view towards Bukit Timah Station on 31 July 2011.

Another view towards Bukit Timah Station on 31 July 2011.

Earth is being brought in and the level of the former corridor is being raised.

The new soil that is placed to raise the level of the corridor burying any traces of the original corridor beneath it.

It looks almost as if a road is being built over the former rail corridor.

An excavator sits on new earth being brought in to bury the rail corridor.

Vegetation that has been trampled on by the vehicles in the area.

The human invasion wouldn't be complete without litter left behind to clog streams in the area.


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“.






The morning after

2 07 2011

I took a walk the morning after the party along the corridor that welcomed the last train to pull into Tanjong Pagar which became the last ever Malayan Railway train that the same crowd waved into the darkness of the night. It was a walk to take in a wonderfully fresh and green world that close to eight decades of the railway corridor as we know today had given to us. It is a world that I had become first acquainted with from my numerous journeys on the trains that we now see no more, a world apart from the modern world we have since become comfortable finding a fit into. It is a world that I for one often chose to escape to. The station at Bukit Timah and the area around it being a stretch of the corridor, that in its relative obscurity, has often provided me with a welcome respite from the hectic world that lay just 200 metres away down a narrow path from the station. What is to become of this wonderful world now that we have sent the last of the trains through it off, we don’t now know, but there are certainly many who wish to see that the charm of the green world that lines the corridor kept as it now is, providing a world that many in Singapore can as I have done run off to …

The former rail corridor provides an escape from the urban world we live in.

The greenery is a refreshing change to the grey world we live in.

The walk down the stretch that I covered started at the bridge at Holland Road through an area that is possibly one of the more scenic stretches of the corridor, leading to that quiet little building that has in the last month come alive with many hoping to bid farewell to the railway and the wonderful people who ran the railway through Singapore. As I walk through the clearing mist, I felt a surreal sense of peace, one that the air of silence of a corridor that has descended after eight decades of silence punctured by the occasional sound of steam engines, horns and whistles and more recently, the drone of the diesel engines and the air operated horns and whistles that most will now remember. The air of calmness was all encompassing and that with the cool of the morning air made the walk down that stretch especially invigorating.

The lifting mist enhanced the surreal feel to the now surreally silent corridor.

It wasn’t long before I reached the tiny building that served as Bukit Timah Railway Station … and again, the silence that greeted me was somewhat surreal, in stark contrast to the amazing and frenzied scenes of the night’s send off just eight hours before my arrival at the now silent building. The flags that fluttered from the flagpoles that stood between the station’s building and the platform were missing, the station’s door was firmly shut, as the station stood forlornly alone in a world that no longer has a use for it as a station. At the north end of the station, the sight of a burly security guard against the backdrop of the now silent station and tracks and the green Singapore Land Authority sign confirmed the station’s demise … no longer would we see that men in blue working tirelessly passing and receiving the looped piece of wirerope with a pouch at the end. With the passing of the last train in … the last of the old fashion practice of handing authority to the trains on the single stretch of track by means of the key token had also passed into history on the Malayan Railway line …

Bukit Timah Station now sits in silence and wears the forlorn look of an unwanted structure, in contrast to scenes just 8 hours before when a frenzied crowd had gathered in the dark of night to send the last train off. The building is now a conserved building.

The signs are now up … just hours after the handover and a security detail is in place.

The flags have stopped fluttering in the wind and the doors are now closed.

The security detail is provided to guard against any attempts to remove items (some of which are KTM property) from and to prevent vandalism at the station.

The passing of the trains provides what was I guess a first opportunity to walk on the bridges – something that many have risked their lives doing when the line was still active despite the warnings that have been given. Now, it is safe … as is the narrow northern stretch of the corridor lay beyond the truss bridge near Bukit Timah station. I did just that, walking the narrow 3 kilometre length towards the next truss bridge close to where the Rail Mall is. My most recent encounter with it was of course through the opened door of the train through which the rushing of greenery, the yellow of the kilometre markers and the wind blowing in my face provided me with a different perspective to the one I could now take in at leisure. The stretch is one on which work to remove the tracks would come later, with some parts of the track laid with monitoring equipment for the Downtown MRT line which is being constructed almost parallel to the old railway line. It is the sense of peace and quiet that surround me that I enjoyed, together with the wonderful green that made the walk all worthwhile … and while I do feel a deep sense of loss of a railway that I so love, I do hope to see that at least the memory of it is kept by preserving this ready made escape from the hectic world we spend too much of our time in. In news that came through on the afternoon after my walk, the URA and SLA have, in an encouraging move responded to requests by the public to allow the tracks and corridors to be explored by opening up the railway corridor for the public for 2 weeks. In the same new release, the URA and SLA are also seeking public feedback on the use of the railway land. More information can be found in the URA’s news release below.

A last look before the station is fenced off ….

The cessation of train services to Tanjong Pagar allows access for the public to the previously dangerous bridges.

A window into the wonderfully green and peaceful world beyond the road bridges at Rifle Range Road.

The fence of the former Yeo Hiap Seng factory still lines the railway corridor by Rifle Range Road.

The stretch from Rifle Range Road to Hindhede.

A colourful resident of the Green Corridor.

On top of the girder bridge over Hindhede Road – one of the bridges that would be retained.

The approach to the end point of my morning after walk …. the truss bridge near the Rail Mall.


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“.


URA/SLA’s Press Release

1 July 2011

Public works and future plans for former railway land

The lands previously occupied by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) for railway use have been vested in the Singapore Government with effect from 1 July 2011.

As agreed with Malaysia, Singapore will remove the tracks and ancillary structures of the KTM railway and hand them over to Malaysia. The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) will commence these removal works as well as conduct maintenance works around the various railway sites shortly.

Public Can Access the Railway Tracks

Nevertheless, in response to requests for an opportunity for the public to trek along and experience the tracks, the SLA will be staging its works. From 1 Jul 2011 to 17 Jul 2011, the entire line of railway tracks will be open to public for 2 weeks, except for some localised areas.

After 17 Jul 2011, a 3km stretch of railway tracks from Rifle Range Road to the Rail Mall will continue to be open to the public till 31 Jul 2011.

As the railway tracks can be narrow and rough at certain locations, members of the public are advised to exercise caution when walking along the track.

The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and Bukit Timah Railway Station will be closed temporarily to facilitate the moving out of the furniture and equipment by the KTM and its tenants. The SLA will also carry out maintenance works and structural inspection. More information on their re-opening will be provided to the public in due course.

Removal Works along the Railway Tracks

From 1 Jul to 17 Jul 2011, minor works will be carried out at the Bukit Timah Railway Station and the railway crossings at Kranji Road, Sungei Kadut Avenue, Choa Chu Kang Road, Stagmont Ring and Gombak Drive. Members of the public should avoid these work areas which will be cordoned off.

Works to remove the railway tracks along the rest of the former railway line, except for the 3km stretch from Rifle Range Road to the Rail Mall, will commence from 18 July 2011. The removal works include the clearance of minor buildings, sleepers, tracks, cables, gates, posts and debris around the various sites from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. Other items to be removed include railway equipment, such as signal lights, level crossings, controllers and traffic lights. The removal works are to be fully completed by 31 December 2011.

Due to these extensive removal works, the affected areas will be secured and cordoned off. For safety reasons, members of the public are advised to keep away from these areas whilst the removal works are ongoing.

Public Feedback Sought

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will comprehensively review and chart the development plans for the former railway lands and their surrounding areas. 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 URA welcomes feedback and ideas from the community in shaping the future development plans for the railway lands. The members of the public are invited to visit and provide their ideas at www.ura.gov.sg/railcorridor/.

Issued by:
Singapore Land Authority & Urban Redevelopment Authority