A walk around the yard

14 07 2011

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

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

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

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

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

A general view around the train yard.

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

The locomotive turntable which was installed in 1932.

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

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

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

Spanners in the works ….

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

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

A reflection we will no longer see …

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

The locomotive shop and shed.

The loco shop.

The loco workshop.

A locomotive in the shop.

Coming to a halt.

The E&O maintenance shed being dismantled.

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

The railway sports and recreation club house.

The railway inspector’s shed.

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

A last glance down the road.


Posts on the Railway through Singapore and on the proposal on the Green Corridor:

I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.






The gateway to the oceans that lay beyond our shores

1 07 2011

Camouflaged in vegetation close to the former railway station at Tanjong Pagar, is a forgotten structure that perhaps reminds us of why the southern terminal station of the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) was relocated to Tanjong Pagar in 1932. The station was as many know, built to serve an important function as Asia’s and possibly Europe’s gateway to the Pacific and Indian oceans that lay beyond our shores. While the railway that was to link Asia with the extensive European railway network didn’t quite materialise, the Malayan Railway’s southern terminal still served as an important link for goods from the peninsula to be exported though the nearby docks at Tanjong Pagar, right up until the 1960s.

A turnbuckle for the tension wires supporting the gate.

A stop sign on the gate stands out in the vegetation.

Speaking to an elderly gentleman whom I met at the station and who was kind enough to show me to the gate to the docks, I was to learn that the last the gate was used was back in 1965, some 46 years ago. He remembers that there was a crossing across what was a narrow Keppel Road then, on which the train crossed close to where Tanjong Pagar Railway Station is right into the gate to the docks. With the closure of the station, which has been gazetted as a National Monument as of the 1st of July, I hope that the gate would also be kept – to remind us of why the station had been placed at where it was at Tanjong Pagar.

A post for the gate to the docks seen through the vegetation.

A view of the gate that reminds us of the purpose for which the railway station was sited at Tanjong Pagar.





Faces of the Railway: the Firemen of Spooner Road

24 06 2011

Amongst the group of Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) staff who could once be found in Spooner Road off Kampong Bahru Road is a special breed of men, known as Firemen. The Fireman in KTM terms, is not one that fights the fires, but one that drives the train, a term that goes back to the days of steam locomotives when the fire that generated steam was fed by men in the driver’s seat. For a Fireman, life can be pretty tough, having to drive the train through the long and often delayed journeys which require a lot of waiting because of the single track that KTM operates on a substantial part of the line. In the major stations where they take a well deserved rest they can be found at a bungalow dedicated to housing train drivers on a stopover of a day or so such as the M R Running Bungalow at Spooner Road, off Kampong Bahru Road, near Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. One such Fireman that I met recently was a Encik Zulfikri who, despite his youthful appearance, has been with KTM for two decades, who was on a 24 hour stopover having just arrived at the station. For men such as En. Zulfikri, life is lonely on the road, putting up in one of sixteen rooms at the Running Bungalow on his stopovers here with only other Firemen for company, doing what he has done for twenty years of his life, thirteen years of which were in a capacity of a Fireman, the other seven having held junior and assistant positions.

Encik Zulfikri, who has been with KTM for 20 years, 13 years as a train driver seen inside the M R Running Bungalow in Spooner Road.


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“.






Architectural masterpieces of KL: The Railway Station

13 01 2011

Of the four grand pieces of Moorish influenced architecture that the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is blessed with, the old Railway Station is the one with which I have had the most interaction with, with it having been the destination and starting point of the many train journeys I made on the Malayan Railway. It was a place that brings many memories back of these journeys, and particularly of the first I had taken from the station on the return leg of that first journey I had made from Tanjong Pagar which I remembered for the wrong reasons.

The Moorish styled Railway Station in Kuala Lumpur is one of a quartet of buildings that Kuala Lumpur has long been associated with.

The station, another one of Arthur Benison Hubback’s magnificent works of architecture, complements another, the Railway Administration Building, just across what is now Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin (Victory Avenue prior to independence), which I introduced in an earlier post, with its whitewashed façade spotting the distinctive arches and domes that give the building a grandeur fitting of an old world railway terminal. Together with the Railway Administration Building and Masjid Jamek (both of which were set in motion on the Hubback’s drawing board), as well as the grandest of them, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the Railway station makes a quartet of Moorish influenced buildings that for a long time was what the city that grew out of a muddy confluence of rivers, had been identified with. These days, unfortunately, Kuala Lumpur seems to be identified with the monstrous pieces of modern architecture that rob these four buildings of the attention that they deserve.

From one of Hubback's masterpieces looking across Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin to another. A view of the Railway Station from the Railway Administration Building.

The Railway Station in Kuala Lumpur was built during the period when a certain Mr. Charles Edwin Spooner (after whom Spooner Road in Singapore and Ipoh is named after), oversaw the expansion of the Malayan Railway, known as, with the formation of the Federated Malay States (FMS) in 1896, the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR), which included the link through the state of Johore which connected Kuala Lumpur with Singapore (although then the absence of a Causeway meant the crossing to Singapore was carried out by boat), in his capacity as the General Manager of the FMSR. Mr. Spooner was certainly influential as the Chief Engineer of the Selangor PWD, his prior appointment before taking up the position in the FMSR, having had his say in the design of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur, and skewing it towards a Moorish styled design, befitting of Kuala Lumpur’s position as the capital of a protectorate, the FMS, rather than a colony. He would have certainly had an influence in the building of the station as well, but unfortunately, he passed away in 1909 before the completion of the grand old building in 1910.

The Station Building (on the right) as well as the Railway Administration Building (on the left) across Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin were built during the turn of the 20th Century and were designed by A. B. Hubback.

Besides that first ever journey that I made in the less than comfortable wagons of the Mail Train, I have had many more encounters with the station. It was in the early part of the 1990s that I made frequent trips by train, often catching the overnight sleeper, the Senandung Malam, from Singapore’s Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, on which I would be able to catch a reasonable enough rest, often waking up a the sight of strange bedmates in the form of the resident cockroaches. The approach to the station from Salak Selatan station was always something that I looked forward to with anitcipation as the train took a slow course past the Lever Brothers Building in Bangsar, and past the Brickfields area before the grey truss Sultan Sulaiman Bridge over which Jalan Sultan Sulaiman runs came into sight. The bridge would be the last sight before the station came into sight, with its distinctive domes atop minaret like structures which complemented the many arches that gives the building its Islamic flavour.

The Sultan Sulaiman Bridge provides is the last sight before the passenger catches the grand sight of the station on the north bound train.

The northbound approach to the station.

Stepping out onto the platform was always nice after the long journey where I would usually be greeted. Back then, non-passengers could get on the platform to send-off or receive passengers by buying a platform ticket for a small cost, and I was pleasantly surprised to find on my recent visit to the station that the ticket dispensers were still where they were. More often than not I would end up catching a ride from the side across from where the front of the station building was where the main public carpark was at. It was there as well that I could catch a taxi, buying a prepaid coupon from the taxi counter, wherever I did not have a ride. The occasions on which I had seen the front of the station was when I caught a lift in, either to catch the return train or to purchase tickets (I would buy my return tickets in Kuala Lumpur to avoid paying for tickets which were priced at the same amount in Singapore Dollars as they would in Malaysian Ringgit if I had bought them in Singapore). Trips to the station to purchase tickets did on many occasions end in frustration as I would very often be greeted by a sign at the ticket counter which read “Maaf, Komputer Rosak“, which meant “Sorry, Computer Breakdown (or Failure)” in Malay, which meant I would need to make another trip down to the station. It was on those occasions that I got to explore a little, walking around the driveway where security guards would be busy trying to get traffic moving as there would be many cars and taxis stopped there, from which I could get a peek at the equally magnificent Railway Administration Building across Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin.

Stepping out onto the platform was always nice after the long overnight journey.

The public could gain access to the platforms in the old days by buying a platform ticket from one of these dispensers.

Trips to the station to purchase tickets were very often frustrating affairs as I was often greeted by the sign "Maaf, Komputer Rosak" at the counter.

A disused Train Departures board at the rear side of the station building.

The rear of the station building where the large public car park is.

What used to be the taxi booking counter where coupons could be purchased for taxis taken from the station.

The driveway at the front of the station.

This time around, my visit was very much prompted by the nostalgia I have for the many journeys I had taken out of Tanjong Pagar, as well as to visit the Railway Administration Building across the road. I had also thought of seeking out the Station Hotel, which wasn’t operational during my previous visits to the station. I had heard about the revival of a so-called Heritage Station Hotel at the station only to be frustrated by the chains and padlocks that greeted me as I walked towards the entrance. The Railway Station was one of three that had a Station Hotel, the others being the other Hubback designed station in Ipoh, and the southern terminal of the FMSR at Tanjong Pagar. The one at Tanjong Pagar had long ceased operations, leaving possibly the one in Ipoh to be the last of the Station Hotels. The hotel had initially opened with six rooms in August 1911 before ten more rooms were added, and in a report in 1915, the hotel was said to “compare favourably with any (hotel) in the country”.

A sign showing that a "Hotel Heritage" had operated at the station. The station was one of three that had a Station Hotel operating in the building, the others were the stations at Ipoh and Tanjong Pagar.

The quest to visit the Station Hotel ended in disappointment as the chain and padlock greeted me instead of opened doors.

A peek through a window and through another window of the lobby of the former Station Hotel.

The station now serves as a commuter train station, with the brand new KL Sentral taking over in 2001 as the main train station in Kuala Lumpur. Housed within the station in what was the main hall is a Railway Museum which opened in 2007. This was a little disappointing on the whole, but does provide displays of memorabilia associated with the history of the railway, including old station clocks, weighing scales and even the bone of an elephant that had been hit by a train trying to protect its herd.

The station is now used as a Commuter Train station ...

... as well as a museum. Some of the exhibits include old signs, weighing scales and old station clocks along with other memorabilia.

Another exhibit from one of the predecessors to the FMSR ...

There was even a bone of an elephant who died defending his herd from an oncoming train.

More views in and around the station.

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The other road named after the memory of Charles Edwin Spooner

1 01 2011

Just as Spooner Road in Singapore is a world apart from the rest of Singapore in many ways, I recently discovered that the other road that was named after Charles Edwin Spooner that still exists is a world apart in many ways from the rest of the city it is set in. This Spooner Road, or Jalan Spooner as it is now known as, together with the Spooner Road in Singapore, were two out of three Spooner Roads that were named after Spooner who was the first General Manager of the FMS Railways (FMSR) who began his career in the Public Wokrs Department in Selangor before his appointment to the FMSR in 1901 (the third on Federal Hill in Kuala Lumpur I discovered had been renamed as Jalan Cenderawasih). It was during his time at the PWD in Selangor that he oversaw and influenced some of the Moorish styled architectural masterpieces of Kuala Lumpur, swaying the style from the Neo Classical Renaissance style that was a standard of British government architecture in the colonies towards one that was influence by Islamic elements for the Malaysian capital.

Spooner Road or Jalan Spooner in Ipoh is another named after the first General Manager of the FMS Railways, C. E. Spooner, and associated with housing for railway workers, as is the Spooner Road in Singapore.

With some time to spare after a stroll through parts of old Ipoh, where I was reacquainted with the genius of Arthur Benison Hubback in the form of the wonderful Railway Station and Town Hall on New Year’s Eve, I decided to take a drive with the help of an Asus Garmin A10 GPS mobile phone that I am reviewing over to a quieter part of town where Jalan Spooner was located. Jalan Spooner is a road that has in its past been long associated with housing railway workers as the Spooner Road in Singapore is, and it was for that that I had sought to find evidence on. Taking a right turn as directed correctly by the GPS off Jalan Sungai Pari not far from the railway tracks, it was a road sign and a sign that indicated the existence of a village “Kampung Spooner” that greeted me, followed by a sense of extreme desolation. For some reason I had that feeling that I was driving into the fifth dimension which might have well been accompanied by the theme music from the TV Series “The Twilight Zone”, as the I stared through my windscreen towards a the eerily silent stretch of road that lay ahead surrounded by the greenery that lined both sides of the narrow country-like road. The road ahead seemed even more eerie when the sight of a lone woman walking down the road up ahead came into view. She looked as if she was almost floating as she made her way up the long and lonely road that lay ahead.

As is the Spooner Road in Singapore, the one in Ipoh looks as if time has left it behind.

As it is with Singapore’s Spooner Road, driving down the road also gave an impression that it was a place where time had stood still, particularly when the first few signs of civilisation down the road came into view. A few wooden houses stood on the right, with a few signs of life: a boy wearing a clinical mask playing outside his home and a barking dog up the metalled driveway of the road that led to another house. On the right there was an old wooden shophouse that was shuttered, and a motor workshop with a few motorcycles parked in front.

Housing around Jalan Spooner.

A resident of Jalan Spooner.

A shophouse at Jalan Spooner.

A motor workshop along Jalan Spooner.

It was on the right of the road that a cluster of dilapidated buildings came into view – the style of which was similar to the many railway buildings that are found on the tracts of land along the railway corridor in Singapore, particularly around some of the level crossings such as the ones in the Bukit Timah and Kranji areas – probably a testament to the period of the Malayan Railway’s development when they were built. Close inspection of a red sign that was posted in front of one row of buildings naming the “Perbandanan Aset Keretapi” (Railway Assets Corporation) giving evidence of their previous use. There it was – the evidence that I was looking for – and with that I had established the connection between the two Spooner Roads, separated not just by the creation of two very different nations out of the British administered Malayan States and the former colony of Singapore, but also by a distance of some 600 kilometres along the railway track, and unified by its association with not just the illustrious C. E. Spooner, but also with providing housing for the workers of the Malayan Railway.

The former railway workers' quarters at Jalan Spooner - now in dilapidated state.

A sign providing evidence of the ownership of the land on which the dilapidated buildings stand, naming the Railway Assets Corporation (Perbadanan Aset Keretapi) as the land title holder and warning that trespassers would be prosecuted.

More dilapidated buildings that once housed Railway workers.

Another view of Jalan Spooner.





The Malaysian Settlement in Singapore and the memory of Charles Edwin Spooner

20 12 2010

There is an obscure little corner of Singapore which many do not notice, nestled between Kampong Bahru Road and the railway yard that stretches to Keppel Road. Stepping into the area, you could quite easily forget that you are still in Singapore except for the two blocks of flats that resemble our own blocks of public housing built by the HDB in the mid 1970s, as you will be overcome by a feeling of stepping into a different world. It is a different world in many ways, being part of the land which is owned by the Malaysian State Railway, KTMB, and very much a part of the lost world within the KTM Railway Land that with the agreement between the Singapore and Malaysian Governments to redevelop the land in place, that will probably be consumed by modernity which has relentlessly swept across much of the island in the last three decades.

A lost world exists in Kampong Bahru ...

Access to the area is via Spooner Road, a name strange enough to have caught enough of my attention when I was in school to remember that I had a schoolmate (who I wasn’t really close to), who we referred to as ‘Spooner’ (for obvious reasons), who for some reason resided in one of the flats there. The flats of course, sitting on KTM land, belongs to the Railway, as much as the train yard and the Running Bungalow that sits at the entrance to the area on Spooner Road. I am not too certain when the current two blocks of flats were put up. Judging from the style of the blocks, it would have probably been around the mid 1970s, but they were definitely there at the end of the 1970s when I was in school with ‘Spooner’. The Running Bungalow itself was built in the early 1930s, part of the effort that has given us the magnificent Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the Railway Deviation of 1932 that provided the Bukit Timah area with some of its distinctive character. Before the current blocks of flats, there had been the Perak and Selangor flats which had served as the quarters of the Railway Workers in Singapore.

Access to the lost world is via Spooner Road, off Kampong Bahru Road.

The Running Bungalow was built in the early 1930s together with the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

A reflection of the Running Bungalow in a puddle of water on Spooner Road.

View of Spooner Road, the Running Bungalow and the KTM Flats.

While the redevelopment of what must be rather valuable land in an area that is on the fringe of the CBD is probably inevitable, I do harbour some hope that the road, Spooner Road, or at least the name of the road is preserved in some way. The road is named after none other than Mr Charles Edwin Spooner, who came over as a State Engineer with the Public Works Department (PWD) in Selangor after a stint with the PWD in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Among the projects that he oversaw and possibly influenced being in charge of the Selangor PWD was the construction of the wondrous and iconic Moorish styled Sultan Abdul Samad building which many now identify Kuala Lumpur with. In 1901, Spooner was appointed as the first General Manager of the FMS Railways (FMSR) and in that capacity oversaw the rapid expansion of the predecessors to what became the Malayan Railway, including the construction of the 120 mile long Johore State Railways linking Gemas to Johor Baharu, and the magnificent station building in Kuala Lumpur, which was completed a year after Spooner’s untimely death in 1909. It was after Mr Spooner, that not only saw a Spooner Road named after him in Singapore, but one associated with the Railways in Kuala Lumpur (I am not sure if this exists anymore) and also in Ipoh (which is now named Jalan Spooner). And it is for all his achievements, spending a better part of his life in the improvement of the colonies both in Ceylon and Malaya that we owe Mr Spooner at least a place in our own history and for our future generations not only to honour the memory of Charles Edwin Spooner, but also to serve as a memory of the Railway line that once ran through Singapore.

Some residents of Spooner Road enjoying the lifestyle I had growing up ....

Another resident of Spooner Road.

The lost world of Spooner Road. There was a Spooner Road in Kuala Lumpur and one in Ipoh (which is now Jalan Spooner) as well.

More views around the flats:

Lifts at the block of flats at Spooner Road.

Enjoying a ride around Spooner Road.

Laundry pole supports...

Window louvres ...

More window louvres ...

The land on which Spooner Road and the building sit are very much Malaysian owned.

More views around the Railway Yard:

Views around the train yard ...

[This post is also featured on Trains and Boats and Planes and One° North Explorers.]


[For more posts related to the Railway Land in Singapore, the Shift of the KTM station from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, and of Train Journeys on KTM, please click on this link.]