The land beyond the tenth mile

13 06 2013

An area of the former rail corridor I did have some interaction with back in 1986 was the area just north of the level crossing that goes across Choa Chu Kang Road, up to Stagmont Ring. That was during a stint lasting several months that I had at Stagmont Camp while doing my National Service. The quickest way to get from camp to the bus stops at Woodlands Road was down the hill on top of which the camp was perched, past what then was left of a village, across the Pang Sua canal (which we  had to down into to cross it), over the railway tracks and out to the main road.

A missing link in the rail corridor - one of the rail girder bridges which has been returned to Malaysia.

A missing link in the vicinity of Stagmont Camp, the girder bridge at the 10th mile, one of the rail bridges which since been dismantled and returned to Malaysia.

Looking south to where the level crossing across Choa Chu Kang Road once was. The LRT line is a more recent addition to the landscape.

A southward view down to the level crossing across Choa Chu Kang Road. The LRT line is a more recent addition to the landscape.

A wooded area where the village through I took a shortcut once existed.

A wooded area where the village through I took a shortcut once existed.

The canal which I would have to cross ... a plank was laid across the recess through which water normally flowed.

The Pang Sua Canal which I would have to cross … a plank was laid across the recess through which water normally flowed.

Crossing the tracks.

The area of the railway tracks we used as a shortcut.

The proximity of the tracks to the camp, which housed the School of Signals, meant that it also made a convenient location for signal line-laying training  – which as a trainee at the school during the latter half of my stint, I was to be involved in, often finding myself, in the company of one or two of my fellow trainees, trudging up and down the area of the tracks, oblivious to the danger being by the tracks did pose. The training exercises required us to lay the lines, and then carrying out fault-finding and maintenance on the lines.

Evidence of line-laying exercised before the tracks were removed in August 2011.

Evidence of line-laying exercised before the tracks were removed in August 2011.

On one occasion, the training exercise involved a desperate search for a missing rifle – one I myself had left behind, somewhere along the tracks. It was probably a good thing that it was along the tracks that I had left it, as much to my relief, I did manage to recover the rifle after just half an hour of backtracking and groping in the dark with the help of the two other members of the detachment I was in. I shudder to think of what the consequences might have been if I had not found it – word was that it could mean seven years in the detention barracks.

The rail corridor in the area before the tracks were dismantled.

The rail corridor in the area before the tracks were dismantled – the tracks was a convenient place to conduct signal line laying training.

One of the areas we did find ourselves on our exercises was the Stagmont Ring area where the Mandai Gate Crossing was. As it was mostly in the dark that we did see it, I don’t quite have much of a visual picture of the area and a set of photographs I did came across recently is a godsend and does quite clearly show the area as it might then have been. The photographs are ones taken by Henry Cordeiro, a frequent visitor to the area in the second half of the 1980s – around the time I was based there. The photographs, which Henry has given his kind permission for me to post do show the gate hut (and the gateman’s quarters) on the side of the tracks across from the most recent gate hut which was demolished early this year.

The road bridge over the Pang Sua Canal at Stagmont RIng Road with the crossing and gate hut seen beyond it  in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The road bridge over the Pang Sua Canal at Stagmont Ring Road with the crossing and gate hut seen beyond it in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

A view of the road bridge and former crossing site today.

A view of the road bridge and former crossing site today.

The gate hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The gate hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The signal hut at Stagmont Ring Road (Mandai Gate Crossing).

The more recent gate hut seen in August 2011 around the time the railway tracks were being removed. The termite infested hut was demolished early this year.

The crossing seen in late 2010.

The crossing and hut seen in late 2010 while the line was still in operation.

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio)..

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio)..

A provision shop on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989  (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

A provision shop on the side of the road opposite the hut in 1989 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

Another view of the hut in August 2011.

Another view of the hut in August 2011.

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut already paved over in August 2011.

The crossing on the side of the road opposite the hut already paved over in August 2011.

A trolley loaded with gas tanks - used for the cutting of the tracks in August 2011.

A trolley loaded with gas tanks – used for the cutting of the tracks in August 2011.

One in Henry’s set of very valuable photographs is a rather interesting one from 1986. That shows metal framework on concrete supports built to carry pipes across the canal which we still see today. This and the road bridge are one of few reminders left of the sights around village. In the same photograph, we can also see the roofs of huts belonging to what Henry refers to as “Stagmont Ring Village” (or Yew Tee Village). If we look at the same area today (a photograph of which follows Henry’s photograph), we do see how the village rather than the trees then towering over the village huts, has “grown”.

Stagmont Ring Village seen across the Pang Sua Canal in 1986 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

Parts of Yew Tee Village seen across the Pang Sua Canal in 1986 (photograph used with the kind permission of Henry Corderio).

The same area today - showing how the village has "grown".

The same area today – showing how the village has “grown”.

The old photographs do show that much has changed. The zinc roofed wooden huts that once were common in an area I had up to then always thought of as the countryside, have all disappeared, replaced in a large part by new dwellings and flats which are part of one of the more recent “villages” of modern Singapore, Choa Chu Kang. The new housing estate is made up mainly of towering Housing and Development Board flats which extends the spread of what did start off as the Teck Whye Estate, close to Stagmont Camp. Despite the developments in the area, there is still a substantial amount of greenery left in and around the former rail corridor. It may be a matter of time before much of that does get developed as well, but as long as it hasn’t been developed, there is hope that considerations are made to incorporate what has in the last two decades or so developed into a lovely piece of woodland into the developments being planned for the rail corridor (which will be retained in some way as a continuous green corridor) that will certainly be of great benefit to the wider community.

Along the Pang Sua Canal close to Stagmont Ring Road today is still very green.

The woodland along the Pang Sua Canal close to Stagmont Ring Road today is a lovely green area.

The former Yew Tee Village - now dominated by the towering blocks of the new Singaporean village.

The former Yew Tee Village – now dominated by the towering blocks of the new Singaporean village.

The area around the rail corridor is still very green.

The area around the rail corridor is still very green.

It would be nice to see the now very green areas adjoing the former rail corridor also included in some of the rail corridor development plans.

It would be nice to see the now very green areas adjoing the former rail corridor also included in some of the rail corridor development plans.





Fading memories

5 06 2012

A year ago, Singapore was seeing the last days of the old Malayan Railway. The railway had served Singapore over a century, cutting a path through the island first with a line partly running on what is Dunearn Road today over to Tank Road. With the deviation of 1932, the line was set on its last path, turning at Bukit Timah to the docks at Tanjong Pagar. The line fell silent on the 1st of July and with that, all that was left were the physical reminders of the old railway and the collective memories we have of it.

The silence of the morning after a little over 79 years of operations at Bukit Timah Railway Station.

One year on, many of the physical reminders are no longer with us – most of the tracks and sleepers have since been removed and returned to Malaysia. The two station buildings have received conservation status – Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been gazetted as National Monument and Bukit Timah Railway Station a conserved building. We do know that three other recognisable structures – the two truss bridges that define the Bukit Timah area and a girder bridge that many see as a gateway to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, will remain. There are several other smaller structures that we do see including the surviving signal huts at the various level crossings (the bright yellow one at Kranji Road fell victim to urgent road widening works soon after the 1st of July). It is unfortunate that several structures that still stand, were ones that have not been very well maintained when they were in use. As a result, most of the wooden structures are termite infested and are in rather poor shape. It does look as if, based on the signs that have been placed around the structures, that they may go the way of (if they haven’t already) the other physical reminders that since been removed.

The signal hut at the former Kranji Level Crossing was one of the first to go.

One which sees a “building unsafe” sign is the former Mandai (Stagmont Ring Road) Crossing’s signal hut. This would really be a shame – the hut bears an impromptu memorial on its door neatly scribbled in permanent market pen. Written on the door are the names of the last gatemen, presumably by one of them: Mr P Mohan A/L Ponniah, Mr Hamid B. Hashim and Rodwwan B. Mohd. Salleh. Below the names is a record of the passing of the last train at 2330 hours on the 30th of June noting that the train was driven by the Sultan of Johor as well as the years of the crossing’s operation (1932 – 2011).

The former signal hut of the Mandai Gate Crossing that is structurally unsound.

The memorial to the last gatemen and the last train.

With the removal of this signal hut, little will be left to physically remind me of this level crossing – just those few photographs, and the records and the memories that I have. And of all that I will miss of the old railway, it is the sight of the level crossings that I will most miss – seeing a train cross the road does serve as the earliest memory I have of the railway. As memories fade with the passing of time, it is this memory of the railway that I hope that I will hang on the longest to.

With the tracks and sleepers now removed, there is very little physically left to remind us of the railway.

The outhouse at the Mandai Crossing will also have to go.





Crossings through the passage of time

26 11 2010

Writing about parts of the Malayan railway land in Singapore that I am familiar with has somehow fuelled a desire to discover parts that are less known to me, in an attempt to capture images from the railway line, parts of which would have gone back to the days of the Kranji-Singapore Railway in the early 1900s. Most of what we see today has in fact come about through the Railway Deviation of 1932 – one that gave us the two stations that we see standing today, Bukit Timah and the grand old dame at Tanjong Pagar, as well as some that have disappeared altogether. One of these in fact left its legacy behind, in the form of a name of an area – one that I have always had a fascination for, Tanglin Halt. As I have discovered on my walks of rediscovery through parts of the Bukit Timah corridor in which many of the railway “landmarks” I had become acquainted with on the many road and train journeys through the area are still around today, much of the land that the railway runs through look as if time in its passage through Singapore, has somehow passed by, leaving sights that belong in a landscape that we would have been more familiar with half a century ago.

Parts of Kranji Road, where the northernmost rail Level Crossing is in Singapore, looks very much as if time has passed it by.

On my more recent wanderings to parts that I am less familiar with, I was happy to see that time does seemed to have also stood still in many of the areas around, giving me as I strolled through them a sense that I was wandering through a world far removed in time and space from the big city Singapore has become. One of these wanderings took me to the north of the island to what are the three northernmost level crossings on the island, one of which is perhaps after the one at Choa Chu Kang Road, the busiest in Singapore, at Kranji Road. It is here that queues of vehicles form waiting not just for a train to cross, but due to the narrowness of the road lane where the crossing is, has the flow of vehicles across it restricted to one direction at a time. This along with the one I explored earlier at Gombak Drive and is one with that old fashion gate that gives a level crossing the character it should really have, and is close where an abandoned camp stands, skeletons of numerous Nissen Huts bearing testament to the forgotten era during which the camp would have been used. The road is in fact straddled by two former camps, the one on the other side appearing to be abandoned as well. Not being able to stop my car to explore the area on foot – I decided to move to the next crossing further south along Woodlands Road – at Sungei Kadut Avenue.

The northernmost rail Level Crossing in Singapore at Kranji Road. Traffic flow across the level crossing is regulated due to the narrowness of the road where the crossing is.

Skeletons of Nissen Huts at an abandoned camp along Kanji Road, in the vicinity of the Level Crossing bearing testament to a forgotten era during which the camp might have been used.

Another abandoned camp in the vicinity of the Level Crossing at Kranji Road.

The Sungei Kadut is today more known for the industrial estate which has been associated with sawmills and the woodworking and furniture industries since the 1970s. A mangrove swamp had in fact occupied much of the area where the industrial estate sits up to the end of the 1960s when the area was reclaimed to house concentrations of sawmills from areas such as Kallang, which were being relocated due to urban renewal. The crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue seemed to be one of the more dangerous around for some reason – with a collision occuring between a train and a car in the mid 1970s when the gate keeper had failed to closed the gates at the crossing, in which the car driver somehow escaped injury.

The crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue was where a train collided with a car in the mid 1970s.

The signal hut at the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing.

Abandoned houses belonging to KTM near the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing.

The refreshing rural scene around Sungei Kadut.

Further south along Woodlands Road, there is a smaller level crossing than the one at Sungie Kadut. This crossing is perhaps the prettiest level crossing in Singapore … with an old style signal hut set in a clearing off Stagmont Ring Road. The crossing is just about two kilometres north of the largest one at Choa Chu Kang Road, and one which I should have remembered from my days in National Service where I had a stint a a nearby camp which involved many exercises in the vicinity of the tracks, but somehow have no recollection of. What is interesting in the area is an old fashioned petrol station with an awning structure that suggests that it might not have changed very much over maybe two or three decades. There used to be a few of these along Woodlands Road – most had fallen victims to the widening of parts of the road. There is another old style station – an old Shell station nearby at Mandai Road – one that I would pass during my National Service days taking the bus service 171 towards Sembawang Road on the way back home from camp … I had a quick glance at it making my way down Woodlands Road and was happy to see that it was still there – signs of a recent makeover does tell me that it would be there for some time to come. Most of what we can see today in the area may soon be gone though, as once the terminal station for the southern end of the railway moves to Woodlands in mid 2011 – vast tracts of land which now belong to to the railway would be available for development and with that, we may see the last of the land that time forgot.

Stagmont Ring Road is where the prettiest level crossing is in Singapore.

The signal hut and level crossing at Stagmont Ring Road.

The crossing in operation ...

The outhouse at the level crossing.

The rural scene by the level crossing at Stagmont Ring Road.


Sights around the level crossing at Stagmont Ring Road.

An old fashioned petrol station along Woodlands Road near Stagmont Ring Road offers a feel of the countryside.