Deporting the port

15 10 2019

Change often seems the only constant in Singapore. Its relentless pace has altered its face, so much so that many in my generation feel that home is foreign place. Nothing seems sacred, places that we have grown accustomed to and build ties with can disappear in the blink in an eye.

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Vanishing scenes at Tanjong Pagar.

One change Singapore is in the midst of, the redevelopment of the Greater Southern Waterfront. This, while positive in the longer term, has the impact of removing places that are not only familiar, but are also markers of significance to Singapore’s past. The port, which the city has long been associated with, and the reason for uch of the development along the southern shores, is being moved in two stages to the far west. The closure of Tanjong Pagar Terminal, the cradle of Singapore’s shipping container revolution, has already been effected. Cleared of most of its container handling paraphernalia, the terminal seems to have been put to use for handling Ro-Ro cargo.

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The container terminal has been stripped of it container handling paraphernalia and is being temporarily put to use as Ro-Ro cargo reception facility.

Tanjong Pagar – a promontory on which the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, formed in 1864, would establish wharfs and graving docks. The company initially constructed a wharf of 229 metres in length in 1866, capable of berthing 4 ships of “ordinary size”, a graving dock, Victoria Dock would also be built in 1868. The opening of the Suez Canal late in 1869, brought with it increased steamship traffic and more wharfage was added. Albert Dock was also built in 1879.

Victoria Dock 1890s

A G. R. Lambert print of Victoria Dock in the 1890s. A ship in Albert Dock can also be seen in the background.

By 1885, the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company would acquire the Borneo Company. This gave the company access to 2 kilometres of wharves. The 1899 acquisition of the (older) New Harbour Dock Company at New (now Keppel) Harbour, formerly the Patent Slip and Dock Company, which built No. 1 and No. 2 Docks at New Harbour, made it a monopoly. In 1905, the company was expropriated and the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board, the predecessor to the Singapore Harbour Board and PSA, took over.

Borneo Wharf

Borneo Wharf, which Tanjong Pagar Dock Company acquired from the Borneo Company in 1885. The extended Tanjong Pagar promontory can be seen in the background.

Keppel Shipyard would assumed control of the PSA repair facilities, when the former was formed in 1968. Centred at Keppel Harbour, it continued using the historic Victoria and Albert docks until they were filled in during the 1983 PSA expansion of  Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal during. Keppel Island (the near shore Pulau Hantu) came into Keppel Shipyard’s hands in exchange.

The container terminal goes back to 1972. Its first berths, at Tanjong Pagar’s East Lagoon, came into use on 23 June 1972, when the M.V. Nihon – the first container vessel to call here came alongside. This was an especially significant event, which launched the Port of Singapore’s journey into a mode of cargo transport that now dominates sea trade.

Now that Tanjong Pagar has been emptied of the containers, its container cranes and the container ships that have become synonymous with the name, the area hasn’t looked the same. The container terminal at Keppel are also being cleared, with Brani to follow. The container terminals built at great expense at Pasir Panjang, now operational, will also eventually be cleared. A huge southern extension created out of the sea southwards from Singapore’s western reaches, the Tuas South reclamation, will house the Tuas Mega Port. This will gradually be put into service from 2021, and by 2040 will be where port operations will be concentrated. The extension will also be the future home of the ship-repair and ship-building industry.


Parting glances:

Juxtapositions (2014).

 

A mega-container vessel, the APL Mexico City coming into port (2014) – the increased sizes of container vessels require larger and deeper berths, prompting the need to develop newer terminals.

 

Another view of a Tanjong Pagar still in operation (2014)


More views of the since deported port:

In 2012.

In 2012.

Keppel Terminal in 2018.

Keppel Terminal in 2018.

Keppel Terminal in 2018.


 

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Tanjong Pagar after dark

27 08 2015

It has been a little more than four years since the lights went out on Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Left to the ghosts that are said to haunt it, the former station sees the occasional return of the living, as it did on Tuesday evening, when I got to see it again after dark with its ghosts scared off by the lights, sounds and action of the first of a series of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts’ (SIFA) Dance Marathon nights being held at the station.

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The evening, which had Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi hosting a small reception and introduce Archivist-Choreographer Mikuni Yaniahara as a Japan Cultural Envoy, saw two dance performances, starting with Yaniahara’s Real Reality at the main hall and followed by Yukio Suzuki’s Lay/ered on the tracks. The double-bill was the first of four dance evenings that are being held at the station. The three other evenings are on 28 August31 August and on 4 September.

The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Haruhisa Takeuchi.

The Ambassador of Japan, His Excellency Haruhisa Takeuchi.

Mikuni Yanaihara.

Mikuni Yanaihara.

The former station, intended as a grand terminal and a gateway to oceans, was built in 1932 and is thought to have been modelled after Helsinki’s Central Station. Gazetted as a National Monument in April 2011, it has been left empty since the Malayan Railway’s moved its southern terminal to Woodlands in July of the same year. The building, once the property of the Malaysian government through the Malayan Railway or Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in more recent times, bears many reminders of the links Singapore had to Malaya throughout much of its history.

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The future of the well-loved monument, at least for an interim twenty year period before the port nearby begins a journey to the west (port operations are being moved to Pasir Panjang and eventually to Tuas), is now on the drawing board. As one of two special interest areas, for which a concept design proposal is being sought under Stage 2A of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Rail Corridor, the five teams shortlisted are required to suggest an interim re-purposing of the former station. The former station is seen as a gateway to the Rail Corridor, and it is a requirement of the RFP that any proposed reuse will allow the public to have “unfettered access so that they can appreciate the heritage of this building and its surroundings”.

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Submissions for the stage should have already been made. We should have some inkling of what the teams have in mind with a public exhibition of shortlisted submissions scheduled for October this year. More information on this can be found at the Rail Corridor RFP information site.

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A new journey through Tanjong Pagar begins

18 03 2015

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

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

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

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

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


NEWS RELEASE BY THE URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

URA LAUNCHES REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL FOR THE RAIL CORRIDOR

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

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

The Rail Corridor: A unique community space of exceptional possibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

(i) Buona Vista (near one-north)

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

(ii) Bukit Timah Railway Station area

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

(iii) Former Bukit Timah Fire Station

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

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

(iv) Kranji (opposite Kranji MRT Station)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Request for Proposal process

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

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

Continued community involvement

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

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

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





Monoscapes: Dark clouds over Tanjong Pagar

22 04 2013

A storm brewing blows dark clouds over the Tanjong Pagar (port) Terminal where several container berths of the huge Port of Singapore which only recently was surpassed by Shanghai as the world’s busiest port and container port. The city terminals at Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Pulau Brani, which provide 29 out of a total of 52 container berths of the port – the remainder are at the Pasir Panjang Terminals, will eventually be moved westwards to Tuas Port. Work on expanding the Pasir Panjang terminals and on developing Tuas Port has already commenced. The lease on the city terminals expires in 2027 which will free waterfront land close to the city centre to be developed.

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The entire port of Singapore sees some 1000 vessels at any one time, with a ship arriving or leaving every 2 to 3 minutes. The port handles some 60000 containers in a day, coming a long way from its beginnings as a trading post for the British East India Company close to two centuries ago. The move westwards will end the port’s (and shipping companies) long established association with the Tanjong Pagar area, an association which has given much of the area its current flavour, and also one which can be said to have played a huge role in the transformation of Singapore to the modern and successful island nation it is today.





A sun rise on another strange horizon

23 03 2013

Another strange horizon where the sun has risen on is one to the west of the city, and one which includes the island of Sentosa, once a military garrison named Pulau Blakang Mati and now a playground on which one of Singapore’s two integrated resorts has been built. It is across from the western end of the island – close to the area where the western rock of the “Dragon’s Teeth Gate” or “Batu Berlayer” at Tanjong Berlayer which together with another rocky outcrop, marked the ancient entrance to the harbour, that we now see the rising of the sun against silhouettes which are of another strange and unfamiliar world.

Another strange horizon that the sun rises on is at the historic Keppel Harbour.

Another strange horizon that the sun rises on is at the historic Keppel Harbour. 6.51 am 22 March 2013.

Dominating the view across the horizon, are the six distinctive towers of the recently completed residential development “Reflections at Keppel Bay”, seemingly bowing to welcome the new day. That is the last of the developments to be completed on a 32 hectare site that was originally what may have been seen as a dirty and grimy shiprepair yard, Keppel Shipyard. The yard, besides being Singapore’s most established repair yard, boasted of having the oldest graving (dry) docks in Singapore, inheriting the docks from Port of Singapore Authority when its shiprepair operations were privatised in 1968.

Keppel Shipyard post 1983. Pulau Keppel in the foreground was developed after the land on which Victoria and Albert Docks to the east were taken over for an expansion of the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal.

Keppel Shipyard post 1983. Pulau Keppel in the foreground was developed after the land on which Victoria and Albert Docks to the east were taken over for an expansion of the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal (photo on the Keppel Offshore and Marine website).

At the point that the yard vacated the area , which was in 1996 to move to Tuas allowing the land on which it stood to be redeveloped, four graving docks remained. This included Singapore’s very first graving dock, Dock No. 1. This was built by a British mariner, Captain William Cloughton, on land purchased in 1855 from the Temenggong of Singapore at what had been called  Pantai Chermin or “Mirror Beach”. Completed in 1859, it was Cloughton’s second attempt at constructing a dock there. The dock came under the Patent Slip and Dock Company when that was formed in 1861. A second dock company, the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company, added a second dock close by at Tanjong Pagar in 1868, Victoria Dock. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 also saw demand for ship repair increase. Patent build their second dock, Dock No. 2 in 1870. Tanjong Pagar followed with Albert Dock in 1879. Both Albert and Victoria Docks were filled in at the end of 1983, when the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) took them over to allow an expansion of the container terminal at Tanjong Pagar.

Map of Singapore Harbour in the 1950s showing the Detached Mole, Inner Roads and Outer Roads.

Map of Singapore Harbour in the 1950s. The location of the Victoria and Albert Docks as well as Docks No. 1, No. 2 and King’s Dock can be seen in relation to the coastline.

The two rival dock companies were to merge in 1881. Patent, which had been renamed New Harbour Dock Company, came under the control of Tanjong Pagar. This private entity was expropriated by the colonial authorities in 1905, passing control of the docks to the Tanjong Pagar Dock Board. The Singapore Harbour Board took over the operations of the shipping related activities along the waterfront in 1913, launching King’s Dock, in the same year. At 272 metres in length, it was reportedly the largest graving dock east of Suez and the second largest graving dock in the world at the time of its build. A last graving dock was to be added in 1956 – the Queen’s Dock. The PSA took over from the Harbour Board in 1963, before control of the shiprepair docks were transferred to Keppel Shipyard in 1968.

Kings Dock at the time of its completion in 1913.

Kings Dock at the time of its completion in 1913.

The development of Reflections at Keppel Bay, on the plot of land west of Queen’s Dock, was preceded by other developments in the area vacated by Keppel Shipyard. On Keppel Island (or Pulau Keppel), a marina, the Marina at Keppel Bay was completed in 2008. The island is linked to the mainland by Keppel Bay Bridge, completed in 2007.  Pulau Keppel, which was previously known as Pulau Hantu (one of two Pulau Hantu or “Ghost Islands” in our southern islands group), was itself a more recent development. An extension to the shipyard was built on it in 1983 when Victoria and Albert Docks were transferred to the PSA for redevelopment. It was renamed Pulau Keppel at the same time. Another development in the area is another residential one, the Carribbean at Keppel Bay. This was completed in 2004 and occupies the area around the oldest docks, No. 1 and No. 2. The four rather historic docks, have been retained in some form, and are now water channels within the developments.

Singapore Harbour Board Map, c. 1920s.

Singapore Harbour Board Map, c. 1920s.

For the area, the year 1983 is one that will probably be remembered less for the development of the former Pulau Hantu or the loss of the historically significant Victoria and Albert Docks, but for the tragic events of the evening of the 29th of January.  On the evening of the fateful day, a drillship, the Eniwetok, leaving Keppel Shipyard, drifted into the Sentosa cable car system. Its drilling derrick became entangled in a cable causing two cabins to fall into the sea killing seven people. Another four were left dangling precariously with some 13 terrified passengers trapped inside. A daring but successful rescue attempt directed by our present Prime Minister, then Colonel Lee Hsien Loong, was mounted involving the use of two helicopters operating in high winds from which rescue personnel were winched down to the cabins to pull the 13 to safety, one-by-one.

It is no longer cranes, workshops, keel blocks and large ships around the dock that we see today (a photograph of a graving dock at the former Keppel Shipyard posted on the Captain’s Voyage Forum).

Waking up to a Keppel Harbour today in which there is little to remind us of the world that once was. With the docks now disguised to blend into the new world that has been built around them, we will soon forget what they were and the contribution they made to the development of the port on which much of Singapore’s early success was built. The four docks (as well as the two to the east) were also very much the stepping stones over which the shiprepair industry, an important source of jobs in the post independent economy of Singapore, was built. It is a fate that will probably befall the place where another leading pioneer shiprepair company, Sembawang Shipyard, now operates at. That yard, together with its historic docks built to support the huge British Naval Base, was the subject of a recent Land Use Plan released to support the much talked about Population White Paper. It is mentioned in the plan that “new waterfront land along the Sembawang Coastline being freed up once existing shipyard facilities are phased out” to provide land for new business activities and it may not be far away before we would have yet another strange horizon for the sun to rise up to.





A sunrise over the rail corridor

29 01 2013

It was around the time of Sunday’s sunrise under the red lightening sky that a long train snaked its way out of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, a little more than a year and a half after the last train left the station. Sunday’s train wasn’t one that was pulled along by a locomotive of course – most of the railway tracks along the rail corridor have since been removed, but a human train of runners pulled along by a Kenyan who led from start to finish in what is the inaugural Green Corridor Run which is thought to have attracted as many as 6,000 runners. The race took runners along the rail corridor on a 10.5 km route from Tanjong Pagar to the former Bukit Railway Station – a distance which the trains would cover in about fifteen minutes. The race winner, Samson Tenai, 32, need just a little more than double that – he covered the distance in a time of 34 minutes 11 seconds.

Colours of sunrise, 7.09 am.

7.09 am : Colours of sunrise.

A plane is seen over the container cranes against the orangey sky at 7.14 am.

7.14 am : A plane is seen over the container cranes against the sunrise coloured sky.

The entire rail corridor which stretches some 26 km from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands has been the subject of much interest since the agreement to handover the land on which the Malaysian Government owned railway, Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), operated a railway line, was announced in May 2010.

7.20 am : The first runners are seen already building up a lead over the chasing pack.

7.20 am : The first runners are seen already building up a lead over the chasing pack. Seen in the lead is Kenyan Samson Tenai, the eventual winner of the race who completed the 10.5 km course in about 34 minutes.

Relatively untouched by urban development for some 79 years of the rail’s operation through much of it, the corridor features large tracts of greenery. Interest groups and individuals have called for the preservation of the corridor for its heritage and potential for community use such as a running course, and as a unbroken bicycle path that takes one from the north of the island to an area close to the city with possible links to the park connector network. The Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, announced plans to preserve the rail corridor in July 2011. Since then, a Rail Corridor Partnership has been formed with stakeholders from both Government Agencies, interest groups and members of the public involved. Plans are currently being formulated for future use of the rail corridor.

7.20 am : The rush of runners. Some 6000 runners are thought to have participated in the run.

7.20 am : The rush of runners. Some 6000 runners are thought to have participated in the run.

7.22 am : The chasing pack makes it way past the former signal hut at Tanjong Pagar.

7.22 am : The chasing pack makes it way past the former signal hut at Tanjong Pagar.


More information on the former Railway and the Rail Corridor:





First Journeys, Last Goodbyes at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

5 09 2012

For anyone interested in visiting Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, you will be glad to know that it will be opened for a motoring heritage exhibition this weekend (8 / 9 September 2012). Beside the vintage car display that will be put up by the Malaysia Singapore Vintage Car Register (MSVCR), there will also be a chance to take rides on vintage mini-buses and scooters as well as revisit one of the main reasons why many visited the station before its closure – food. As part of the event, there will be an exhibition along the wider theme of transportation heritage for which the National Heritage Board (NHB) which has organised this event has invited me to help put together an exhibition of photographs from the community on the railway and the station. For this, I have got a group of various people that have an interest in the railway and the station to reflect on the journeys made and the last goodbyes that were said in a small exhibition ‘First Journeys, Last Goodbyes’. The exhibition will be opened from 10 am to 5 pm on both days and there will be free shuttle buses at half hour intervals from Tanjong Pagar MRT Station through the day. For those interested in learning more about the station’s history and architecture, guided tours of the station will also be conducted on both days.

A last goodbye on 30 June 2011.


About First Journeys, Last Goodbyes

For close to five decades after Singapore’s independence, the Malaysian railway continued to operate through Singapore on a piece of Malaysia that cut a path into the heart of Singapore. It was perhaps one of the last physical reminders of the common history that the two countries shared.

The southern terminal at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station completed in 1932, was modelled after Helsinki’s Central Station to give it a grand appearance for its intended role. That role, the grand southern terminal of a pan-Asian railway and a gateway to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, was one it never got to play, serving instead as a focal point of any rail journey into or out of Singapore.

The station best remembered for the high vaulted ceiling with huge panels of batik styled mosaic murals of its main hall was one that saw many visitors over the years. That, the experience of the station, as well as the many personal journeys taken through the station would have left a deep impression.

First Journeys, Last Goodbyes brings a few travellers each with a personal story to share of their journeys, journeys on railway or through the station … journeys that will take a long time to be forgotten …

Contributors to the community photo exhibition are Zinkie Aw, Francis Siew, Loke Man Kai, Tan Geng Hui and myself.


Information received on 7 Sep 2012 on the weekend public tours of the station:

The tours will be conducted by PMB’s Volunteer Guides. No sign-ups are required for the tours. Public tours will be:
• Sat, 8 Sep: 2pm, 3pm and 4pm.
• Sun, 9 Sep: 2pm and 3pm






Tanjong Pagar: a promise that we now know would never be fulfilled

11 07 2012

Standing silently and somewhat forgotten is a building that, only a year ago, attracted many people’s attention in Singapore. This building, the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, a magnificent architectural achievement once described as having a “palatial appearance”, recently joined Singapore’s list of National Monuments. Completed in 1932, the station was built as a centrepiece to underline Singapore’s growing importance as an economic centre in the British Far East, serving as a gateway for the southernmost point in continental Asia to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Located opposite the docks at Tanjong Pagar, the station was one that had been well-considered. The then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, in his address at the station’s opening on 2 May 1932, had made the observation that it was “a natural junction between land-borne and sea-borne traffic” and mentioned that it was “where every facility will be afforded for interchange between railway and ocean shipping”. The promise was, however, not fulfilled – Sir Cecil could not have predicted that the railway’s importance as a means of transportation in the Malayan peninsula would diminish.

The station’s opening that day was marked by the 5.15 pm arrival, from Bukit Panjang Station, of its first train. This train carried several dignitaries, including the Governor, the Sultan of Perak and Mr J Strachan, the General Manager of the Federated Malay States Railway. Several months prior to the opening (on 2 January 1932), the station had already made its public debut – by playing host to a Manufacturers’ Exhibition – an indication perhaps of its eventual destiny.

The station’s façade with the four large triumphal figures.

My first encounters with the station took place at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s. My parents often drove past, drawn by the hawker stalls which operated in the evenings in a car-park facing the station’s entrance. It was while sitting at the tables in the car-park that I would gaze across to the station’s façade and stare at the four large, triumphal figures that flanked the portico’s arches. The figures were the work of Angelo Vannetti of the Raoul Bigazzi Studios Florence and represented the pillars of the Malayan economy. These triumphal figures are evidence of the Art Deco style chosen by its architects, Swan and MacLaren. Thought to have been inspired by Helsinki’s Central Station, it is believed the station also shares some of Washington DC’s Union Station’s design features. In fact Tanjong Pagar Station’s architectural elements reveal both western and eastern influences; the green-tiled roof structures were inspired by the roofs of Chinese Temples.

The main hall of the station. Part of the vaulted ceiling and batik-style mosaic panels can be seen.

On the rare occasions when I found myself in the main hall, the high vaulted ceiling that rises some 22 metres above the ground caught my attention, as did the six sets of mosaic panels that resemble giant batik paintings. The mosaic panels, which contain a total of 9,000 tiles, looked very much like the batik prints hanging in my home. The panels depict scenes that represent the economies of the then Federated Malay States. At that time, the station had also housed a hotel on the upper floors, around the main hall. A huge sign in the north-east corner of the hall made sure this did not go unnoticed.

It was in the 1990s that I first took a train out of the station. Seemingly in defiance of its location, a huge blue “Welcome to Malaysia” sign stood above the station’s entrance. A Points of Agreement (POA) had been signed in 1990 between the Malaysian Government and their Singapore counterparts. This was to pave the way for the eventual moving of the station from Tanjong Pagar and would involve its handover along with the land the railway ran through (whose ownership was transferred to the railway administration through a 1918 ordinance – effectively making it part of Malaysia).

Two decades of protracted negotiations followed the 1990 POA before the differences in its interpretation resulted in a renegotiation of land swap arrangements between the two governments. The moving of the station from Tanjong Pagar and the handover of land was agreed on only in May 2010.

It was perhaps at the beginning of 2011 that interest in the station and in train journeys from Tanjong Pagar started to build. The realisation that the station was soon to close drew crowds not previously seen at the station. Many turned up for a final look, to make a last departure or to have a last meal at the station, joined by a frenzy of photographers and members of both the local and overseas media, who seemed intent on recording the station’s last days.

A few former food stall operators having a last breakfast on 30 June 2011.

The final day of operations at the station, 30 June 2011, came all too soon. It was an especially poignant day for the station’s railway staff and also for the food-stall operators – some were seen having a last breakfast in the almost empty room that only days before had been filled with food-stalls and tables filled with diners. Well before the first train was to depart, a crowd had already gathered in the main hall. Many had come to witness the final moments. Some had come to start a journey that would end with a final homecoming to the station on the very last train that evening.

The crowds grew as the day passed. As night fell, many more gathered to witness the historic departure of the last train out, to be driven by the Sultan of Johor. I had come on the very last in-bound train and was prepared for the reception at the station by the scenes I had seen along the way. Huge crowds had gathered at Bukit Timah Station and at each of the five level crossings, to bid goodbye. After the train finally pulled in following a long delay at Bukit Timah, I lingered a while before stepping out onto the platform. I turned back for a final glance at the platform, realising that would be the last of my many homecomings into Tanjong Pagar.

The crowd at Tanjong Pagar late on 30 June 2011 to witness the departure of the last train.

As I stepped through the barrier, a crowd of would-be passengers heading towards the same train that had pulled in (now the last train out) almost swept me along with them. I managed to squeeze my way out while a frenzy was developing in the public areas. Through the crowd I spotted the Sultan, dressed in a checked shirt and speaking to reporters with tears in his eyes. At the final hour a huge cheer could be heard as the train pulled out, driven by the Sultan. In a daze I stared after it as the train faded into the darkness. It was then that I heard the silence that was there despite the noise coming from the crowd. It was one that filled the air – a silence that after some 79 years would never again be broken by the once-familiar sounds, a silence that spoke of the promise that we now know would never be fulfilled.


This article was written to coincide with the first anniversary of the closure of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and has been published as “Tanjong Pagar Railway Station” in the July / August issue of Passage, a bi-monthly magazine produced by the Friends of the Museums (FOM).


Further information on Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and on the anniversary of the handover:

  • Photographs of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on the anniversary of its handover can be found at my post Tanjong Pagar One Year On.
  • A complete series of posts related to my encounters with Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, the railway and the journeys I have made through the station can be found at my “Journeys Through Tanjong Pagar” page.
  • Article (in Chinese) that may be of interest published in the Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao on the 1st of July in which some my views connected with the Rail Corridor were sought can be found at this link.




Faces from a forgotten place

3 07 2012

This post features a selection of photographs intended to capture part of what had made the much loved Tanjong Pagar Railway Station what it was just prior to its closure, one to celebrate the many faces that provided the station with its heart and soul. The faces are ones that would be familiar, and are not just of the people who were part of the fabric the station, but also of the many that came and went and of the sights and sounds that gave the station its unique flavour, a flavour that, despite the conservation of the building as a National Monument, will fade as memories fade. The photographs are the same ones which were presented during a sharing session at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station open house held on the afternoon of 1st July 2012 – the first anniversary of the handover of the station and the railway land to the Singapore government. The open house was held as part of the Rail Corridor Open Day and also included guided walks around Bukit Timah Railway Station.

While the building, now gazetted as a National Monument still stands, it is the memory of what had made the station what it was – the familiar sights, the people that came and went, and most of all the people who were very much a part of the fabric of the station that will with time fade.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station as it was is a place that always will be dear to me. I have many fond memories of the station from my previous encounters, encounters that go back to the earliest days of my life. Then, it was the food stalls that magically appeared in the evenings at a car park the lights of which dimly illuminate the station’s grand façade and its four triumphal figures. That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was after the latter half of the 1970s that the station would become a feature in my Chinese New Year reunion dinners – my aunt who hosted the dinners moved to a flat in Spottiswoode Park just by the station and reunion dinners would not be the same without the accompaniment of the sounds of whistles and of the noisy diesel locomotives from the station. The 1990s brought me my many encounters with the station through which I made numerous trips up to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and back – journeys that would forever be etched in my memory. These encounters with the station, and the memorable journeys I made through it, I have attempted to capture through a series of blog posts which many of you might have already read. However if they are of interest, the posts can be found through the page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Once familiar sights

A car belonging to the Malayan Railway, KTM, parked in front of the building.

The main hall as it looked at eye level in its latter days – a Tourism Malaysia hut was placed right in the middle of the hall.

The ticket counter in quieter days – well before the madness of the last two months descended on the station.

Waiting to buy a ticket often required some patience.

Especially when the ticketing system is down – that in my experience often happened.

Another sign one might encounter ….

We were always reminded that we had to pay not the equivalent in the local currency for the price of a ticket but one unit of the local currency for every unit of the weaker Ringgit.

And when you did finally get your hands on the ticket, you could find a seat in the main hall to pass your time away …

… which provides many opportunities for people watching …

… or as I often do, have a cup of teh tarik at the platform – a popular spot for watching the coming and going of not just the trains and the locomotives.

Access to the departure platform was through a gate that would only be opened about half an hour prior to the scheduled departure of the trains to facilitate immigration clearance. On the commuter services on which seating is not assigned, passengers would often crowd at the gate prior to departure, ready to make a dash first for the Immigration counters. After clearing Immigration and Customs, the same thing would happen at a barrier which when opened will see a mad rush of passengers to the train carriages.

Tickets would be checked and punched at the departure gate.

From which one would proceed to the immigration counters.

With the shift of Singapore’s CIQ to Woodlands in mid 1998 and the Malaysian authorities maintaining their Immigration and Customs counters at the station, passengers would effectively enter Malaysia before leaving Singapore.

Passengers boarding the last luxury E&O train to depart from Tanjong Pagar posing next to Malaysian Immigration booths.

The last E&O train to depart at the platform.

Returning home, one of the first things that would greet you (post mid 1998) as you walked to the end of the platform was the barrier before you got into the public area. Prior to the move of the SIngapore CIQ, you would first have to pass through Singapore Immigration, Customs and a narrow passage through a fenced area where K9 unit dogs would sniff passengers for smuggled narcotics.

The next thing one would encounter would be the canteen / coffee shop at which one could stop to have a meal or a drink prior to leaving. I often picked up my breakfast from the canteen after coming in on the overnight train from KL.

The canteen would also be a great place to wait for returning members of the family and friends.

It was also a wonderful place to catch up with friends over a cup of tea ….

.. or to have dinner with the family.

It would be common to see passengers with large pieces of luggage leaving the station.

The station had a hotel which closed in the 1980s. Towards the end of its life, it hosted a hostel with dormitory type double bunk bed accommodation which offered a cheap place to spend the night or even take a short rest – this closed in late 2010.

Trying to get a taxi home was always a challenge as many taxi drivers did not like to wait at the station as trains arrival times were unpredictable.

Once familiar faces

One of the first faces one would encounter driving to the station’s car park.

And if one needed to use the rest room.

One that you might have seen at the Habib Railway Book Store and Money Changer, Mr Syed Ahmad.

Mr Syed’s nephew – ‘Nazir’ would probably have been seen more frequently.

The hardworking last Station Master at Tanjong Pagar – En. Ayub.

A very helpful ticketing clerk, En. Azmi, who was posted to the station on 1st July 1990. He completed a full 21 years at the station when it ceased operations on 30th June 2011.

A few more of the familiar faces (and less familiar ones) …

Mr Mahmoodul Hasan who ran the two canteens in the station before its closure.

Some of those who assisted him at the drinks counter and the popular Ramly Burger stand.

One of the ladies from the food stall at the corner of M Hasan 2.

One of the stall assistants at the platform.

The chapati man at M Hasan 2.

One who is always ready with a smile – the Satay stall’s assistant at M Hasan 2.

And last of all one that should not be forgotten – one of the many cats the station was home to.





Tanjong Pagar one year on

2 07 2012

I stepped into the eerie silence of a world that a little over a year ago, had been one that had seen the frenzy that accompanied the last moments of the old Malayan Railway’s operations through Singapore. The now silent world, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, is now but an empty shell, abandoned by the trains that regularly punctured the air with the deafening roar of their diesel locomotives as well as by the people who made the station what it was – the hardworking staff of the railway, those who saw to providing it with essential services, and those who came and went with the comings and goings of the trains.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station 1 year on.

The station was able to momentarily break out of its solitude due to a kind offer by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to the Nature Society Singapore (NSS) and the Friends of the Rail Corridor to open up both Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to the public on the first anniversary of the handover of the station and the Rail Corridor to the Government of Singapore. As a result of this, a Rail Corridor Open Day was very quickly put together. This included a guided walk in the morning held at Bukit Timah Station which was followed by an open house at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in the afternoon. The handful of people that did turn up at Tanjong Pagar, probably numbering about a hundred during the course of the afternoon comprising rail enthusiasts, familiar faces that I met during last year’s frenzy, the curious and some who hail from distant shores, got an opportunity to participate in a guided tour conducted by Dr Lai Chee Kien and learn more about the station and its and the railway’s history.

The main hall during the guided tour – now clear of the Tourism Malaysia hut that had got in the way of achieving a nice perspective in photographs that were taken before the handover.

The open house also allowed some to share some of what they have put together on the station. This included a poignant and very interesting documentary made in 2008, Project 1932, by Zinkie Aw that touches on some of the people who were part of the station’s history. I also had to opportunity to share a series of photographs that I had captured to help me reconnect with the station as it once had been. The series which I named ‘Faces from a forgotten place’ includes once common scenes and once familiar faces, ones that we see now only in the memories we have of a little over a year ago. It is these very memories that I tried to find as I took the opportunity that was presented to explore what I could of the silence. In its emptiness and abandonment, it was not the memories that I was able to find, but ironically, the beauty of the station that I would otherwise not have known – spaces previously occupied and closed to us that even in the state of the two decades of neglect during which time its status had been in limbo is still obvious.

The station in its solitude was able to reveal some of its otherwise hidden beauty.

This beauty that we can still see takes us back to a time when the world had been a different place, to a time when it was thought the station would take its place as the grand southern terminal of the Malayan Railway and the gateway to the Pacific and Indian oceans – a promise that a little over 79 years after it was opened has proven to be one that was never to be fulfilled. What will become of the former station we do not know, its possible second life will be explored in a Design Competition that aims to develop concepts for the future use of the station which has been gazetted as a National Monument, Bukit Timah Railway Station (which has conservation status), and the 26 kilometres of the former Rail Corridor. What I do hope to see would be a use that will not just preserve the memory of the role it was meant to assume and the memories we have of the railway, but also one that with minimum intervention will see it retain not just the beauty that we have seen but also the beauty that has until now been one that has been hidden.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in its solitude

The emptiness that now fills the station offers another perspective of its beauty.

Once hidden spaces that in the station’s abandonment can now be seen, reveal a side of the station that has until now has not been seen by many.

A view out of the window at the white iron fence that lines the station’s boundary with Keppel Road.

The writing on the wall … a memory in an otherwise hidden space of what the station once was …

Recent writings on the wall … collection of wishes for the station written by visitors to the open house.

View through what was a freight forwarder’s office.

A storage area that was used by the canteen operator.

Windows to a forgotten world.

The silence of a once busy space.

More silence ….

Signs of a forgotten time.

The silence of departure (photo taken with Sony Xperia S).

Last act of the day – security personnel trying to close a platform gate that just refused to be closed …


Do visit my series of posts on my previous encounters with the station, the railway and the journeys I have made through the station which can be found at the “Journeys Through Tanjong Pagar” page on this site.


An article of that may be of interest in the Chinese newspaper Zaobao published on the 1st of July in which some my views on the preservation of memories connected with the Rail Corridor were sought: http://www.zaobao.com.sg/sp/sp120701_020_2.shtml … I’ll try to get that translated and posted here for the benefit of those that don’t read Chinese.






Fading faces from a once familiar place

22 07 2011

Those who frequented Tanjong Pagar Railway Station would probably remember the many faces that were associated with the station in one way or another. The people behind the once familiar faces are the ones who brought life and activity to the old station and with the station’s closure, may soon be forgotten. This is my attempt to capture some of the faces in the days that led up to the 30th of June 2011 just to help with the memory of what made Tanjong Pagar Railway Station a station that will forever be in our hearts.


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 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.





Briyani no more …

24 06 2011

The 24th of June saw the last day at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station of the ever popular Ali Nacha Briyani stall. At 11 am on the day a queue of at least 30 people could be seen snaking around the confined space of the M. Hasan Railway food Food Station by the main hall of the station. Some in the queue were seen to be ordering as much as 20 packets of briyani which resulted in the queue reaching lengths never seen before. By 12.45 pm, a green sign was put up to tell customers that the briyani was sold out, bringing an end to the chapter for the outlet at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Fans of the railway briyani may like to know that Ali Nacha would be starting a new chapter at Block 5, Tanjong Pagar Plaza, #02-04.

The media was all over the Ali Nacha Briyani stall, as the queue snaked around to the side of the station building.

The scene at 11.45 am ...

By 12.45 pm, the Briyani had been sold out, brining to an end a chapter for Ali Nacha at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.





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“.






Faces of the Railway: the last Station Master at Tanjong Pagar

23 06 2011

On a train I took from Tanjong Pagar recently, I had the good fortune to bump into a certain Encik Ayub, who joined Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) some 30 years ago as a ticket clerk, serving in stations around that included that of his hometown, Segamat, for some 14 years. He has been in KTM’s Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for some six year as the Station Master, and will, at 10 pm on the 30th of June this year, wave the special last train driven by the Sultan of Johor, as the last Station Master of the grand old Tanjong Pagar Station. As of the 1st of July, En. Ayub will be transferred to Kluang Station.

Encik Ayub on his way back home to Segamat.


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“.






Faces of the Railway: a familiar face from the Railway Book Store

22 06 2011

Arriving at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and walking into the main hall, one of the first things a passenger would encounter is that of what is an institution at the station, the Habib Railway Book Store and Money Changer, of which I have an earlier post on. The so-called book store and money changer is owned by Mr Syed Ahmad, who started his business at the station in 1958, taking over his father’s which started in 1936 at the same station. The book store and money changer is certainly one that many, as passengers, would have patronised, buying a bottle of water, picking a book or magazine up, or getting one’s currency changed for that trip up north, something which I did on my very first encounter with the trains as a passenger back in the 1990s.

Mr Nazir, nephew of the store's owner, Mr Syed Ahmad, is perhaps one of the more recognisable faces at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

Manning the book store and money changer are many of Mr Syed Ahmad’s relatives, including a young man Mr Nazir who is a nephew of Mr Syed Ahmad and is perhaps one of the more recognisable faces of the station to a regular passenger. The book store and money changer will sadly see its last day of operation, bringing to a close a 75 year association with the grand old station on the 26th of June. As for that familiar face and Mr Syed Ahmad, life does go on … and for what is most certainly an institution at Tanjong Pagar, life may go on … in a colder and less friendly setting that is the new terminal station (I don’t know if one can actually call it a station) at Woodlands Train Checkpoint.


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“.






In the midst of the rising tide, a tearful farewell to Romance

6 06 2011

Sunday the 5th of June 2011 will probably be remembered for what has been described as the worst flooding in 25 years in Singapore, triggered by two bouts of intense rainfall, one at mid morning which had some 65 mm of rain fall in a half an hour period. It was a morning that I found myself up at the break of day, greeted not by the bright Sunday I had hoped for, but by the greyness of the rain washed morning. The intensity of the early morning downpour and the resulting rising waters of the Bukit Timah Canal, wasn’t of course what this post is all about, but an event that, I would certainly have remembered the 5th of June 2011 for – the final departure of the luxury Eastern and Oriental Express train service from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

The 5th of June marked the last departure of the E&O Express Trains from Tanjong Pagar, bringing an end to the era of Romance in railway travel from Singapore.

The last E&O Express to depart from Tanjong Pagar sits at the platform.

The significance of that to me is one that perhaps outweighs that of what would be the departure of the last train on the evening of the 30th of June, and brings to an end, the end of Romance in rail travel to and from Singapore that had come with the opening of a station that along with the stations along the Malayan Railway at Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, possibly best represents the age when the Romance of rail travel was at its peak. The Eastern and Oriental Express, doesn’t of course, go as far back to those days having been introduced to Tanjong Pagar in 1993, but it does take one back to those days in attempting to recreate the luxury and romance that is associated with the glory days of the railway.

The E&O Express route from Singapore to Bangkok was introduced in 1993.

A farewell to Tanjong Pagar and a farewell to Romance.

The last E&O Express Train to depart sits in the rain that brought rising waters in many parts of Singapore.

A window to the luxury and romance of the E&O Express.

A final walk down the platform …

A steward looks forlornly at the rain washed platform at Tanjong Pagar for one last goodbye.

Carriages seen at the platform.

A farewell … to tears from the heavens.

With the departure of the train at approximately 11.30 am from Tanjong Pagar and its subsequent 15 minute passage to Bukit Timah Station and another 15 minute passage to Woodlands, northbound E&O Express passengers would have for the last time, be given the treat of a passage through a Singapore that is representative of the Singapore when Tanjong Pagar Railway station was built in 1932, a softer and gentler Singapore that after the 1st of July, may disappear as the northbound E&O Express did on that stormy morning. Perhaps it was fitting that it was not to the smile of the sunshine that I had hoped for, but to the tears from the Heavens that the E&O train made this final push up north … tears perhaps for an end to of the Romance of the railway through Singapore.

The last E&O service to depart Tanjong Pagar reaches the halfway point in a final northbound journey through the railway corridor in Singapore, Bukit Timah Station.

Handing back the authority for the south section of the Singapore track to the Station Master, Encik Atan for one last time.

The E&O Express slows to a halt at Bukit Timah at approximately 11.45am, as it waits for a southbound train to pass.

Looking north at Bukit Timah one last time.

The carriages of the E&O sits in the rain, as waters rise in the Bukit Timah Canal just 250 metres away.

The rain washed platform at Bukit Timah.

Handing the authority for one last time for the 15 minute northern passage through Singapore.

Off we go for one last northbound look at the Bukit Timah corridor.

Shunting back one last time onto the main track.

And through the truss bridge for that last northern passage through Singapore.

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Strangers on a Train:

Strangers on a Train is an attempt to celebrate the passing of an era by a gathering on what is scheduled to be the last train that pulls into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on 30th June 2011. If you are interested to join us, we are on Train 15 Ekspres Sinaran Timur (most of are in Coach 2 and are getting on that at Segamat). Do note that tickets for the Express services, which can be purchased up to 30 days in advance, to and from Singapore this June are fast selling, with trains for most weekends already quite full, and can be obtained at the station (advance bookings open from 8.30 am daily) or online at the KTMB website. If you would like to join us and have you tickets, you may drop an email to Notabilia or me with the subject line “Strangers on a Train”.


Further information 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“.






Grab that teh-tarik while you can …

4 06 2011

While the teh-tarik at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station isn’t by a long way the best in town, particularly the one from the coffee shop just by the arrival platform, there is nothing like sipping a hot cup of tea, wasting the hours away, watching trains and passengers pull in and out of the old station. There are but 27 days to do that … do it while you still can …

There is nothing like having a cup of teh-tarik on the arrival platform of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station ... and there is only 27 days left to do that.


Follow us as we attempt to catch the last train into Singapore:

A few of us are planning a party on the last train into Tanjong Pagar on the 30th of June, Train 15, Ekspres Sinaran Timur. We would be seated in Coach 2 and will be getting on that at Segamat. If you would like to join us and have you tickets, kindly drop an email to Notabilia or me with the subject line “Strangers on a Train”.






Join the party at Tanjong Pagar this June!

2 06 2011

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for many of us, has come to be that sleepy, somewhat laid-back and old world escape from the crowded ultra-modern Singapore that now surrounds us. But, if you have been there of late, the station, you would have noticed that the crowds which the glorious work of architecture that the station’s building is deserves, missing for several decades, have returned. It is perhaps ironic that they have in what is now the last month of the building’s use the southern terminal of the Malayan Railway, that we see crowds that perhaps are reminiscent of those in the earlier days when the appeal of rail travel went far beyond the romance of taking the train.

A party is happening at the station this last month with many hoping to get a last ride on the trains which have passed through Singapore for 108 years.

Interest in rail travel from Singapore to Malaysia has indeed waned over the years as other modes of travel have become not just affordable, but a lot more convenient. Where it might have been a norm for Singaporean families to take a trip our of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station back in the 1960s and 1970s, the construction of the North South Highway has made road travel for one, a lot quicker than the trains, which for most part, run on a single track, and rail became somewhat of a forgotten and less used means of travel (although it is still popular with Malaysian residents along the line working in Singapore as a means to travel back home during the weekends).

A party from years gone by: crowds queuing up for tickets in the lead up to the Lunar New Year in the 1970s (photo source: http://picas.nhb.gov.sg)

The impending shift of the southern terminal station of the Malayan Railway has certainly increased interest in rail travel over the last few months, with many who had not taken the train out of Tanjong Pagar doing so for the first time as well as many like me, who are doing it out of pure nostalgia. The trains will of course still be around with us as a means of transport come the 1st of July when they will pull out of and into Woodlands Checkpoint instead, but there is nothing that compares to embarking on a train journey from and returning to a station of the stature of Tanjong Pagar, which was to have been the southern terminal of a grand rail transport network that was to have spanned the continents of Europe and Asia, that never was completed.

The party will end when Tanjong Pagar Railway Station sees its last train pull in and leave on the night of the 30th of June.

The terminal, which opened on 2nd May 1932, and after a 79 years and a month of operations, is now into its last month of its life as a railway station. That also means that after some 108 years since the railway started making its way through the railway corridors of Singapore, first in 1903 through much of Bukit Timah (part on which Dunearn Road now runs) to Tank Road and then in 1932 when a deviation at Bukit Timah turned it towards the docks at Tanjong Pagar, we would soon see no more of the trains chug along the various visible parts of the line (a friend related how he had learnt to count by counting trains passing by the window of his flat in Tanglin Halt), across the two black truss bridges over Bukit Timah Road, the various simple girder bridges, the prominent ones being the ones across Hindhede Road and Hillview Road, the five remaining level crossings. What I guess many of us will miss more is sitting on a train as it weaves its way on that half an hour journey that brings us into another world – the hidden parts of Singapore that we might have only seen from window of the train … In a little less than a month, it would not be the old world Tanjong Pagar that greets the train passenger coming back into Singapore, but, a stone cold platform surrounded by high wire fences and manned by blue uniformed personnel, and with that, the wonderful experience of passing over the old railway tracks and bridges and through some very charming parts of Singapore that would otherwise be hidden, will be a thing of the past. That, is reason in itself, to join the crowds that have descended on the usually sleepy Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, for what must surely its farewell party, and hop on a train out or back into the station before the opportunity to have that wonderful experience passes by.

29 days before the final farewell ....

The Malayan Railway (now KTM) which has provided a rail service to Singapore since 1903 and maintained the grand station at Tanjong Pagar since May 1932, will after the 1st of July, terminate at Woodlands, the entry point from the Causeway into Singapore.


Ticketing information:

Tickets for the Express services, which can be purchased up to 30 days in advance, to and from Singapore this June are fast selling, with trains for most weekends already quite full. Tickets can be obtained at the station (advance bookings open from 8.30 am daily) or online at the KTMB website. If you are interested to join a party on the last train into Singapore on the 30th of June, there are several of us who would be having one on Train 15 Ekspres Sinaran Timur. Most of us are in Coach 2 and will be getting on that at Segamat. If you have you tickets, you may drop an email to Notabilia or me with the subject line “Strangers on a Train”.


Further information 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“.






A peek into the early days of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

28 05 2011

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station began its life in the fourth decade of the 20th Century, opening with a promise that it was to have been the southern point of a rail network that was to span the continent of Asia and connect to the then well established European rail systems. The vision was an ambitious one, a link would not only be created between Europe and the Far East through the railway, but it would also have the potential to reach across the Pacific and Indian Oceans via sea routes, with Singapore – already then a well established port, serving as the principal gateway.

The first act of the station, was however not as a terminal for the carriage of goods or to see the rush of passengers through its main hall. With the station’s main building close to completion at the end of 1931, it provided a venue for a Manufacturers’ Exhibition that opened on 2nd January 1932.

The exhibition was the first of its kind in Singapore. Coming at a time when the world was still suffering from the effects of the Great Depression, the exhibition purpose was to bring to light Singapore’s hitherto unheard of manufacturing potential. Providing local manufacturers with a platform to showcase their products and capabilities, the exhibition also helped to promote Singapore’s growing importance as a economic centre in the British Far East – with the very grand looking new station as its centrepiece.

The exhibition’s aim, stated in the official guide, had been “to present as many aspects as possible of actual and potential manufacture in Singapore”. Included amongst the exhibitors were companies that were to become household names in Singapore including the likes of Robinsons, John Littles, Malaya Publishing House (which was to later become known as MPH), Diethelm and the Straits Trading Company. Opened by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, the exhibition also provided many members of the public with their first view of the internals of the main building of the new station.

The main building of the station was first used as a venue for the first Singapore Manufacturers’ Exhibition which opened on 2nd January 1932 (image source: Willis’ Singapore Guide, 1936).

The actual opening of the station to railway traffic wasn’t until some months later on the 2nd of May 1932. This was commemorated with the arrival of a passenger train, the first to pull into Tanjong Pagar. As reported by the Straits Times on 3rd May 1932, it “comprised of an engine and three saloons to travel over the new deviation”. Leaving Bukit Panjang Station at 4.30 pm, it carried a load of guests including the Governor, the Sultan of Perak and Mr J Strachan, the General Manager of the FMSR and arrived “punctually at 5.15”.

In his speech at the opening, Sir Clementi was to explain the motivation for building of a station of such a stature, saying:

We stand here at the southernmost tip of the continent of Asia; and, since the Johore Strait is now spanned by a causeway which was opened for traffic on June 28, 1924, we may even say that we stand at the southernmost top of the mainland of Asia. This point is, therefore, a real terminus as well as a natural junction between land-borne and sea-borne traffic; and it is very right that the terminal station of the Malayan railway system should be built at Singapore, the gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and immediately opposite the Tanjong Pagar docks, where every facility will be afforded for interchange between railway and ocean shipping.

The Governor also added that he had “not the slightest doubt that, for centuries, this Singapore terminal station will stand here as one of the most nodal points in the whole world’s scheme of communications.”

While this, eight decades later, has not quite come true (although we are still talking about a Pan-Asian rail network) for the station, there is little to dispute Singapore position as a transport and communications node in the modern sense. The Governor could not of course have predicted the phenomenal growth that air transportation was to see at that point in time.

The location of the station, across from the docks at Tanjong Pagar, was deliberately selected so that the southern terminal of the what would have been an intercontinental overland railway network could be integrated with ocean shipping and extend the reach over the Pacific and Indian Oceans (image source: Willis’ Singapore Guide, 1936).

The station, one of many of Swan and McLaren’s masterpieces, even in its current state of disrepair, is a wonderful piece of architecture to marvel at and was described by an article in the 7th May 1932 edition of the Malayan Saturday Post as having a “palatial appearance”. Overshadowed by the towering blocks that have come up at its vicinity,an elevated road, and buildings and containers stacked high at  the docks it was meant to feed, it does however take a bit of effort to take in the station’s grand appearance.

A feature of the grand building that is very noticeable is the entrance arches,which are flanked by four triumphal figures. The work of sculptor Angelo Vannetti from the Raoul Bigazzi Studios Florence, they stand guard over all who pass through the arches and into the station’s grand vaulted hallway. Described as “lofty and cool” in the same article, the main hall extends three storeys or some 21.6 metres above the visitor, providing a “sufficient pocket of air” to allow the hall to be kept cool in what even then must have been the oppressive tropical heat. It is this lobby that impresses the most. Six sets of mosaic panels, designed to resemble batik paintings, catch the visitor’s attention immediately.

The main vaulted hall of the station in its early days. An impressive integration of architecture and public art. The lamps and the clock seen in this picture – has long since disappeared, but the hall remains, even in the state the station building is in today, a particularly impressive piece of architectural work. Caption reads ‘Booking Hall, Singapore Station’ (image source: Willis’ Singapore Guide, 1936).

There is a lot more clutter in the hall today … the lamps and the clock we see in the hall in the station’s early days are also missing.

The Willis’ Singapore Guide (1936), gives us an idea of Tanjong Pagar and the operations of the FMS Railway from the station in and  around the time of the station’s opening. It describes the FMSR as running from Singapore for 580 miles to Padang Besar. There it meets the Royal State Railways of Siam.The FMSR also incorporated a 121¼ miles of the Johore State Railway, which was leased to it.

As is the case today, the East Coast Line branched off at Gemas and extended to the port of Tumpat some 465 miles from Singapore. A short branch line connected the line there with the Siamese Railways at Sungei Golok.

We are also told of a branch line connecting Port Swettenham (now Port Klang) with branches also serving other ports along the west coast of Peninsula Malaya. These were at Malacca, Port Dickson, Teluk Anson and Port Weld.

A total of 1321 miles of metre gauge tracks were laid, providing some 1067 miles of track mileage. The guide also provided information on the daily schedule of trains from Singapore to Penang, with a day and night express service run daily. It would then have taken some 22 hours to reach Penang from Singapore and some 9 hours (which doesn’t seem much different from the journey these days) to reach Kuala Lumpur.

The journey in the 1930s to Kuala Lumpur took some 9 hours.

The express train services in 1936 (source: Willis’ Singapore Guide, 1936)

On the evidence of the guide, which I suppose would for first class travel, the service provided does seem a lot more luxurious and comfortable as compared to what we’ve become accustomed to these days. As described by the guide, the Restaurant Car served “an excellent breakfast, luncheon or dinner”, at a “reasonable price”.

Sleeping Saloons with two berth cabins were provided on the night trains (as they are now) and a “commodious Buffet Parlour Car is attached to the night express trains between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur”. Breakfast, tiffin and tea baskets were also available at the principal stations. This could be ordered en route with the “Guard of the trains or any Station Master” who would have been able to “telegraph free of charge”.

Once the last train pulls out of Tanjong Pagar Station, it would bring to an end a little over 79 years of operation of a station that was to see centuries as one of the ‘most nodal points in the whole world’s scheme of communications’.


The information contained in this post has been put together from various newspaper articles and as well as the Willis’ Singapore Guide 1936, to provide a glimpse into the early days of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

More information on the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“.

I also have a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station and if you care to read about them, do drop by my page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Also, if you are keen to find out and support the Nature Society’s (Singapore) proposal to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, do drop by the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. I do also have a series of posts on the Green Corridor if that is of interest – please visit them at “Support the Green Corridor“.