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.

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Landmarks on my northern journeys

4 04 2013

It was in days before the expressways made an appearance that a road trip to Malaysia (and back) would involve that seemingly endless journey along what appeared to be a long and winding Woodlands Road. My parents often took a drive up to the “Federation”, as my father would put it, providing me me many encounters of a Woodlands Road which had pretty much a far-away feel to it.

A factory from the 1960s.

A factory building on Woodlands Road that has been a marker of sorts from the 1960s.

There wasn’t much to do in the back seat back then, and passing time involved staring out the window which back in those days were kept opened to provide much needed ventilation. In watching the changing world outside as we passed, it would be recognisable structures or landscapes that I would keep a lookout for, each serving as a marker to provide an indication of where I was on the otherwise never-ending journey.

Now more of a road on which heavy vehicles get much joy in travelling way above the speed limit, Woodlands Road was in day before the BKE, the main trunk road linking Central Singapore to the Causeway.

Now more of a road on which heavy vehicles get much joy in travelling way above the speed limit, Woodlands Road was in day before the BKE, the main trunk road linking Central Singapore to the Causeway.

The end of Woodlands Road close to the Causeway was one that had several of these markers. Taking my usual place on the left side of the car, it would have been the cultivation ponds of the Vesop Monosodium Glutamate factory just after the 15th milestone of the road which always fascinated me that would have indicated the approach of the Causeway.

The Vesop MSG Factory (http://a2o.nas.sg/picas).

The Vesop MSG Factory (source: http://a2o.nas.sg/picas).

On the return journey, there were several landmarks that were to provide me with the much appreciated welcome home, including the cluster of factories that line the southbound side of Woodlands just after the bend after the Sivan Temple at the 14½ milestone. The first would have been the Metal Box Factory with its very distinctive sign. The factory, since demolished, was  set on a low hill, occupying the site since 1951 when it was opened to manufacture metal cans to meet the needs of the local pineapple canning industry. The company had previously imported pre-fabricated cans for assembly in Singapore. The factory closed sometime in 1992. A blog post related to the factory and the area where it was which may be interest can be found on Lam Chun See’s Good Morning Yesterday: Singapore, 1961 – 20/4 Marsiling Road (by Tim Light).

The Metal Box Factory sign , seen during a strike by workers of the factory in 1963 (source: http://a2o.nas.sg/picas)

The Metal Box Factory sign , seen during a strike by workers of the factory in 1963 (source: http://a2o.nas.sg/picas)

Besides the Metal Box Factory, there were a few other recognisable factory buildings which stood out because of their elevated positions along the same stretch to look out for. One was the Khinco Factory located around the 13th milestone. The buildings of the factory are still around, falling seemingly into disrepair. The Khinco factory was one that produced a previously well known brand of metal office furniture in Singapore and Malaysia. The factory set up in 1967, was a joint venture between Khinco and National Art Metal Corporation of Australia. After going through several changes of ownership over the years, it went into receivership sometime in the early 1980s. The premises has since been taken over by Tan Chong Motor which operated a servicing centre there as well setting up a Quality Assurance Centre (on the basis of a sign which is still there) later.

The former Khinco factory.

The former Khinco factory.

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One other prominent building dating back to the 1960s which is still around was that of the Union Factory, just south of Mandai Road. The factory bottled the popular Pepsi Cola, Mirinda and Schweppes soft drinks in Singapore and more information on this can be found in a previous entry from June last year. The road is currently undergoing a transformation, particularly along the stretch south of Mandai Road and it won’t be long before these once familiar markers are replaced by landmarks which will define the what the new Singapore has become.

A peek through an opening in the gate ... a reminder perhaps of how the former Khinco factory buildings' were used.

A peek through an opening in the gate … a reminder perhaps of how the former Khinco factory buildings’ were used.





Where Pepsi was once bottled on Woodlands Road

17 06 2012

Not far from where a well-remembered landmark is soon about to vanish, I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar building that served as another landmark for me in a time that is now forgotten. It was in early days of my youth when that long and slow drive along Woodlands Road was to be tolerated in order to complete the journey to the Causeway. Then, buildings that caught my attention had served as landmarks that broke the monotony of the long journey. The building, an industrial building, was one that was unremarkable on its own. It stood out only because of what was manufactured in it – the obvious signs of which had stood out on the building’s façade. It was then, the premises of a certain Union Pte. Ltd. – the bottlers of Pepsi Cola, Mirinda and Schweppes soft drinks in Singapore and with the building placed prominently on a small hill was one that couldn’t at all be missed.

The premises on which Pepsi Cola was once bottled seen along Woodlands Road.

The bottling plant was opened in July 1969 – Union having invested a tidy sum of some three million dollars to take production and bottling of the popular brands of soft drinks to another level, prompting a move from their original premises in Havelock Road which dated back to their establishment in 1950. The move was to prove to be an ill-conceived one, as pressure from (somewhat ironically given the company’s name) the unions that represented their workers that was in part due to the move, was responsible for the company closing in 1974 following which the rights to bottling of the brands of soft drinks was won by Yeo Hiap Seng. The company and its premises in Woodlands was also involved in malicious rumours some two years before its closure when news spread that a dead body had been found in one of the vats used for production of Pepsi Cola and that bottles containing contaminated Pepsi had found their way into the market.

The factory building seen at its opening in July 1969 (source: National Archives).

The building today seems to have found a new lease of life, and seems to have been given a fresh coat of paint. Unremarkable as it is from an architectural viewpoint, I am grateful that I am still able to recognise it as one that lighted up those many journeys of a long time ago, journeys that coloured the days of an eventful childhood … and journeys that memories of, continue to bring colour to my life.





A landmark soon to vanish

16 06 2012

Long abandoned by an old world that it had once been a part of, the Shell service station at the end of Mandai Road had for many years now looked out of place in the emptiness of its surroundings. It would have once held a strategic position, being placed right at the end of one of the main routes that took vehicular traffic from the east over the top of the catchment reserve to Woodlands Road which connected with the West of the island, as well as to the North where the Causeway brought traffic across to Malaysia.

The end is here for a service station which has been a landmark at the end of Mandai Road at its junction with Woodlands Road for as long as I know.

The station has for me, also long been a marker. It marked not just the point where the then narrow and rural Mandai Road joined the long and equally narrow Woodlands Road, but also when the zoo came to Mandai, as the point where we would see signs showing the way to the zoo. I had on many occasions passed by the station – on the long journeys to and from the Causeway of my childhood and also later when it was along the route of bus service number 171 which I would take from camp while doing my National Service to Sembawang Road where I could connect with a 169 that took me to my home in Ang Mo Kio. The station had then and for long, worn the look of one of the old world it was a part of. Even with the more recent makeovers, it did, when it was still operating, seem set in that old world – the washroom was an ‘outhouse’ – in every sense of the word.

The outhouse see from behind a fence.

It has been a while since I’ve driven by an area that one doesn’t really need to drive through anymore with the new expressways that has taken traffic from both Woodlands and Mandai Roads. I did earlier today and saw what for long I had suspected would happen – the station, already abandoned, was being hoarded up for demolition. Having already driven past it, I decided to turn back to bid an old acquaintance farewell. As I took a final look at what had for so long been a familiar face, it is with sadness that I realise that the last marker of a world that has been all but forgotten will soon itself be erased.

The hoardings coming up around the landmark.

A soon to vanish sight.

Another soon to vanish sight.

Maybe the last remnant of an old world – a shed that seems to be beyond the area enclosed by the hoardings that have come up.


Update:

Good news! It seems that the station will be with us for some time to come … thanks to a reader, Mr Francis Ang, an update on what is happening at the station and also a few photographs (one of which I have posted below) have been provided which show that the station is apparently being upgraded. While it will perhaps lose some of that old world appeal it has had – it will still be right there where it seems to always have been!

The station as seen on 18 June 2012 (photo courtesy of Mr Francis Ang).






A final journey from Tanjong Pagar: into Malaysia before leaving Singapore

30 11 2010

Whatever our reasons may have been, some friends and I decided to embark on what may be a last journey by train from the station that has served as the southern terminal of the Malayan Railway, Tanjong Pagar Station, for a better part of a century. For some of us bitten by the nostalgia bug brought about by the knowledge that platforms of the station would have fallen silent by the time the second half of 2011 arrives for the grand old station, it was about reliving our fond memories of train journeys that we have taken through the station. For others, it was a maiden journey – one that needed to be taken before the station shuts its doors to train passengers for good, and one that needed to be taken for the romance perhaps of taking a train from a station that is very much from the old world.

The grand old station at Tanjong Pagar had served as the southern terminal of the Malayan Railway since 1932.

This thought of a last journey had come with a walk or discovery and rediscovery down the Bukit Timah railway corridor, and with little planning, a few friends decided on a day trip to Gemas, the significance of Gemas being that of the main railway junction where the lines running north split into eastbound and a westbound lines, a well as being about the furthest that one could go with the time afforded by a day trip. Having purchased tickets well in advance for the travelling party which had grown from a few friends to a party of 13, something that we decided would be best with the start of the peak travel season brought about by the school holidays on both sides of the Causeway, all that was left for us was to board the train when the day arrived.

The platforms at Tanjong Pagar would have fallen silent by the time the second half of 2011 arrives.

Going on what is the first train out to Gemas, the 0800 Ekspress Rakyat, meant an early start on a Sunday morning, having to arrive at half an hour prior to departure to clear Malaysian Immigration and Customs. Arriving at the station with time to spare, we were able to grab a quick bite at the coffee shop by the platform before making our way to the departure gates. At the gates, somewhat surrealistically, the frenzied atmosphere that had greeted my very first train journey was conspicuously absent, replaced by a calm that was certainly more in keeping with the laid back feel of the rest of the surroundings that early morning.

The was definitely a less frenzied atmosphere around the departure gates and platform compared to when I took my very first train journey out of Tanjong Pagar.

What had been up till 31 July 1998, the southernmost exit point from Singapore for journeys across the Causeway, the booths that were used by the Singapore Immigration Department before the big shift to the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex in Woodlands, now sit quietly and forgotten at the entrance to the platform. Beyond the booths lay ones that still had life, used by the Malaysian authorities, who have stubbornly resisted all attempts by the Singapore government to also shift the Malaysian checkpoint to Woodlands – one of what had been the many thorns that had been lodged in the side of bilateral relations between the two countries for a long time. With the Malaysian authorities continuing to operate their checkpoint at the station (claiming that it was well within their rights to do so despite the Singapore government’s insistence that it was illegal to do so on the grounds that whether or not KTM had a lease on the land, the land was still within Singapore’s sovereign territory), the checkpoint that we passed through is possibly the only one in the world that exists where the immigration clearance is carried out by the country into which entry is being made into first. What this also means is that passports are not stamped by the Malaysian side – an irregularity that is tolerated only as a consequence of train passengers leaving Tanjong Pagar station having technically not left Singapore, not having first cleared Singapore Immigration.

The booths that were once used by the Singapore Immigration prior to its shift to the CIQ complex at Woodlands on 1 Aug 1998.

A stamp on the Immigration Departure Card in lieu of one on the passport to indicate entry into Malaysia through Tanjong Pagar Station.

Passing through Malaysian Customs – I was quite relieved not to have encountered a particular Customs officer from the past, one whom most in the know would try to avoid back in the 1990s when every item of baggage would be rummaged through by the over zealous Customs officers stationed at Tanjong Pagar. The officer in question was one that stood out, being the only ethnic Chinese Customs officer amongst the mainly Malay officers, and one who seemed to think that everything that looked expensive or new had to be taxed.

The disused platform adjacent to the departure platform running parallel to Keppel Road.

An old passenger carriage at a disused platform at the station.

Finding myself on the very familiar departure platform after Customs, it somehow seemed a lot quieter than it had been on my previous journeys – perhaps with journeys by train becoming less attractive with Singaporeans heading up north, with the introduction of improved and very comfortable coach services to the major Malaysian towns and cities, which are not just much quicker, but also a cheaper alternative to the train.

The very silent departure platform.

Another view of the rather quiet departure platform.

Boarding the train brought with it familiar sights and smells ....

The train pulls out ... signalling its intent with a whistle and the blare of the horn ...

... as sways and jerks accompanied the first few metres of movement ...

The rustic charm of the train yard just after the station ...

More views around the train yard ...

There was a lot to take in along the way as well: once again, scenes that will be lost once the corridor through which the railway runs is redeveloped. Clearing the relatively built up areas as the train first passed the Bukit Merah and Delta areas, the bit of greenery around the Portsdown area before coming to Queenstown, Tanglin Halt and the Buona Vista areas, we soon found ourselves amidst the lush greenery of the Ulu Pandan area. The train pulled to a stop at Bukit Timah Station, not so much to pick passengers up but to make way for not one but two south bound trains, letting one pass before moving up the nearby railway bridge only to head back down to allow the second to pass. We were able to observe the handing over of the key token – an archaic safety practice where authority to proceed from the station would be “handed-over” by the station master to the train, before continuing on our journey north.

Pulling out through the Bukit Merah area ...

Pulling into Bukit Timah Station ...

Stopping for the first of two passing southbound trains ...

Crossing the truss bridge over Bukit Timah / Dunearn Roads ....

... probably to change tracks for the next passing train ...

Bukit Timah Station.

Signalling the second southbound train ...

Getting ready to hand over the key token ...

Getting ready to hand over the key token ...

Next, the train headed up the Bukit Timah corridor, past the first of the two distinctive truss bridges, through the notorious Rifle Range and Hillview areas before crossing the second of the bridges. Much of the area was certainly familiar from the recent trek some of us made down from the level crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road, which we in no time passed, crossing three more level crossings through some of the greener parts of the island before reaching Woodlands, where we disembarked to clear Singapore Immigration. Boarding the train, the jam on the Causeway soon greeted us, as well as a hazy and somewhat sleepy view of the Straits of Johore as we crossed the Causeway and rather uneventfully, we were soon at the spanking new Johor Baharu Sentral – just across from the old Johor Baharu Station, from where we would continue on the next part of our journey … northwards through the length State of Johore …

Through the Bukit Timah Corridor near Hillview.

Another view of the Bukit Timah Corridor near Hillview.

Enjoying the scenery of Singapore's nothern countryside near Kranji ... (don't try this at home!).

The sleepy view from the Causeway (looking at Senoko Power Station) of the Straits of Johore.

The water pipelines at the Causeway (supply of water was another thorn in the side of bilateral relations).

Arriving at spanking new JB Sentral ... the gateway to the north...

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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.





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

20 10 2010

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

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

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

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

The same general area as it looks today.

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

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

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

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

A scene reminiscent perhaps of the countryside of old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More of the old world feel ...

 


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

Looking north from the level crossing at Gombak Drive.

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

The once feared Boys Town complex ...

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

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

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

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

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

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