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Kampung Pictures Tale in Ten The Tg Pagar line - before it's claimed by history
The Tg Pagar line - before it's claimed by history PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 June 2010 01:03

TP29Three weeks ago, the media announced that the deal was sealed. The famed Tanjung Pagar Train Station in Singapore and the serpentine railway land leading to it will be developed. SABM-Selatan's  VINASITHAMBY DHARMALINGAM takes a nostalgic rail journey

THE days are numbered for the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in Singapore, the southern-most tip of Malaysia’s railway network. The two countries have agreed to shut it down on 1st July 2011, freeing up valuable real estate. I decide to take a ride on the historic line to downtown Singapore and back.

KTM has six services to Singapore from 5.45am to 8.30pm. The 2.30pm train arrives more than an hour late. None of the dozen or so passengers at the station seem surprised. They don’t seem to be in a hurry either. We get our passports checked and pull out, rumbling across the causeway.




Once upon a time, wagons were ferried across the straits to continue their journey on the Singapore Railway network. In 1918, the Federated Malay States government purchased its land and properties for $4,136,000 on a 999 year lease and connected the two networks after the causeway was built.

Traffic on the causeway is light at this time of day as we head to Singapore’s immigration checkpoint in Woodlands, a cluster of cubes and squares perched on high ground as if trying to peer into Johor Bahru. Everyone scurries to passport control, bags in hand. Although few boarded at JB, there are more than 100 passengers from earlier stations. Processing takes about 20 minutes. Just then, an official checking the train comes out and barks at the passengers. Someone has left a bag in the train instead of taking it for customs check. A teenager scampers out to the train. There is a further delay as we wait for his bag to be cleared.



The train proceeds down the line – greenery on either side. Everything is kept in order – even the grass – this is Singapore.


We approach Bukit Timah Railway Station. Launched in 1915, it is a throwback to old times, small, clean and pretty with flowers and ornamental bushes.



A shed next to the station is packed with track-switching levers. The signalman hands the all-important key token to the driver. The station master flags us on as I click away with my camera. “Take as many pictures as you can, we are closing down soon,” he shouts.


The station no longer takes passengers and freight but is still manned, its main activity the daily exchange of key tokens, a traffic management system to prevent collisions on single-track lines.

The track snakes past Housing Development Board flats and level crossings where cars and motorbikes wait for us to pass. It’s almost 5pm as we approach Tanjong Pagar station. Towering above the vaulted roof is an office building.



Behind are the more skyscrapers of the Central Business District (CBD). We pull into the station. A signalman stands ready at his post to switch tracks as the engine is disconnected from our coaches.


I walk out for a front view of the station. On one side of it is Spottiswoode Park and a cluster of HDB flats. On the other is Keppel Road lined with warehouses and soaring above, the Ayer Rajah Expressway.



The station was built in 1932. Its facade bears the crested initials of the Federated Malay States Railway, the original operator.



Beneath them are marble figures representing Agriculture, Industry, Commerce and Transport, British Malaya’s economic pillars.



Inside, the waiting hall has panels depicting Malayan scenes: rice planting, rubber tapping, shipping activities, bullock cart transport, copra growing and tin mining.

The station is a beautiful white elephant. KTM has kept it going all these years for one reason – under the conditions of the 1918 lease, if it closed Tanjong Pagar and the 25 kilometres of tracks, it would lose its hold on the corridor of  land stretching across the island.

Now that a deal has been made, it will jointly own some parts of it with Singapore. According to a joint statement by the two prime ministers last month, three parcels in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji and Woodlands and three in Bukit Timah will be vested in a jointly owned private company to be set up this year. Khazanah Nasional Berhad will have a 60 per cent stake in M-S Pte and Temasek Holdings Limited a 40 per cent stake. The land will be jointly developed or swapped for plots in Marina South in the Central Business District (CBD) and/or Ophir-Rochor, another prime district. No estimates were given as to the total acreage of these parcels. The rest of the 217 hectares of railway land will presumably revert to Singapore.



I get ready to board the train back to JB. Passengers queue for tickets. Among them are students on a school trip to Malaysia, tourists and JB residents working in the CBD. Other passengers patronise the station’s eating joints, which serve a range of food such as teh tarik, ayam penyet, nasi beriyani and satay.



The food is reportedly so good that even those not planning to take a train come here to eat. I ask the proprietor what he will do when the station closes. He is unpertubed. “I’ll move over to the Woodlands station,” he says.



Passengers line up at the Malaysian immigration booths. Previously, Singapore had immigration  booths there as well. Passengers would get exit stamps on their passports before proceeding to the Malaysian booths for entry stamps. When Singapore moved its booths to the new CIQ facilities at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint, Kuala Lumpur decided not to move its booths there as well. That led to the absurd situation where passengers would be admitted into Malaysia before leaving Singapore! To avoid this, Malaysian immigration officers at Tanjung Pagar return the passports to outgoing passengers without stamping them. Hopefully, the anomaly will be resolved when Malaysia moves its booths to Woodlands next year.



Cool drinks and titbits are sold on the platform. I ask the elderly owner what he will do when the station shuts. He seems to be in denial. “No lah!” he says. “Won’t happen. It’s all just talk.” Everyone gets onboard. The  shuttle doubles up as the Timuran Express to Kota Bharu and there are a lot more people aboard. I join a commuter standing by the exit door of a coach.  He works in the CBD and often takes the 6pm train.

How will the closure affect passengers like him? The shuttle offers a relatively stress-free trip to JB at this time of day when the causeway is jammed with motor bikes, cars and buses, he says. But only a few are near enough to the station to make it there on time after work. And the service is unpredictable – if there are many passengers, the train may be delayed for 20 minutes or more at Woodlands for passport control. In fact, most commuters from JB take the train to get down in Woodlands, which is near the shipyards and factories, and will not be affected when the service to Tanjong Pagar stops. Still, the authorities plan to more than make up for the closure by doubling the number of bus services across the border. These will include four new routes catering to passengers going to the CBD and even as far as Changi Airport.



Familiar scenes whizz by the window – greenery, HDB flats, level crossings. We slow down for the token passing ritual as we approach Bukit Timah station.



The engine driver flings a bamboo frame holding the token on to a pole. The station master hurries to pick it up.



Passport check at Woodlands is faster this time as there are no customs checks on the way out. We rattle over the causeway. Road traffic to Singapore is building up; on the right is another Malaysian service to Singapore, the water supply.



We disembark at the Johor Bahru Railway Station built by Sultan Ibrahim in 1908. It too will soon be railway history – a gleaming new structure has been built on the other side of the tracks as part of the JB Sentral CIQ complex.



But old or new, the track to Singapore will continue to be a life line for thousands in Johor Baru who park their motorbikes beside the station and take the train to work each day.

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Only registered users can write comments!
Geymeier |2010-06-10 04:00:12

Good idea writing this article.Brings back memories!
I would have liked to go on that train again, it is a pity that it is closing down. What will happen to the Tanjong Pagar station building?
SAJ  - What a Pity... |2010-06-10 23:40:43
Dear Dharma,

A million thanks for the wonderful story and pixs.

Still staying true to the journalist instinct and insights!

Simply Beautiful!
shaku  - Another goodbye |2010-06-17 09:14:56
A nostalgic and informative piece of jounalism, with lots of good pics.

Before long so many Malaysians would not even know that this historic line linked Singapore's Tanjong Pagar Station to Kuala Lumpur.

The pictures of the Singapore railway station are so familiar.

What a great and historical and memory-filled landmark, for those of us who have used the train to Singapore.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 June 2010 01:47

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