3 July 2011

Railway moments in Bukit Timah

Quaint little railway station at Bukit Timah, surrounded by a pure, rustic environment. This was perhaps one of many locations in Singapore where most would probably not seen/know of it's existence; prior to the land agreements by both countries's governments, Malaysia and Singapore.

What had initially started as a simple photography documentation before the governments's land exchange announcement, our coverage grew as time started to dwindle out - 1st July dateline set for the land handover was picking up pace. Joining friends from all walks of life, some whom are heritage enthusiasts and some who may have hopped onto the "KTM craze". Before the closure of the railway line and the stations (which meant SLA putting up their usual blue signages, which also meant plenty of lost documentation chances!), we decided to include photographic documentation of the iconic Tanjong Pagar railway station and the different little crossings along the railway line as well.

Our first railway documentation started in 2010 with our heritage advisor, Jerome Lim, who had organized quite a few railway treks since then (some for The Green Corridor movement as well).

Aaron and Faye seen here approaching the black truss bridge near the Bukit Timah railway station

"At the stroke of midnight today, July 1, Singapore resumed ownership of all Malayan Railway land south of Woodlands, with the relocation of the KTM station from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands.

That includes three plots of railway land in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji and Woodlands, and another three in Bukit Timah, as well as land along 26km of railway track.

In exchange, six parcels of land downtown were vested in M+S Pte Ltd, a joint venture company co-owned by the two governments' investment arms.

M+S Pte Ltd, which is 60 per cent owned by Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional and 40 per cent owned by Singapore's Temasek Holdings, will develop the four parcels of land in Marina South and two parcels in Ophir-Rochor.

The move marked the successful implementation of the Points of Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia on the transfer of Malayan Railway land here. The agreement was first signed in 1990 but not implemented due to differing interpretations of some of its clauses.

Prime Minister Lee yesterday hailed the amicable resolution of a bilateral issue, which has remained outstanding for almost 20 years, as a matter of 'great significance'."

- News article from Prime Minister's Office(PMO)

Signage in its original state in 2010, near Upper Bukit Timah Road; this sign was last seen before the last day albeit damaged by vandals recently

In previous years, KTM staff had been very strict about people wandering around the premises due to safety reasons. As the countdown begun, the iron-fisted rules were relaxed and anyone in a blue KTM uniform instantly became a 'mini-celebrity' of sorts for those chasing the last moments of the railway operations in Singapore.

Friends photographing one of the iconic station signages

Getting closer to the signage

Bukit Timah railway station

Railway levers at the station

The levers in turn control the different points on the tracks - signals and track shifts

Discarded items lay at the back of the station, some which had gone missing near the last day of operations

After the first visit to the Bukit Timah railway station, we made a few subsequent visits to photograph what we had not during the first. After establishing our status as being familiar faces at the station, one of the KTM staff decided to share some trivia - the very station where we were standing, wasn't the original Bukit Timah station.

Although he hasn't seen the original station first hand, he has heard of stories and personal accounts passed down by "orang lama" or former old time railway staff who had since retired.

He describes the original station being located near Beauty World Centre, not far from where we were standing. This had our interests piqued, and we decided to dig up some information to where this station was.

Lo and behold, we found Malcom Wilton-Jones's website of containing comprehensive railway history of Singapore. With much excitement, we made contact while poring through his treasure trove of old photos. He has historical documentation which were related to World War 2, one of our pet interests as well. Fantastic!

An old postcard depicting the original Bukit Timah railway station, during the days of SKR(Singapore-Kranji Railway) before FMSR (Federated Malay States Railway) and KTMB (Keratapi Tanah Melayu Berhad).
[Image source: Singapore Railways]

An old postcard depicting the Newton railway station, not to be mistaken with the old Bukit Timah railway station of similar design.
[Image source: Singapore Railways]

Below we include an excerpt from Malcom's site, we would recommend if one is keen to find out more about Singapore's railway history (and contribute to the heritage documentaion if one has crucial historical info/images that Malcom is sourcing out for)

The Singapore - Kranji Railway, also known as the Singapore Government Railway and the Singapore - Johore Railway at various times, was constructed between 1900 and 1902 under the supervision of C.E.Spooner, the General Manager of the Federated Malay States Railway and was opened from the Singapore terminus in Fort Canning Park to Woodlands in two sections, Singapore to Bukit Timah on the 1st January 1903 and Bukit Timah to Woodlands on 10th April 1903. Total length at this time was 16 miles 79 chains.

At Kranji there was a ferry connection to the Malayan mainland. From Singapore the line ran north-westwards and crossed Orchard Road by a bridge near Emerald Hill west of the Singapore Cold Storage by Cuppage Road.

Orchard Road railway bridge

It continued north-westwards until reaching Newton station, near where Newton circus now is, and then ran along the north side of Bukit Timah Road, through Cluny station, just west of Adam Road, Holland Road station, and on to Bukit Timah station, which was across the road from Pei Wah Avenue, where the Halfway House stood in the 1960s.

At Bukit Timah village the line turned north and ran via Bukit Panjang station, Mandai station and Kranji to Woodlands station, which was adjacent to the jetty east of the present causeway, the section from Bukit Panjang still being in use today as far as Woodlands new station.

Woodlands railway station

In 1906-7 the line was extended southwards from a new station at Tank Road via Pulau Saigon bridge, Peoples Park (Chinatown) and Tanjong Pagar, and on to Pasir Panjang (at Chermin Bay) near Alexandra Brickworks. This I have not been able to identify but apparently there was a station near the junction of Alexandra Road, Telok Blangah Road and Pasir Panjang Road. This extension was opened on 21st January 1907. At this time there were stations at Passir Panjang (1907 spelling?), Borneo Wharf, Tank Road, Newton, Cluny Road, Holland Road (for the rifle range), Bukit Timah, Bukit Panjang and Woodlands. Total length of the line is stated as 19¾ miles, in which length are 55 gate-crossings, including 23 public level-crossings, where gatemen have to be maintained.

Singapore and Kranji Railway station opening and closing dates

Singapore 01 Jan 1903 (Thu) This was the first station, by Fort Canning Hill opposite the Ord Road/River Valley Road junction, converted to goods 1907

Newton 01 Jan 1903 (Thu), closed 2nd May 1932 (Mon).

Cluny Road 01 Jan 1903 (Thu), closed 2nd May 1932 (Mon).

Bukit Timah (old) 01 Jan 1903 (Thu), closed 2nd May 1932 (Mon).

Bukit Panjang 10 Apr 1903 (Fri)

Woodlands 10 Apr 1903 (Fri)

Holland Road 16 Jul 1903 (Thu), closed 10 March 1930.

Tank Road 21 Jan 1907 (Mon), closed 2nd May 1932 (Mon).

Borneo Wharf 21 Jan 1907 (Mon)

Pasir Panjang 21 Jan 1907 (Mon)

People's Park 01 Apr 1908 (Wed)

Mandai was open by 1918 (in 1918 timetable change)

Singapore (Tanjong Pagar) 2nd May 1932 at 5.15 pm (Mon)

Alexandra halt 3rd May 1932 (Tue)

Tanglin 3rd May 1932 (Tue)

Bukit Timah (new) 3rd May 1932 (Tue)

* Holland Road was first indicated in the Singapore and Kranji Railway timetable effective 1903 Jul 16.
*Tank Road was first indicated in the Singapore and Kranji Railway timetable effective 1907 Jan 21, previous timetable show Singapore.
* People's Park was first indicated in the Singapore and Kranji Railway timetable effective 1908 Apr 01.
* Mandai first appeared in the 1918 supplement, which showed the first full timetable since April 1912.

Further reading up, we find Peter Chan's guest writings over at Chun See's blog. One of the few superb heritage-sleuths that we know in Singapore - with Chun See himself, Jerome Lim and Second Shot's Char Lee and quite a few others we have not mentioned here (Fortunately, most of them are available via our sidebar links on the left!).

Through Peter and his friend Bobby Teoh's meticulous analysis, they had came up with some of the locations of the above listed stations by Malcom.

Peter Chan's SKR 'investigation' in 2007


1. Newton Station was somewhere between Gilstead Road and Newton Road. The site is in front of the former Singapore Family Planning Board. This building still exists but for different use

2. Cluny Station was at the Adam Road Food Center

3. Holland Station was at the former public carpark where the Singapore Turf Club once stood. This public carpark is at the corner of Swiss Club Road and Dunearn Road

4. Bukit Timah Station stood on the SHELL Station next to Pei Hwa Avenue

5. Bukit Panjang Station is at the foot of Bukit Gombak and the Level Crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road. There is a KTM hut just behind the Bukit Panjang public carpark and the small canal next to Galistan Avenue

6. Kranji Station next to Jalan Surau or the Kranji Water Reclamation Plant

7. Woodlands Station at Admiralty Road West jetty (or the old Malaysian Naval Base area)

Peter Chan's 'Selamat Jalan KTM' in 2011

"HDB residents of Blocks 18 & 19 at Jalan Jurong Kechil, you are sitting on the former SKR track."

Quoted from Malcom's email:
"Yes it was near the Shell petrol station, I think it was accessed from Pei Wah Avenue and part of it became the Shell forecourt, I think it is all under the southern carriageway of the Upper Bukit Timah Road and the flyover now. The line crossed to the northern side of Bukit Timah Road near the present railway bridge and after closing the trackbed was used for Dunearn Road. In the other direction the line passed the old halfway house curving north and rejoined the western side of Upper Bukit Timah Road in the vicinity of the Ford Factory."

This makes exciting historical information knowing roughly where the older Bukit Timah Railway Station formerly was. With information from both Malcom and Peter, the conclusive location would be at/near the present day Shell petrol station would be. We doubt there would be evidence left on site to indicate since the station was closed about nine years before World War 2. Next best thing we could do would be to find the map of depicting the exact position of the old railway station (to be updated in future).

An old photo showing the truss bridge near the present day Rail Mall.
[Image source: Peter Chan]

Apart from the fascinating past that the little Bukit Timah railway station has, the surrounding areas would be a spot-on nature lover's haunt. From birds, butterflies, trees and flowers, many were suggesting that the track route from the North to the city centre could be a Green Corridor or a possible cycling superhighway. Definitely an interesting eco-friendly idea of where one could actually cycle the 'big shortcut' into town skipping the traffic snarls of where the usual vehicles would be on the roads.

A train passing overhead the two small roads, towards the little railway station

Little signs were put up in 2011 as the crowd grew rampant in May/June, but did little to deter folks who were bit overzealous.

Over chats with KTM staff, we were told there were photographers who were audacious enough to risk their limbs and lives, paid no heed to their own safety to get a close up shots of passing trains.

Often the KTM staff had to shout and chase these people off the tracks and to the extreme - off the area if the offender decides to pick an arguement over his/her rights to take photos on KTM's premises. That explains the staff's cold treatment to outsiders over the years, as they had encountered plenty of nasty people speaking of their 'rights to be there'.

These folks not only endanger themselves but pose a hazard to others at the station and people on the trains if a mishap were to happen (eg. tragic accidents or train derailment. We had seen photo documentation of such by KTM, shared by the staff at the Kranji crossing, it wasn't a pretty sight to remember). It was another case of disregard and lack of common sense for those guilty of such selfish antics.

The station master's quarters earmarked for conversion into a museum in due time

We were given a exclusive glimpse by Encik Hashim, of how the inside (Station Masters Quarters) looked like

It was messy as the staff were in the midst of packing furniture and personal items to Malaysia, ending June.

Open air courtyard on the inside

Encik Hashim's old documents to be disposed of in due time

Old flooring, probably unchanged since the beginning

Last painted since 1950

One of the empty rooms gazetted to be part of the museum

We made several more trips to the little station in mid 2011, documenting notable scenes (Eg. last passing of the East & Oriental train) at the station and further down the tracks. The KTM staff themselves were often interviewed by the press, giving demos and retelling their both their personal and historical stories to all who were keen to know.

Malaysia bound passengers waiting for their train at the holding area

Increasing number of people wanting to get the "KTM experience"

Hundreds of camera clicks went off as the train approaches

Encik Ghani flagging off the train

Encik Ghani flagging off the train after exchanging the tokens

Encik Ghani with the signal flags

Encik Hashim explaining how to read the diagram of signals

King Lever - the lever that controls the rest, the master lever

Railway experience for the young and old

Encik Atan here demonstrates how he operates the levers

Here is a video shot by us, showing Encik Atan giving a demo to Malaysian
press reporters

Encik Atan shows how daily operations of the levers made him a force to be reckoned with in arm wrestling!

Encik Hashim explaining how the token sets work

Direct calls are made between stations and crossings to confirm train arrival and departures

This old but very reliable token system has prevented head-on train collisions for many years

Token keys

Token bag where the key will be placed during the exchange

An old safe can be seen near the doorway

Encik Hashim joked that in the past, they had polished the logo on the safe so hard and fervously, till parts of the metal gave way!

A special mention goes to the KTM Fanclub fans, they made a highly realistic, finely detailed train simulator. We take our hats off to them for their incredible expertise!

Film makers were out in full force in the final week of rail operations as well

A notable local documentary director was spotted as well

A cute bright trolley car at the station, they were filming the entire Singapore route for their own KTM documentary

Their KTM commissioned photographer and us exchanging shots

Another look at the token exchange made, this time with the driver picking up the token bag from Encik Ghani

Not many would venture beyond the station's compound, but there are interesting things to be spotted for those who were keen. Further down the tracks towards the direction of Tanjong Pagar railway station, we came across the area where the most recent train derailment in 2010 took place (News here and here).

Discarded items can still be found along the track at the site of derailment

A train approaches the clearing where nearby laid a disused track path once leading to the Jurong Line

Small ridge on the right where the former Jurong Line once ran to join the main Bukit Timah tracks

A small railway bridge over a little creek nearby

Wooden track sleepers lay strewn in the clearing

Housing for signal components belonging to the Jurong Line, lay hidden in the bushes near the former intersection/split

The last E&O (Eastern & Oriental) train emerging from the mist, on it's final maiden run - having passed Bukit Timah railway station; it's final destination, Tanjong Pagar railway station.

Passengers on the E&O waving and cheering on their way to Tanjong Pagar railway station

Peacefulness descends on the station as the crowd dissolves away with the sun setting

Encik Ghani makes the token exchange with the express train running past the station

On the last day of KTM railway operations, we joined Jerome on his organized trip to catch the "Last train into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station". Together with his fellow organizers, Notabilia and Clarrisa. Joined by Flora (Jeffery & Flora), (Pei Yun (OceanSkies79) as well as many like minded, who had wanted to take a final train ride up north and back again for memories.

Our train made a short stop at Bukit Timah railway station while on the way back to Tanjong Pagar railway station

Revellers, photographers and videographers were out in full drove

I managed to get a glimpse of the actual train drivers's compartment while most of the people partied away at the station and in the last carriage where the press had a field day doing interviews.

Others left their mark on condensation formed on the train windows

Press reporter getting hold of Encik Ghani for an interview in the midst of an almost 'chaotic' scene

All went well and we were soon on our way, as the party people stayed on to await the Sultan of Johore driving the last train past the Bukit Timah railway station later that night.

Other photos
Photos of Bukit Timah Railway Station
Photos of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
Kranji to Sungei Kadut crossings
Train ride to Segamat (Malaysia) and back on the last train into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
Photos of last E&O train passing by Bukit Timah Railway Station

References & Reads
Malcom's site of Singapore railway history
Jerome Lim's railway recollections
Second Shot's railway recollections
Remember Singapore's railway recollections
Chun See's railway recollections
Peter Chan's railway recollections 2007
Peter Chan's railway recollections 2011
CK's railway recollections
Bukit Timah Station article by The Green Corridor
Bukit Timah Railway Station to be conserved by URA
Railway Signs & Signals of Great Britain
Bukit Timah Railway Station on Wikipedia
Lever frame info on Wikipedia
Railway signalling info on Wikipedia
Rail tracks info on Wikipedia

The following info is kindly provided by Jerome Lim

URA/SLA’s Press Release

1 July 2011

Public works and future plans for former railway land

The lands previously occupied by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) for railway use have been vested in the Singapore Government with effect from 1 July 2011.

As agreed with Malaysia, Singapore will remove the tracks and ancillary structures of the KTM railway and hand them over to Malaysia. The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) will commence these removal works as well as conduct maintenance works around the various railway sites shortly.

Public Can Access the Railway Tracks

Nevertheless, in response to requests for an opportunity for the public to trek along and experience the tracks, the SLA will be staging its works. From 1 Jul 2011 to 17 Jul 2011, the entire line of railway tracks will be open to public for 2 weeks, except for some localised areas.

After 17 Jul 2011, a 3km stretch of railway tracks from Rifle Range Road to the Rail Mall will continue to be open to the public till 31 Jul 2011.

As the railway tracks can be narrow and rough at certain locations, members of the public are advised to exercise caution when walking along the track.

The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and Bukit Timah Railway Station will be closed temporarily to facilitate the moving out of the furniture and equipment by the KTM and its tenants. The SLA will also carry out maintenance works and structural inspection. More information on their re-opening will be provided to the public in due course.

Removal Works along the Railway Tracks

From 1 Jul to 17 Jul 2011, minor works will be carried out at the Bukit Timah Railway Station and the railway crossings at Kranji Road, Sungei Kadut Avenue, Choa Chu Kang Road, Stagmont Ring and Gombak Drive. Members of the public should avoid these work areas which will be cordoned off.

Works to remove the railway tracks along the rest of the former railway line, except for the 3km stretch from Rifle Range Road to the Rail Mall, will commence from 18 July 2011. The removal works include the clearance of minor buildings, sleepers, tracks, cables, gates, posts and debris around the various sites from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. Other items to be removed include railway equipment, such as signal lights, level crossings, controllers and traffic lights. The removal works are to be fully completed by 31 December 2011.

Due to these extensive removal works, the affected areas will be secured and cordoned off. For safety reasons, members of the public are advised to keep away from these areas whilst the removal works are ongoing.

Public Feedback Sought

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will comprehensively review and chart the development plans for the former railway lands and their surrounding areas. As part of its review, the URA will study the possibility of marrying development and greenery, such as applying innovative strategies to maintain a continuous green link along the rail corridor without affecting the development potential of the lands.

The URA welcomes feedback and ideas from the community in shaping the future development plans for the railway lands. The members of the public are invited to visit and provide their ideas at www.ura.gov.sg/railcorridor.

Issued by:
Singapore Land Authority & Urban Redevelopment Authority

Article, photos and videos copyright of Andrew Him

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  1. Your photo captioned in this article as "Orchard Road railway bridge" may not be the one across Orchard Road. Many people still thought that it was (including me) until we made a startling discovery in June 2011.

    I leave it to Icemoon to provide you the answer but I say, it's not in Orchard Road.

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