A peek into the railway station of the past02 January, 2011 by Yan
Many will be undoubtedly familiar with the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station being the final bastion of old fashioned train transport in Singapore. But there exists another railway station hidden out of sight, tucked away in a corner of Bukit Timah Road waiting to be discovered by history seekers those looking to see the less urbanized side of Singapore. With a few curious friends, I made a trip down to the railway station to discover what was left of this treasure for us to embrace.
In case if you’re wondering, the Bukit Timah Railway Station is still a functioning station, with Malaysian staff performing their daily routines on the station premises. It’s well known to Singaporeans (but perhaps not to the rest of the world) that the Bukit Timah Railway Station is not owned by the Singapore government but instead byKeretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), the main railway operator in Malaysia. The premises and the railway tracks are considered Malaysian property.
History Lesson: Bukit Timah Railway Station was built in 1932 as part of a realignment of the original railway line which ran from Woodlands down to its terminal at Tank Road via Newton Circus. The change also allowed for the construction of a brand new and much grander terminal at Tanjong Pagar. The main railway station that we’ve come to know of.
On another interesting note, Bukit Timah Railway Station used to serve as the point of transport for racehorses between the racing circuits on the peninsula and the island, being just a stone’s throw awat from the old Turf Club at Bukit Timah.
Visiting Bukit Timah Railway Station
The station is located not to far down the main road from King Albert Park’s MacDonald’s. There you’ll be able to find the sign leading down the small road to the station. For an even clearer landmark, look for the steel truss bridge that is frankly quite unmissable while traveling on the road. From there its a small uphill hike into the railway station compound itself.
Depending on where you live, visiting Bukit Timah Railway station would be quite a simple task or a very difficult endeavor. If you could afford a cab ride or have the availability of a car, I will recommend the usage.
The easiest landmark that you could refer to is the King Albert Park’s MacDonald’s. Most cab drivers will most likely know the location. For those traveling by car, the King Albert Park is also a convenient place to park your car while scouting for the Railway Station.
If a car/cab ride is not an option, the next best way to visit the Railway Station is via MRT subway with a transit by bus. Currently, there is no direct MRT subway line to the area but the Singapore government are building one right now. Unfortunately, it will not be completed in time before the Railway Station shuts down for good.
Bus numbers 66, 67, 74, 77, 151, 154, 157, 170, 171, 174, 852, 961, 970 will be able to drop you on the opposite of the King Albert Park’s MacDonald’s (or right before the building depending on which direction you took the bus from), giving you the easiest access to Bukit Timah Railway Station. I recommend taking the MRT to Bukit Batok Station (NS2) and transit to buses 77 and 852. The bus ride itself will take approximately half an hour to reach the designated bus stop.
At Bukit Timah Railway Station
Word of Caution: Did I mention that there are actually warning signs prohibiting photography or video taking? After all, this is still considered Malaysian property and it seems they don’t want anyone to disclose whatever secrets they might have hidden in these premises. Yet, this doesn’t deter the hordes of curious photographers trying to sneak in a few shots of the place without getting caught.
Actual Truth: “Seek, and one shall find. Ask, and one shall be given.” So please brace up your courage and speak to the railway conductor directly to ask for permission to do whatever you seek around the premises of the railway station. Usually there is no reason for them to reject your request (if you ask nicely), as a curious visitor who just wants to embrace the atmosphere.
On behalf of all my photographer friends who wanted to snap pictures of the monument, I picked up my courage and tried my luck in convincing/persuading the railway conductor for permission. It turned out that the duty railway conductor on that day was a very friendly person and I even managed to strike up a small conversation with him where I managed to ask some questions. And of course, also to take a picture of him.
The railway conductor even jokingly said “Luckily you came to me and ask for permission first. If I had to go over to you guys, I would make you all leave the premises”. But the fact is that unless there is an oncoming train that the railway conductor has to handle, he usually allows for people to do their own stuff at their leisure.
I was even more thrilled that he even showed me around the premises (save for his own personal office that is strictly out of bounds) and opened up a lock gate leading to all the different levers that controls the tracks around the railway station premises to allow us to snap more pictures.
The main job of the railway conductor over at Bukit Timah Railway Station is to conduct the daily routines of the exchanges of key tokens, that serve as proof of authority for the train to proceed further from Bukit Timah tracks.
Between Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and Woodlands Train Checkpoint, Bukit Timah Railway Station functions as a loop station and signaling control house for the rails between Tanjong Pagar and Woodlands, and the main shack that was opened to us showed all the stuff required to be monitored and controlled. Frankly speaking, those levers did leave a wow impression on me.
Enjoying Photography: Part of the fun of visiting this kind of place, other than embracing the history of Malaysia and Singapore is to snap pictures at leisure. The Railway Station will definitely go down the trails as one of Singapore’s history in a few months time. Who knows, the pictures that are taken might become a document of Singapore’s rich past. Even if photography is not your thing, basking in the historic atmosphere of the Railway station and relaxing on the premises definitely makes traveling down a worthwhile once in a lifetime experience. It’s good to know that even nearby residents from time to time do make their way to this place to relax, finding themselves a quiet spot to study.
Steel Truss Bridge: Perhaps more famous than the Railway Station itself, there exists these 2 steel truss bridge that gives Bukit Timah its nostalgia and character among other places in Singapore. One of of them is conveniently located right in front of the Bukit Timah Railway Station, and the other is located right beside Rail Mall. Of course I didn’t miss the chance to actually walk along the truss bridge to get a feel of it.
It is not entirely danger-free to roam about on the truss bridges, at least without knowing the timings that the trains will come at. Lets just say that on a event that there is someone on the truss bridge and a train approaches, there is no way both parties can do anything to avoid each other. So, do exercise some caution when trying to take pictures.
By around June 2011, the Bukit Timah Railway Station is definitely going down the trail of Singapore and Malaysian history, since both governments have decided that train services between Woodlands Railway Station and Tanjong Pagar Railway Station are to cease and instead a more efficient new station will be located at Woodlands to allow for better efficiency. This is yet another living piece of the past you can savor, before Singapore decides to dismantle everything and urbanize this area too.