Fate of historic train station stirs nostalgia in Singapore

No more glittering shopping malls, chic restaurants and expensive condos, please!


 

The fate of a shabby but historic Malaysia-owned train station tucked away in an obscure corner of ultramodern Singapore's port and business district is stirring nostalgia for a bygone age.

The Tanjong Pagar station, built during British colonial rule over the two countries, is to be vacated by July 2011 under a recent deal to settle a longstanding land dispute between the two neighbours.

The Singapore terminal is to be relocated to Woodlands, a northern suburb across a narrow strip of water from Malaysia. A causeway that includes the rail tracks connects the two countries.

With its faded facade and four imposing life-size marble sculptures atop the main entrance, the station is an anomaly in a landscape dominated by office towers, hotels and high-rise apartment blocks.

The four sculptures represent agriculture, commerce, transport and industry - key symbols of economic prosperity during the heyday of British rule until the late 1950s.

Time seems to stand still in the cavernous but sparsely furnished passenger hall of the 78-year-old terminal, which relies on exhaust fans and breezes blowing in from outside to provide relief from the stifling tropical heat.

Lunchtime is always busy - not from passenger traffic but from customers of Malaysian delights offered by food stalls such as the greasy Ramly Burger, featuring a beef or chicken patty wrapped in a fried egg.

There are no digital boards showing departure and arrival times of the service, which stops at sleepy towns until reaching Kuala Lumpur seven hours later even though the Malaysian capital is just 367 kilometers (228 miles) away.

Instead, a blue board with the service schedule is mounted on one side of the hall and any changes to the timing have to be made manually by station staff.

The future of the station as well as other Malaysian railway land to be handed back to Singapore will be part of an ongoing review by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on land use in the next 40 to 50 years.

"The land parcels will be put to optimal use," the Ministry of National Development said.

In a country where land is scarce and many colonial buildings have been refitted for commercial use, a group of Singaporeans has started a petition to preserve the station and its rich history for future generations.

"I want them to know that once upon a time, this station connected Singapore to the rest of the world... before Internet made it easy to Google for anything," Carolyn Seet, who started the petition in July, told AFP.

"Old buildings remind you of your roots," said Seet, an IT specialist who also created a public Facebook account called "Turn Tanjong Pagar Station into a Museum."

On Facebook, Seet wrote: "Not another restaurant. Not another condo. We need some culture and history. Think Musee D'Orsay. Not just about making money!"

The Musee D'Orsay is a museum in Paris housed in a former railway station.

Seet says she hopes to gather at least 1,000 signatures by the end of the year before handing the petition to the office of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The petition contains a few proposals including turning the station into a museum to showcase the roles of various means of transport in Singapore's rapid rise from a sleepy tropical port to a world trading hub.

As of the first week of October, the petition had gathered just 360 signatures.

Seet says her campaign is driven partly by the demolition of several history-rich buildings to make way for the country's urban development, and she worries her two young boys will have no inkling of Singapore's past from the urban architecture.

"To me, this is the last bastion," Seet said of the station, which holds plenty of fond childhood memories since it was there that she embarked on her first train ride to Malaysia.

Ho Weng Hin, an architectural conservation specialist who is co-authoring a book on the building's history, said the British made a strategic decision to have the railway building next to the port.

"The station was built next to the port for a good reason," said Ho, a partner of architectural restoration and research consultancy Studio Lapis.

"It is from here that valuable Malayan commodities such as tin and rubber were transported to the rest of the world. The railway line expanded British clout in Malaya," he said.

Malaysia, formerly known as Malaya, was under British rule until the late 1950s. Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia briefly in 1963 before it gained statehood in 1965.

Ho said the station could be described as Singapore's version of New York City's famous Grand Central Terminal building.

"Part of what makes a city great is you have the different chapters of its history still functioning and still accessible to the people," he said, adding that historic train stations in Milan and Tokyo have been preserved and kept accessible to the general public.

Lai Chee Kien, an assistant professor with the National University of Singapore's department of architecture, also feels the station's colourful past makes it worth conserving.

"There are not many places left in Singapore that can evoke memories of the pre-independence period," he said.

"Before airplanes became prominent, the railway was the main source of goods and passengers.

"Together with Keppel Harbour, the railway station is an important building that connected people to a larger history involving Singapore and Malaysia."

For 63-year-old Masudul Hasan, who has operated a drinks stall at the station for 26 years, there is little he can do except wait for the day when he will have to lower the shutters for good.

"I will miss the place, it has been so many years," said Masudul, who sleeps for just four hours and spends the rest of his time at the stall.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Travel
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
News
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect