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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Romelu Lukaku scored twice to add to the hat-trick he registered in the first leg in Switzerland
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Recruitment Genius: Processing Partner

    £15000 - £19200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Processing Partner is require...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower