It was 30th June 2011. The day that marked the end of the rail transportation in Singapore. The closure of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station has been all over the news lately as throngs of people visited the station to preserve the last bit of memory that they have of the historical place before it becomes yet another page in history. To many, the railway station marked the first place that they were acquainted with travel as rail travel was 1 of the most popular forms of transportation in the past (a cheaper option than planes and safer compared to buses). My mum never fails to share with me interesting stories of her train journeys whenever we are on the topic of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. One story, in particular, stood out – The story about how a train that she was on split into 2, 1 moving on to North-South and the other travelling towards East-South … and to her horror, she was travelling at the wrong end of the train!
In a country like Singapore where developments are rapid and real estate is highly lucrative, it is not surprising to see many old places being demolished to make way for skyscrapers and other profit-making property. While I do believe that it is crucial to change and constantly develop in order to progress, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed with sadness to see the closure of such a significant place (The impending exhumation of Bukit Brown Cemetery has already started gaining much buzz amongst the netizens). Judging from the 2000 strong crowd that turned up on the night of the last train departure, I guess it would be safe to say that this is a sentiment that many Singaporeans can agree upon.
Both the boy and I were very lucky to have been part of the locomotive history as we managed to score tickets to take the last KTM train that pulled into the train terminal at 10pm plus on Thursday night. As part of the crowd who took the trains departing on its final day of operation, we were presented certificates to mark the historic trip. The early morning ride on Train #2 Express Rakyat was also the maiden train ride for the boy and the first ride I had since I was a kid. Taking the train ride into Malaysia, it was as if the time has stood still (just like the spoilt clock in the picture below) and that we were travelling back in time where life was more laid-back.
As with most tourist attractions, the management of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station decided to cash in on the occasion by selling a range of limited edition souvenirs. Wanting to take home a piece of history, flocks of people were queuing at the makeshift stall, trying to get their hands on collectibles that will serve as a remembrance of this railway station.
As the train sped towards Woodlands, we were greeted with a “countryside” view of Singapore that is relatively inaccessible. The scenic views of long stretches of lush greenery, floral and nature reflect a true “City in the garden”, a stark contrast to the manicured gardens and parks dotted around the island.
After close to 5 hours on the train, we finally arrived at our pit stop – The sleepy town of Segamat, otherwise known as the land of the king of durians. Situated between KL and Singapore, Segamat is the nearest town that you can visit on a pre-book KTM ticket so we joined many fellow Singaporeans in making this town our stop-over before taking the last train back to Singapore. Our stop-over at Segamat warrants a separate blog post so do keep a lookout for it sometime tomorrow.
Onboard the last train from Tumpat to Singapore, people from all walks of life came together, with party hats, balloons and party poppers in tow, to celebrate being part of the history-making moment. Singaporeans have generally been known to be quite aloof but when a special occasion like this comes by, it’s not hard to see many of us casting aside our typically “unfriendly” and guarded front to party hard and celebrate in style!
Droves of people, armed with cameras of all sorts, waiting at the Bukit Timah Railway Station to catch the last glimpse of both the arriving and departing trains. After all, the station, a popular spot for locomotive lovers to watch the trains passing by, is now under the close scrutiny of the Singapore Land Authority and its security. Gone were the days when budding photographers would sneak to get pictures of the quaint station and its railway tracks despite a sign stating that photography is strictly prohibited… In its place now is a vacant building, void of laughter and greetings.
Train #15 – Express Sinaran
The last KTM train to arrive at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
In his article (The Straits Time, 1st July 2011), Kim Hoh wrote, “We pulled in at 9.30pm, to a blinding avalanche of flashlights and a sea of people who had came to bid the station farewell.” This sentence pretty much encapsulates the frenzied scene that greeted us upon our arrival at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. For once in our lives, we were thrown into an instant limelight as hordes of people waved frantically and took multiple snapshots as our train came to a stop at the station. While I had expected the station to be buzzing with activities, never did I expect such a huge turnout of people – Photographers. Journalists. Tourists. Parents with children in tow. Elderly folks. It warmed my heart to see so many people making the effort to attend the final send-off, despite it being a weekday night.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as we were actually within close proximity to the Sultan of Johor (surrounded by a circle of bodyguards and police) who walked past us to take his place as the driver of the last train departing from Tanjong Pagar. As the clock slowly approached the 12 midnight stroke, the frenzy faded as the crowd made its way to the exit of the station. It was the last goodbye for this 79 years old building when the shutters were finally drawn for good after the official exchange between Malaysia and Singapore.
PS: The trip wouldn’t have been completed if not for these 4 babies that allowed us to capture the precious moments in still.