There are four months left before the Tanjong Pagar railway station is handed back to Singapore. From 1 July 2011, the train service from Malaysia will no longer cut through Singapore to Tanjong Pagar but will instead terminate at the Woodlands station. It will be an end to an era of train travel in this region.
The station, located along Keppel Road, is the final port of call for trains heading to Singapore. You may also argue that it is the first port of call for trains leaving from Singapore. No matter, it is hardly used to transport the bulk containers anymore, just passengers who deem rail travel as still more interesting than the monotony of road or air travel. No joke!
The station was built on reclaimed swampland and declared open by the Straits Settlement Governor, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith, on 3 Mar 1932. As the southernmost end of the Federated Malay States Railway, it served the needs of Singapore town, particularly the transport of goods from the nearby harbour. But the rapid development of and improvement to road transportation dealt an inevitable death blow to the station's purpose from the 1980s onwards. And until 18 Dec 1988, people could still say their goodbyes at the platform, paying a mere 20 Singapore cents for a platform ticket.
The railway station was a sore point in the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore had always wanted to reclaim sovereignty over the station and the rail track that cut through their country, but Malaysia had refused. Actually, it all boiled down to two old goats at the opposite ends of the causeway. As long as Mahathir Mohamad and Kuan Yew were in charge - and in the 1990s, Mahathir was still in charge and Kuan Yew was still very much in control - you'd know that the two old goats would always be at loggerheads over one thing or another. Tanjong Pagar was one of them.
I believe that I may have travelled to Singapore through this railway station perhaps six or seven times in my life. Every time I passed through the arrival gate, I felt like going through a time warp. One moment I could feel like it was in the 1960s or 1970s, and the next moment I would be stepping out into modern Singapore!
In the late 1980s, I used to travel a few times to Johor Bahru. That gave me lots of opportunity to pop into Singapore at the end of the day. Mostly I would just use the bus service but once in a while, it would be by train. I'd buy the ticket from the rail station in Johor Bahru. Didn't cost much in those days.
The last time I used the train was on New Year's Day this year. The annual Singapore-Malaysia chess match was being played in Singapore and I decided to come back by train. For old times sake. Before the Tanjong Pagar station closes down.
So there I was, at the railway station at 12.30pm, patiently waiting for the departure gate to open. And when it did, all it took was a short walk down the old platform to the Malaysian Immigration and Customs checkpoints. "Anything to declare?" I was asked. Nope, I replied, and the Customs officer waved me through. Another few steps and I was already onboard the train. Second class, air-conditioned comfort. All the way past several historical train stations along the southern route, such as Kulai, Kluang, Segamat and Gemas before passing through more modern stations like Seremban and Nilai. Finally, journey's end was the Sentral Kuala Lumpur.
Here, one more picture from the iconic railway station. This is a closer view of the marble bas-relief that greet visitors to the station. Nobody can miss these four allegorical reliefs of Agriculture, Industry, Commerce and Transport - reflection of economic prosperity during the heyday of British rule in Malaya - with each personification holding symbols unique to their character. They were created by Rudolfo Nolli, an Italian sculpture and architect. It would do well for the Singapore government to conserve this station as a heritage building.