Keeping Track of Time

BY JEROME LIM
Sep 29, 2010

Bridges, factories, fire stations, rural land – let’s take one more train ride along the Malayan Railway line that runs through Singapore.

The realignment also allowed the construction of a brand new and much grander terminal at Tanjong Pagar, one that could be considered as befitting of its status as the southern terminal of the railway line, and more importantly, as the gateway from the colonies in the Malayan Peninsula to Europe and also to the Far East by sea. Bukit Timah Station was also strategically placed to serve what was to prove to be a very lucrative service – the transport of racehorses to and from the racing circuits on the peninsula and the island, being a stone’s throw from the old Turf Club at Bukit Timah. The deviation of 1932 also gave us the two wonderful bridges that were to lend themselves towards giving the area its distinct flavour.

 

The distinctive truss bridges over Bukit Timah Road and Bukit Timah Station were completed in 1932 as part of a deviation to the rail line that cost a considerable sum of money.

The distinctive truss bridges over Bukit Timah Road and Bukit Timah Station were completed in 1932 as part of a deviation to the rail line that cost a considerable sum of money.

 

The road out to Bukit Timah Road from the station ... a route that would have been taken by the many racehorses that were transported on the train to Singapore, bound for the old Turf Club.

The road out to Bukit Timah Road from the station ... a route that would have been taken by the many racehorses that were transported on the train to Singapore, bound for the old Turf Club.

 

A old signboard pointing towards Bukit Timah Station from the main road.

A old signboard pointing towards Bukit Timah Station from the main road.

 

The stretch after crossing the bridge over Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads I had a good view of through not what one might have called a stop, but a series of stops and starts. That gave me the opportunity to see what had occupied the narrow strip of land wedged between what was the railway track, the old Yeo Hiap Seng factory on one side and Rifle Range Road on the other.

The strip was then packed with some of the last remaining squatters that had survived in the 1990s, something I hadn’t been aware of until I had peered out of the window on that first train journey, right into what were the illuminated dwellings of the squatters which had seemed to be only an arm’s length from me. Much of Singapore had by then been cleared of squatters, most having by the time the 1990s arrived, been resettled in the highrise public housing that marks most of the landscape of once-rural Singapore. It was then difficult to evict the squatters with the then poor relations between Singapore and the Malaysian government that had effectively owned the corridor of land that the trains run through.

 

The bend in the tracks where the Yeo Hiap Seng factory was.

The bend in the tracks where the Yeo Hiap Seng factory was.

 

The narrow strips of land along the tracks in the area were occupied by the wooden shacks of squatters living on land belonging to the Malayan Railway.

The narrow strips of land along the tracks in the area were occupied by the wooden shacks of squatters living on land belonging to the Malayan Railway.

 

Corrugated zinc sheets and wooden shacks were once a common sight along much of the railway line.

Corrugated zinc sheets and wooden shacks were once a common sight along much of the railway line.

 

Another view of the tracks around Rifle Range Road which were once lined with the dwellings of squatters living on the Railway land.

Another view of the tracks around Rifle Range Road which were once lined with the dwellings of squatters living on the Railway land.

 

A train carrying bricks passing a popular shortcut from Jalan Anak Bukit to Rifle Range Road, one that would have been used by squatters living in the area.

A train carrying bricks passing a popular shortcut from Jalan Anak Bukit to Rifle Range Road, one that would have been used by squatters living in the area.

 

The shortcut from Jalan Anak Bukit over the tracks to Rifle Range Road.

The shortcut from Jalan Anak Bukit over the tracks to Rifle Range Road.

 

Looking north from Rifle Range Road ... the train takes a path through much of a Singapore that would otherwise remain unseen.

Looking north from Rifle Range Road ... the train takes a path through much of a Singapore that would otherwise remain unseen.