The International Steam Pages

Frozen in Time, Tanjong Pagar Station, Singapore, February 2014

Faced with nearly a whole day in Singapore, a place where I have never felt comfortable for all sorts of reasons, a visit to the erstwhile 'international' station was top of a very short list of places to visit.

References to Tanjong Pagar station correctly appear in the Malaysian section of my main Tales Page. For historic reasons which are now almost forgotten, the Malayan Railway (the successor to the Federated Malay States Railway or FMSR) passed entirely to Malaysia when Singapore was ejected (or walked away depending upon your point of view) from the federation. Hence, for many years, passengers would go through Malaysian Immigration and Customs on the platform of the station and nowhere near the actual border which would be half way along the Causeway which links the Island State with the Mainland. Passenger fares were the same in either direction, by which the same number of 'dollars' were charged, so as the currencies diverged, it cost more than twice as much to travel from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur than it did in the opposite direction. 

In recent times, passenger and freight usage of the line across the island was low. The station was inconveniently situated adjacent to the docks, at least a winding 10 minute walk from the nearest MRT station of the same name and Malaysia had long since developed its own port system on the north side of the the channel connected by a spur to the original main line. In the best traditions of disputes between neighbours this one ran and ran, in parallel to a dispute over the price paid by Singapore for its water delivered through a pipeline on the Causeway. Eventually common sense prevailed, a new agreement was signed and Tanjong Pagar and its railway line closed in 2011. The tracks were ripped up soon afterwards bar a short section in the station and it was announced that a railway museum would be established.

In fact, nothing has happened in more than two years, a fence, locked gates and security cameras were installed and this being Singapore no-one has dared to enter and vandalise it or cover it in graffiti as would happen in other countries. Singapore has destroyed too many of its historic buildings, indeed it has not been afraid to construct the occasional replica; so hopefully, this magnificent art deco structure ought to be safe even if it continues to be something of a 'white elephant'. This was my first sight of the station, through the locked gates, and apart from a few absent parked cars it might have been just the quiet period between what were never very frequent trains.

Time has truly stood still here and having determined that official access was just not going to happen, I did what all gricers have to do from time to time. I decided to bunk it, reckoning that by now the security cameras would either be switched off or no longer monitored and that the worst I faced was a free trip back to the airport for my evening flight out. To save money, a thick hedge next to the car park had not merited an extra fence and it was clear that while few had been in this way, I was not the first impromptu visitor. I needed no further invitation.

Conscious that my visit might be cut short at any time, I didn't pause to take in the detail, I just kept shooting. The station is aligned approximately east-west with the portico above facing east - it was by now early afternoon hence there was no direct light.

I half expected the main body of the station to be inaccessible but I quickly found an unsecured door... This is the east interior:

These are the illustrations in detail, broadly showing rubber tapping, rice growing and tin mining:

This is the north wall (upper), the crest is that of the FMS.

This is the office of the 'Polis Bantuan, KTMB, SIngapura', KTMB being Keretapi Tanah Melatu Behad (KTM Ltd, the successor to the Malayan Railway). This occupies the lower part of the west side of the main hall.

Above are more illustrations showing palm trees, ships and bullock carts, the artist's idealised view of 'old' Malaya:

By now I was getting a little nervous less I lose my record of these treasures. The way out to the platforms was totally secure, but looking out I could see that there were still tracks in place some way along the platforms even if it had been lifted beyond.

I was extremely pleased to see that the famous Ransomes and Rapier hydraulic buffer stop was still in place, unfortunately that was as close as I could get.

I left with all my personal boxes ticked. What of the future? My ideal would to recreate a scene such as shown in the late John Tillman's picture of 564.11 'Nibong Tebal' ready to leave on a mixed train to Gemas in 1971. What chance of Malaysia donating one of the four known surviving 'O' / 56 class Pacifics, one of them is not far away in Johor Baru? Perchance to dream...

For more background information on the station by a local Singapore historian please visit link dead by July 2020.

Rob Dickinson