30 July marked an occasion both historic and nostalgic. The handover of the station marks a major milestone in Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia. The resolution of a 20-year-old bone of contention paves the way for the two countries to work more closely together on other areas of bilateral cooperation in the future. To many of the thousands who turned up to bid the station a sentimental farewell, however, it was simply an occasion to relive fond memories of train journeys gone by.
This post is dedicated to the closure of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, and the end of an era in rail travel in Singapore. Read on to find out more
The station was built by French construction firm Brossard and Mopin Ltd between 1929 and 1932. It was officially opened by Governer Sir Cecil Clementi on 2 May 1932, and has played a key role in moving people and goods between Singapore and the Malay Peninsula.
The station was part of the Singapore Railway, whichis the southernmost segment in the West Coast Line of what first began as the Malayan Railway. The original line was 23 km long and stretched across Oxley, Orchard and Monk’s Hill roads, past Newton Cirtus and on to Bukit Timah and Woodlands.
The three-storey station was designed by DS Petrovitch of the architectural firm Swan and MacLaren. The Serbian architect’s design is said to be inspired by the Helsinki Station in Finland.
The station’s most striking features are the high arches that mark its entrance, which feature green roof-tiles influenced by Chinese temple architecture. Standing proudly in he spaces between the arches are four towering statues named Agriculture, Commerce, Transport and Industry – a homage to the sectors of Malay’s colonial economy. Above the statues are four crests that bear the initials of the Federated Malay States Railway.
In 1819, the British colonial government handed the ownership of some 200ha of railway land in Singapore, including the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, to the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) on a 999-year leasehold term. After Malaysia’s independence, ownership was in turn taken over by FMSR’s successor company KTM Berhad. As part of the separation agreement that Singapore signed with Malaysia in 1965, KTM Berhad was allowed to retain control over railway land located in Singapore, meaning that the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station was considered part of Malaysian sovereign territory. This created a somewhat strange situation for travelers, who were required to clear Malaysian customs even when they boarded the train in Singapore.
To resolve the issue of railway land ownership, former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and former Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin signed a bilateral agreement in 1990, in which Malaysia agreed to vacate the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in return for three parcels of land in Singapore. However, implementation was delayed due to differences in the interpretation of some of the agreement’s clauses.
After a 20 year detour, Singapore and Malaysia capped a historic day in relations on 30 June 2011 when they sealed their agreement on this long outstanding bilateral issue. At the stroke of midnight on 1 July, Singapore resumed ownership of all Malayan railway land south of Woodlands. This includes plots of land in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji, Woodlands and Bukit Timah, and another 26km of land along railway tracks.
In exchange, 6 parcels of land in prime downtown areas were offered for joint development by the investment arms of the respective governments. This is positive outcome is a win-win for both parties, and, in the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a “historical breakthrough in bilateral relations”
What happens now?
Railway operations at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station will permanently cease from 1 July 2011. All train journeys across the causeway will start and end at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint.
The main building of the railway station has been gazetted as a national monument by the Public Monuments Board. It will be conserved and may be integrated with future developments on the site.
Straits Times Friday 1 July
(Infopedia is my favourite quick stop for all Singapore related info…try it here)
Title: Heritage places of Singapore
Author: Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau
Call No.: SING959.57 WAN