Last week Mister Noodle and I took a couple of stolen hours to walk part of a railway line in Singapore. This may not sound the most exciting/romantic/sane thing to do just before a first wedding anniversary but we had our reasons.
Over the last few months we have followed the build-up to the permanent closure of the Malaysian-operated KTM service and the tracks. June 30 saw the last trains to run on the line before it was shut down, the land handed back to Singapore, and the steel tracks dismantled. It has been very interesting to witness reaction in Singapore to the closure of the line and how people are engaging with plans for the land’s future. There have been parties on the last trains, internet campaigns to see the land protected, and many, many people making the most of the opportunity to walk a previously unexplored area of the city-state.
Luckily for us the one area of track to remain open to the public until the end of the month is the section nearest to our condo, running from the old Bukit Timah Station to the Rail Mall. Since moving to Singapore last August we have become accustomed to lying in bed hearing the old stock rumble past, horns tooting, early in the morning and late at night. My affection for this daily occurrence turned somewhat farcical on the last night the trains operated as, with a hint of whimsical sorrow in my voice, I solemnly noted the passing of the last train…THREE times. There was the last train with passengers, the last train driven by the Sultan of Johor, and the last last train to take the Malaysian railway staff home.
We began our journey at the old Bukit Timah railway station. I feel a strange affection for the abandoned little station. Despite the 30 degree heat, there is something about the place that transports me back to the country station closest to my home in Suffolk. I am reminded of warm spring mornings, waiting for a train as the sun rises, listening to lambs in the field opposite (yes, really) and perishing winter nights, stood in the dark trying to stop Poodle Noodle weeing on everything and everyone in sight.
Mister Noodle and I headed over the bridge, sidestepping a couple having engagement photos taken by the 1871 marker stone (perhaps they were hoping some of the bridge’s longevity would rub off on their union).
Even though every sane part of us knew the line had stopped operating weeks ago, both of us did find our sense of sound a little more highly attuned that afternoon – as if there would be the faraway rumblings of a train on the tracks or a set of points creaking into position.
It was fascinating to walk the line and get a different perspective on Singapore. 5pm on a Thursday night and the line was quite busy with other walkers – all of whom gave us gleeful, knowing smiles, as if we were sharing in some secret, slightly prohibited experience. The more we walked, the more I could appreciate the calls for the line to be preserved as a green corridor for pedestrians through the city. There was so much more to take in than on the concrete pavements and motorway flyovers.
As we approached the Rail Mall we came across a small shrine-like set-up tucked underneath one of the bridges. We have no idea why it was placed there – one of the many stories you can only imagine have travelled up and down the line over the years.
As you can just about make out in the distance of the picture below the tracks have already started to be removed and, with a year-end deadline to have all materials handed back to Malaysia, the opportunities to walk on or photograph the line are rapidly disappearing. So much changes so quickly in the Little Red Dot, I really hope that there will be a permanent preservation of some of the line for people to enjoy on foot as we have done.
More information about the fabulous campaign to preserve the line as a green corridor can be found at: http://www.thegreencorridor.org/
Discolosure: I owe a great deal of my interest in this subject to my close friends Flora and Notabilia. My first outing with them was to photograph Bukit Timah station (they did the photographing whilst I cursed my choice of flip-flop footwear). At the same time, their train trip to Johor Bahru inspired me to do the same with my in-laws. There is nothing like friends who will walk with you along a narrow railway bridge when the line is still operating, or delve through a bug infested abandoned cemetery in the interests of finding out a little bit more about our new home.