There are certain places that seem to be forever locked into a time-warp. Places, like a good period novel, that just take you back in time. Places seemingly created with a view on the nostalgic. Such a place in Singapore was the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which ceased operations in June 2011. Whilst the station building has been gazetted as a national monument and will be preserved, the buzz of travellers, rail staff and food vendors, and not forgetting the sounds and smells that emanated from their stalls, could never be replaced. Likewise, the evocative rattle and roar of the trains themselves.
Much of the charm of the former station was in its run-down appearance. It provided a stark contrast to the pristine, sterile, office towers that rise nearby. The product, perhaps, of a combination of neglect and indifference, major restoration work is definitely needed. In its heyday the station boasted a 34 room hotel whose service was said to rival Raffles – indeed it welcomed many dignitaries, including Malaysian royalty.
Built between 1929 and 1932 the station originally served the Tanjong Pagar docks across the street (now a part of the Keppel shipyard). In 1918, the British colonial government handed over ownership of the station to the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) on a 999-year lease, along with 200ha of railway land that travailed Singapore from the south (where the station is located) to its northern shores (Woodlands) opposite the Malaysian coast. Ownership was assigned to the Malaysian national rail service, KTM Berhad, as part of the separation agreement Singapore signed with Malaysia when the former gained independence in 1965. Train services served many towns along the western peninsula of Malaysia, from Johor Bahru, kulai and Segamat in the south, through Seramban and the capital Kuala Lumpur, to Ipoh, Butterworth and Alor Setar in the north. In 1993 the Eastern Oriental-Express commenced a train service to take passengers from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok.
Due to the station being Malaysian sovereign territory, a quirk in immigration procedures was created in 1998 when Singapore immigration authorities moved out of the station. The result was that passengers cleared Malaysian immigration and customs, in the heart of Singapore, before clearing Singapore’s (45 minutes later) in Woodlands!
The last train trundled out of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on 30th June, 2011. Driven by the Sultan of the southern Malaysian state of Johor, with a huge crowd of onlookers and well-wishers, it was a fitting and emotional end to the station’s operational life.