If you were to travel along Clementi Road in the direction of Bukit Timah, you will cross the Sungei Ulu Pandan near the junction with Ulu Pandan Road. If you looked to the left, towards Clementi Avenue 6, you will see a pedestrian bridge with white canopy. And if you were observant enough, you will notice another bridge a hundred metres or so behind it. This is a black colour iron rail bridge. Have you ever wondered why they built such a strange bridge there? Do you know the history behind this bridge?
Picture 1 - Sungei Ulu Pandan viewed from Clementi Road (in direction of Clementi Ave 6)
Well, I too do not know the history of this bridge. So I will have to leave it to Peter to tell you more about it in the next article. All I know is that a railway track runs across this bridge. (I use the present tense because the railway track is still there as you can see from the photos below) This railway starts at the KTM (Malayan Railway) track somewhere between Holland Road and Bukit Timah Road. After it crosses this railway bridge, it swings to the right running parallel to Sungei Ulu Pandan towards Jurong East direction and ends at a few points in the western end of Singapore; the furthest being at Shipyard Road, near Pulau Sumulun.
Picture No. 2 – View of the railway track crossing Railway Bridge from Clementi Block 305
Picture No. 3 – Map of the Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge and vicinity from a 1993 street directory
But I do have some close and personal knowledge of this railway bridge because during my active NS days, I took part in 2 exercises to demolish this bridge. The first was when I was attending the Junior Officers Engineers Course at Gillman Camp. The second was when I was a platoon commander in Mandai Camp. I have blogged about the second exercise before, and so today, I will just talk about that first encounter with this bridge.
During my JOE course, the very first exercise; if my memory serves me, was a demolition raid called Exercise Musang (or Mongoose, I am not too sure). As trainees, we hated this type of exercise for two reasons. (1) Such demolition raids were always conducted in the dead of the night, which meant that by the time we returned to camp and cleared the stores and so on, we won’t have many hours left to sleep. (2) Such raids typically ended with a fire fight which meant that there will be casualties to evacuate during the withdrawal phase.
For this particular exercise, our RV (rendezvous) point was at Dover Road. From there we moved on foot to the car park at Sunset Avenue (now occupied by a small shopping mall called Sunset Arcade), formed up and proceeded to set up the charges according to plan. After the bridge and surrounding tracks were successfully demolished, and the enemies killed in the ensuing firefight; the controller called for a halt. This was so that we could dismantle all the dummy charges and detonating cords etc. and pack them onto the 3-tonner. After that the exercise resumed and we had to withdraw with our casualties back to the RV at Dover Road. We took turns to carry the casualties using the fireman lift method. In those days (1977), traffic along Clementi Road was very light after midnight and so we did not cause any traffic jam.
Picture No. 4 – A 1991 photo of the Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge from the National Archives Collection
Picture No. 5 – A May 2008 photo of the Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge taken from a similar angle
Picture No. 6 – This recent photo shows remnants of the railway track that runs over the now disused bridge.
Besides this exercise we had 2 other demolition raids in our JOE course. One was to blow up the bridge joining Shipyard Road to Pulau Sumulun. This one was quite tricky because we had to lower the men by toggle rope to attach the ‘explosives’ to the pillars.
The third exercise was in Sungei Gedong area. A funny thing happened during the withdrawal stage. A very friendly stray dog ran along with us all the way to the RV point. When we finally departed by 3-tonner, the poor dog was unable to follow us and he looked so sad.
Today I often travel along Clementi Road. Each time I pass Sungei Ulu Pandan and see the bridge in the distance, my mind goes back to that night 31 years ago. When I see the busy traffic along this stretch of Clementi Road, I just cannot picture myself and my buddies evacuating casualties along it.
My …….. how much Singapore has changed in one generation.
P.S. - To get a clearer view of the pictures, just click on it to go to my Flickr account.
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