Monday, May 19, 2008

Ulu Pandan Heritage Trail (8) – The bridge that I ‘blew up’ twice (by Lam Chun See)

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?

Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge - May2008 (22)

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.

Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge - May2008 (15)

Picture No. 2 – View of the railway track crossing Railway Bridge from Clementi Block 305

Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge - 1993 map

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.


Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge - from Picas 1991 (1)

Picture No. 4 – A 1991 photo of the Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge from the National Archives Collection

Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge - May2008 (12)

Picture No. 5 – A May 2008 photo of the Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge taken from a similar angle

Ulu Pandan Railway Bridge - May2008 (7)

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.

21 comments:

oceanskies79 said...

Thanks for this post. I didn't lknow that there's such a history behind the bridge.

Anonymous said...

My favourite place to hang out whenever Im home! I either walk or jog around that area, it almost seems like Im not in Singapore, with all the greenery and kampung-like atmosphere. Thanks for writing about this post.

Lam Chun See said...

You are right about the kampong atmosphere. Some of the residents have planted vegetables and fruit trees near the railway track.

Zen said...

Dogs are generally friendly animals. Sometime back I was quite surprised to find a dog (collie) with patches of white and black fur peeping through the railing fronting fronting our home, puffing cheerfully, as though wanting to make friend with me, meanwhile its owner (a young girl) was leisurely walking about. This doggie is extremely friendly towards everyone -following or running along anyone either walking or bicycling around. Sometimes when its owner is playing baminton on an open area, it will chase after the shuttlecock. Nice dog.

Norman said...

Thank you. I am a young resident of this area and I never knew about the barracks at Dover Road, apart from what my father told me.

peter said...

Norman,
Dover Road where the Singapore Polytechnic now sits was once the Princess Mary Barracks, home of the British Army - Signals Battalion unit. In fact the St john's Church there was associated with the British Army and was called the St John Garrison Church.

Victor said...

The bridge structure looks similar to the one running across Bukit Timah Road and Dunearn Road near Rifle Range Road. I figure that they are constructed around the same era?

Lam Chun See said...

Norman. Continuing from what Peter said about the British military at Dover Road. Did you know that just across the road at the junction with Clementi Road, where the golf club is (roughly), there used to be a cinema called Kent Theatre and a small bowling alley. When I get sufficient inputs, I will post a separate article on that.

Lam Chun See said...

Besides the bridge near Rifle Range Road, there's another near Hill View Avenue. I think must be the same designer and builder.

Norman said...

Mr Lam, as a boy I remember a disused cinema that was marked as "MINDEF Land" right at the location u spoke about.

Victor said...

Chun See, was Kent Theatre the cinema that used to screen Carry On films? I haven't watch any show in the series or stepped into that cinema before but I think I remember my friend mentioning about the cinema and the shows while we were serving NS in the mid-70s.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes I think they showed the Carry On movies. SAF personnel (not sure if any restriction on rank) were allowed to watch movies there. It was quite popular becos the movies were not censored. I think also can buy cheap beer.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Great stuff! Thanks for this bit of history.

peter said...

Victor,
No the railway bridges you mentioned were built in the 1920s. This was the second railway system for Singapore. The ones on Jurong Line were built between 1960 and 1984.

There is one more that belongs to the 1920s - Hindhede Road.

There used to be a railway bridge that belonged to the first railway system in Singapore and was built before the 1920s, i.e. around 1910. This bridge was called the Pulau Saigon Bridge - between UE Square and the former SISSOR buildings towards Havelock Road (I think there is a Robertson Hotel as a prominent reference point). I think the govt widened the road and the railway bridge was subsquently replaced.

Lam Chun See said...

Last week I passed Segamat on the way to Kuantan. As our bus crossed the Segamat River, I saw a railway bridge nearby. It looked just like this one. I think it must have been a 'standard design' in those days.

Sherine said...

My husband and I have just done a trek from Bkt Timah to Teban Gardens following this railway line. It feels like going back in time and there are certaintly many aspects of kampung life being retained along this line eg: local residents planting their own fruit and vegetable, makeshift shrines etc.
However, there are sadly some segments that have been erased/demolished just before Sungei Ulu Pandan.

Lam Chun See said...

Hey what a coincidence. I too was at the Feber Terrace area on Sunday and took some photos of the railway track remains near the AYE.

Anonymous said...

Hello :] Thanks so much for the infomation . Me and my friends are doing a project on the railway as part of the competition of E-heritage . This is my email :]twistedsocks@hotmail.com .

Redstorm said...

I was a regular in the army and was posted to Mowbray Camp in 1974 till the day the unit (then SAF Provost Unit and now known as SAF MP Command) moved to Kranji Camp in the early 2000. Besides, the Ulu Pandan Railway bridge, I am sure you will remember there was a PDF Camp nearby known as Colombo Camp. That area was very hilly and I remember we did some field training there during my BMT. There was also a road running besides the present day canal (was a river then) and surprisingly the road is a running track today. It was known as Jalan Cooper in those day. I remember reporting sick at Colombo Camp for a fish bone stuck in my throat and the medical officer happened to be the son of our first president, Yusof Ishak.

Lam Chun See said...

There's an article in Today about this railway line and bridge.

peter said...

In the name of providing a better 21st century transport system in Singapore, it means a smooth morning drive into town and accessibility.

I see that the bridges at Hillview will have to go because mroning traffic jam for people living in Hillview area wanting to get into Upper Bukit Timah Road.

I wonder whether that means the railway bridge next to Railway Mall will have to go to bcos of road widening to accomodate condominiums around Ford Motor Museum.

If the URA decides to sell land at the foot of Bukit Timah Hill (like what they did at Chestnut Avenue), then Hindhede will also go.

I just hope your house and my house wont go also bcos they want more space for roads. Look at the new expressway at Thomson Road.