Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Expressways, Flyovers and Bridges of the 1960s – Ayer Rajah Expressway (Peter Chan)

1966 marked the beginning of the second Singapore 5-Year Plan. The road network for Singapore was prepared in this second Plan. A major road termed as the Pan-Island Expressway was first mooted in this Plan to serve as a major route to link up new towns under construction, e.g. Jurong, Toa Payoh, Kallang Industrial Basin and other proposed new towns (Woodlands, Teluk Blangah and Changi). It was proposed to be dual 3-lane road with limited controlled access points to the expressway.

There are two ways to design/build an “expressway”. One is based using existing roads. The other method is to build a new route through forest, cemeteries, acquired estates and inhabited settlements. Two places which come to mind by widening and extending existing roads are Ayer Rajah Road and Jalan Toa Payoh. Other expressways which were built by a new route method were SLE, BKE, CTE, ECP, KJE and KPE. When ready by 2015, the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) will be the first undersea road-in-the tunnel expressway.

Ayer Rajah Road, fore-runner of the AYE, was between Gillman Circus and Clementi Circus, not to be confused with Upper Ayer Rajah Road as the section between Clementi Circus and Jurong Town Hall Road.

Ayer Rajah Road was never appropriately considered as the first Singapore expressway when the public road infrastructure project got underway in 1962. It was a part of “Major Road Construction Projects” in Singapore at that time; meaning road widening and extension was all that mattered. So low was the priority that only S$0.385m was allocated for the Ayer Rajah Road project. As a child passing through this way many times over, the dramatic transformation of Ayer Rajah Road (into the AYE by the mid-1980s) and the surrounding landscape fascinated me. So I like to describe yesterday’s Ayer Rajah Road and its vicinity to you.

We start with an aerial view of the area. How much has Ayer Rajah Road remains till this day?

Photo 1: Aerial view of Ayer Rajah Road (circa 1960)

Further down Ayer Rajah Road on the opposite side of what is now Science Park 1, I saw British military personnel playing rugby at Gloucester Field; now Portsdown Avenue. Depending on the time of the year, you could also catch a game of cricket or football. In the 1970s the field became a practice site for archers.

A place I found most interesting was a huge British military base at what is now the ST Automotive Inspection Center. It is only in recent times that I found that it was the REME 40 Base Workshop. It was the largest British military transport repair facility in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. There were Bedford trucks, Centurion tanks and Humber PIG armored vehicles under the sheds and in the open yards. Sometimes you could even see a small shunter pulling a flat-bed trailer.

Photo 2: What remains from this photo are the buildings at Woking Road, off Portsdown Road. They are shown at the bottom of the photo. Gloucester Barracks and Rowcroft Lines merged to become Science Park 1. The SAF 3rd Transport Battalion and ST Automotive/ST Engineering occupy the former 40 Singapore Base Workshop. The original Ayer Rajah Road are lanes one and two of the AYE in the direction of Jurong.

Kent Ridge looked so much higher than what it is too today. Probably the thick vegetation mask what was truly a magnificent natural highland especially when seen during sunset. I saw many double-storey bungalows neatly spaced out on top of the ridge whilst below in the valley were the Malay kampungs and terraced rows of military accommodations. The bungalows up on Kent Ridge are now exclusively used by the National University of Singapore but it was once the home of the top British Army military brass. After the British Pull-out in 1971, it was used by the SAF top brass like Maj-Gen (Rtd) Winston Choo as his residence.

I came to Ayer Rajah Road area one last time in 1978 when I collected my graduation gown at the Kent Ridge campus (Central Library). By this time, Clementi Circus was demolished and a light-controlled junction was in place. Thank goodness I drove otherwise I would have to walk and puff all the way from the bus-stop at Clementi Road to the Central Library.

Photo 3: Kent Ridge viewed from the junction of Ayer Rajah Road and North Buona Vista Road. The senior British Army staff bungalows on top of Kent Ridge but today they belong to the National University of Singapore. The properties are numbered 1 to 10 Kent Ridge Road. The former North Buona Vista Road is at the bottom of the photo with a British Army military base on the right. National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Medicine (MD 11) and the roundabout at Lower Kent Ridge Road now occupy the settlement at the foot of Kent Ridge.

Additional comments by Lam Chun See

I recall the time when the flyover joining North and South Buona Vista roads was being constructed. Incidentally, I checked my 1981 street directory. North and South Buona Vista roads were not joined together. How stranged.

It must be after 1986 when this flyover was being constructed, because I was already working at NPB at its new building at Bukit Merah Central. I remember the horrific traffic jams caused by the road diversions here whenever I returned to NPB from Jurong. Around that time I also did some TQC training at SAE, or Singapore Automotive Engineering before it was renamed ST Automotive. My counterparts were the HR Manager and the QA Manager. I cannot recall the former's name, but I found out not long ago that the the QA Manager, Mr Khoo's daughter and my eldest daughter are the best of friends throughout their schools days and now in the NTU.

Next article will be on PIE from Jalan Anak Bukit to Bedok North.


yg said...

peter, there are at least 2 expressways which have bus-stops. at least, you can take a bus to some of the places along these expressways. which are the two?

peter said...

Chun See:
Buona Vista Flyover took land from the British Army base called "Singapore District Workshop", which is not the same as REME 40 Base Workshop. Some of the land was taken by Ayer Rajah Industrial Park.

The section of South Buona Vista Road nearer to Ayer Rajah Road was truncated and is now inside Kent Ridge Wing. The section of the original North Buona Vista Road nearer to Ayer Rajah Road is facing the bus stop next to the overhead pedestrian bridge from NUH.

YG: Beats me, I don't know the answer. I only know buses travel on TPE and some parts of AYE but not sure of PIE.

Lam Chun See said...

Ans to YG's question.

1) PIE along the Whitley Rd stretch. There is a bus stop opposite CJC.

2) AYE. I have seen bus stops from former Tang Village up to Buona Vista Rd.

peter said...

Chun See
U mean bus stop on PIE or on the old Whitley Road side facing CJC? If on Whitley Road that is not counted because that stretch no longer used by PIE (but back in the 1970s it was the case). What bus # travels PIE you saw?

yg said...

chun see, at least one service also stops near car-park f along the ecp service road. you are right about the aye has the most number of bus-stops.

Siew Min said...

During my reservist in early 1990s, I attended some "Upgrading" course at OETI in the former REME 40 Camp. I vaguely recall some old hangar style buildings but remember more of new buildings.

Look forward to your next blog re Jalan Anak Bukit to Bedok North as I'm more familiar with the East area

Lam Chun See said...

No Peter. It is along PIE opp CJC and near to junction with the famous Onraet Rd from which Mas Selamat escapes. I believe the bus is Service 154 and goes from Dunearn Rd to Whitley, PIE and then Thomson Rd near the old Police Academy. As far back as 9178/79 this service already in place under SBS. At that time I stayed in Farrer Rd and sometimes I go to work in Toa Payoh by taking this bus.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Peter Chan is the man to vote if he becomes an MP. Artistically talented since he plays the piano, guitar, violin and perhaps other instruments, he is also well-versed with things historical, especially within the context of the Singapore story.

And he's a young man too. In his email to me he says, "Andy I am much younger than you." But he has achieved so much.

Like Chun See perhaps he should think of authorship. Thanks Peter for writing on my blog.

Anonymous said...


I am not as good as Ms. Eunice Olsen. i hear she's from East Coast area.

Icemoon said...

Haha, Peter so paiseh forgot to sign his name.

TheEspian said...

Thanks for the enlightening overview of the historical layout of my estate's backyard, so to speak. =)

Unknown said...

This blog is amazing!!!I love to drive by a bridge, actually there are bridge beautiful for their structure or their size. simply love it. I´ll approach
costa rica investment opportunities in this country there are land that need big bridges.

Anonymous said...

It is kinda of sad when my beloved Ayer Rajah Camp was torned down end of 2010. By now, it is completely flat piece of land, waiting to be developed into Mediapolis, and the future site for mediacorp. the old 40 base workshops were still there, and that is where i serve my ns. in fact the number "40" was adopted and later became known as 40 SAR, the workshops are there to support the armour regiment. It was till 2010, when all army units at ayer rajah camp, glouchester camp shifted elsewhere. juz in case, if anyone wonder why the names :portsdown and glochester, coz the british army engineers were from their glouchester and portsdown army units back in Britain, hence they use the same names and terms.

Lam Chun See said...

I passed by AYE a few weeks ago and noticed that they were pulling down the old buildings that were formerly part of ST Auto; previously called SAE or Spore Automotive Engineering. Looks like a case of Another One Bites the Dust:(

I noticed that recently much interest has been generated in the KTM station in Tanjong Pagar and the railway tracks. I am not keen to join the crowds as I know there would be lots of photos been taken to capture a piece of that history. I am always more concerned about the lesser-known landmarks that quietly disappear without anyone noticing.

jumahat said...

I was born in Glochester barack oct 1966☺

Anonymous said...

If anyone of you were to go jogging or cycling or dog walking along the Ulu Pandan Canal, near the 'back door' of the Faber Estate, you would see a small wooden sign pointing towards the AYE. On the sign are the words 'Upp. Ayer Rajah Rd 550m'.

The sign is made of thick, heavily varnished wood and no more than 30cm above the ground. It seemed rather old and vintage.

I noticed this recently, to which I surmised that that part of the AYE (near Pandan Gardens) was really the former Upper Ayer Rajah Rd.

I live next to the AYE in Clementi and I remember when I was a kid in the early 1980s, my mother and I could cross the road (jaywalk?) to the other side. There were no overhead bridges then, and the AYE hadn't yet existed. The overhead bridges along the AYE were completed in November 1987 by the Public Works Department: you could see a small plaque mentioning this etched onto the metal railings of the overhead bridge.

tom baker said...

I seved with 25 Coy R A S C as R E M E attached to them, in 1956, If my memory is correct "5 coy was next door to 40 Base. We had to cross a main road to get to work and the workshop was next door to a playing field .Played footbal there until I was posted to Nee Soon

Zooby said...

My dad lived in Rawcroft Lines while he was in the REME in the 60s. His name is Zubairi. I just showed him the second photo, the aerial view. He was pointing things out to me. Anyone remember him? Sometimes went by the name of Hassan or "Q". I'm not sure why.

Unknown said...

I was at Rowcroft Lines in 59/60 and did my Tech Store man course at the REME training Centre. My name is Hoo Seang Chan . Names like Cheah Pee Bok ,Arjan Mangahram, Eddie Dickman, CSM Drysdale. Can anyone remember them.

Anonymous said...

We moved into clementi west st. 1 in 1979. Back then,there were still camps(?) where blocks 611,613 are. I found an old map saying the area was a PWD labourers quarters?? Anyway, I loved the drives along ayer rajah road/AYE back then. The whole stretch were lined with majestic rain trees. Pity they have been mostly pulled out due to safety concerns due to their shallow roots. I used to hear tanks rumbling down ayer rajah Road in the middle of the night to the the camps. Got up a few times to watch them go by. Awesome sight for a young kid then. They had camps along ayer rajah where science Park is now. Their roofs looked like a tin can cut horizontally across.