Thursday, April 28, 2011

Last Train to Tanjong Pagar Waterfront - Peter Chan

Come June 30, 2011, the KTM-owned property at Tanjong Pagar shall be vacated because agreement has been reached between the Malaysian and Singapore Governments. When news broke out about this impending development, shutter-bugs and heritage conservationists quickly took great interest on this prominent landmark. Property watchers think the current KTM Bhd railway station site and the adjacent waterfront at the Tanjong Pagar Distripark offer tremendous opportunities for waterfront residential, recreational and commercial development.

Photo 1: Usually we don’t chance on this kind of situation inside the Tanjong Pagar Station. I had no hesitation because they were doing for a fashion magazine. Her mother told me she’s in Primary 2.

But the picture should become clearer when the new Singapore Master Plan is released, which is typically at intervals of 5 years; the last was in 2008. For sure the Concept Plan has indicated the area south of the railway station is earmarked for residential use, i.e. when the lease on Tanjong Pagar, Keppel and Brani container terminals expire in 2027. A good contact of mine from Prima Flour told me his company lease in the waterfront area was not extended and this alludes to the property watchers’ belief.

Lest we forget what it was like, come 2050, I like to go back in time to share with readers what else we may not know about this place.

Photo 2: The Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tengku Abdul Rahman speaking to the press when he made a stop-over in Singapore. Tengku was on his way to London. On the right is Raeburn Park (c 1962).

Being the southern-most terminating end of a railway system from Bangkok to Singapore, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station was also very important transport hub much before the terminology became a buzzword. Singapore was then the inter-modal hub for land, ocean and aviation travel. People from the Federation of Malaya travelled by train to Singapore and boarded P&O ocean liners at the Main Wharf belonging to the Singapore Harbour Board.

Going into military history, in 1945 about 15 formations of 115 B29s from the U.S. 20th Bomber Command from bases in India conducted a daylight strike on the Singapore Harbour Board waterfront. Primary targets included berthing wharfs for ocean-going vessels, warehouses (housing substantial enemy military supplies), oil storage, and railway sidings.

Photo 3: Black smoke rising from the Tanjong Pagar dock area. The actual target at a large oil storage facility (bottom left) escaped the U.S. bombing but the passenger hall of the Singapore Station (old name for the Tanjong Pagar Station) took a direct hit. Photo courtesy – USAF Historical Studies Office.
Photo 4: A view of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station from Lim Teck Kim Road (bottom left) and Hoe Chiang Road (bottom right). The tobacco factory is at the bottom right corner. In front of the SHELL oil storage farm was a school which was one-time the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board (CPIB) premises before it moved to Jalan Bukit Merah (c 1958).

In the 1960s, I came through this place for various reasons. There was the visit to the British-American Tobacco factory at Hoe Chiang Road - one of our relatives was a cigarette packer. Then there was the Singapore-Kranji Railway (SKR) heritage walk when I followed my father. My father was very familiar with the place because he lived in Kee Seng Street in the 1920s. The heritage walk began at the railway station where he related his childhood experiences of walking on the abandoned SKR tracks which later became Cantonment Link and Yang Kit Road. In the early 1970s, my uncle had a transport business which operated out of the former Guthrie Building (now the Southpoint). Uncle supplied lorry and container haulage services and I often hopped on the prime-mover going inside the PSA harbour area.

Because we are living in Singapore, architects out-live the buildings they designed. I can’t think of any building built in the modern era which survives longer than the life-span of the designer. So it will be not too long before Photo 5 will change. The Keppel Viaduct will stay as part of the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) but for the rest, I can’t be certain. Do revisit this place whilst you can.

Photo 5: Contrast the modern streetscape of Keppel Road with Photo 4
. Tanjong Pagar Station is dwarfed by the Keppel Viaduct rising above Keppel Road and the warehouses along Empire Dock replaced by a modern container-yard. Thank goodness Mount Faber has not been levelled.


F said...

I just discovered your blog through fellow blogger Leone and I'm so glad she sent me a link!

I visited Tanjong Pagar recently and rode the train to JB. It's so sad that it won't be there for much longer.

Thimbuktu said...

Thanks for a very nice blog, Peter.

After almost a decade of "ding dong battle" by the former well-known Prime Minister of Malaysia who likes to talk alot but doesn't take constructive decisions and delivery also known as NATO (No Action Talk Only), the present Prime Ministers of both countries have inked the agreements on Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for the mutual interest benefits amicably for Malaysia and Singapore. Done deal, deliver and leaders of action.

Another century-old heritage monument to be saved by NHB as recently announced. Cheers!


FL said...

You mentioned that CPIB once occupied the school premises in your photo no. 4. The school was Keppel Pri, and hidden from the photo besides it was another former school (Cantonment Pri). My siblings and I studied in both schools in the 1950s & early 1960s. On the railway station, my late mother would travel with us (as kids) to Kluang, Johor (her hometown)by trains quite regularly in the 1950/1960. Thanks for the photo !

Zen said...

Years back our port chairman, a 'heavy-weight' minister, gave a speech on the future development of PSA. He detailed on the future port which would eventually shift to Tuas, implying that the whole area, including tj pagar, would turn into a prime area. The big boys (large companies) got the hint, quickly move in (some ten years earlier), chopped their spots, and patiently waiting for the 'kill'. With the latest official announcement of turning the whole place into a prime district called Harbour Front, comparable even to orchard road, these early birds indeed catch the worms.

Singapore Man of Leisure said...

I studied at the old Anson road Gan Eng Seng school from 1980 to 1983. Now Tanjong Pagar is totally transformed..... Replaced by high class condominiums and swank offices.

Normally I am sadden by the loss of our heritage, but this relocation of the train station I support!