Sep 26, 2010
Calls to preserve train station
Heritage buffs say Tanjong Pagar site has rich history and must stay open to the public
These four statues at the front of the station represent the four economic pillars of Malaya during colonial times - agriculture, commerce, transport and industry. In those days, many people were illiterate and art was a way of conveying powerful messages to them. --ST PHOTOS: MARYANNE TAN
Now that the land around the Tanjong Pagar railway station has been given to Singapore, the next question is: What should the Government do with the site?
While there are no concrete plans for the station, which sits on prime land, people familiar with the place are calling for it to remain open and accessible to all.
A group is lobbying for it to be turned into a transportation museum, much like how some people wanted to turn the old Collyer Quay into a maritime museum.
Whatever it is, experts and people who have a special attachment to the station feel it should retain some of its old flavour, to honour its historical significance.
Above all, it should remain a public space, one that people from all walks of life can enjoy.
Said Ms Carolyn Seet, 38, who started a petition in July to turn the station into a transportation museum: 'The railway was for everyone - rich or poor, or those who could not afford other means of travel in the past. So we must keep it accessible and not so posh that only a select few can go there.'
The assistant general manager of an IT firm hopes to send her petition to the Prime Minister's Office once she garners 1,000 signatures. She has now collected about 300 online.
She also started a group on social networking site Facebook that now has more than 1,000 followers, many of whom have fond memories of the station. Ms Seet herself rode on the trains on her first trip out of the country almost 30 years ago.
'I feel a sense of loss, with so many of the places I knew as a child gone or demolished. We've lost so much in one generation. If we lose that nostalgia and memories, then we have less to grasp of our past,' said the mother of two young boys.
In a land swop agreement reached last week between Singapore and Malaysia, Malaysia received six land parcels in Marina South and the Ophir-Rochor area in exchange for giving up six Malayan Railway sites in Tanjong Pagar, Kranji, Woodlands and Bukit Timah.
Development of the land around the station will be carried out by M-S Pte Ltd, a 60-40 joint venture between Khazanah Nasional and Temasek Holdings.
Tanjong Pagar station reminds people of an important point in local history, said Dr Chua Ai Lin, a historian at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
'The railway was crucial to our economic development as it was the main mode of transporting key commodities such as tin and rubber from across the peninsula.'
Singapore's port thrived because of the goods the country processed and exported internationally. Trains supported this by being efficient in transporting large volumes of goods, she said.
Dr Lai Chee Kien, an assistant professor at NUS' architecture department who has done research on the railway's history, said the place represents the social relations between Singapore and Malaysia.
'Our connections go beyond politics: We have economic, geographical, historical and social ties,' he said, adding that pre-1965 history has not yet been taught comprehensively to the younger generation.
He hopes the space can be used to help educate the public about this aspect of history.
Heritage buffs also want the building to be gazetted as a national monument. Said Mr Ho Weng Hin, director of Studio Lapis, an architectural conservation specialist consultancy: 'It is great architecturally, historically and socially. Its significance in these three areas is very high,' he said.
The 36-year-old feels the land should be developed holistically because 'the value is in the entire whole'. This includes the greenery along the railway tracks.
Mr Ho also urged developers to consider the environmental impact when deciding what to do with the site.
He has done extensive research on the station for a book he is co-authoring on architecture in Singapore from the 1920s to 1970s. Published by the Singapore Heritage Society, it is expected to be out in stores by the end of next year.
Modelled after great early 20th century train terminals in the United States - in which modern technology was used to create huge spaces - the Tanjong Pagar station was designed by D.S. Petrovich of Swan & McLaren, one of Singapore's earliest architectural firms. It opened in 1932.
'No matter what it becomes, it should not be a place for a limited few,' argued Mr Ho.
'The new use should be meaningful not just to future generations, but to people who identified with the building in the past.'
Keep it accessible
'The railway was for everyone - rich or poor, or those who could not afford other means of travel in the past. So we must keep it accessible and not so posh that only a select few can go there.'
MS CAROLYN SEET, 38, who started a petition to turn the station into a transportation museum
Sep 26, 2010
Worthy of preservation
Most will agree that the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the railway line are historically significant. Those familiar with the place say there are some important artefacts there. We take a look at what these are, and why they are of value.
Four statues at the front of the station, each with an emblem above and the letters F, M, S and R
FMSR stands for Federated Malay States Railways, as the railway operator was previously called, and refers to the consolidated train operation that allowed for interstate travel. It tells the story of developments in then Malaya - economically, politically and socially.
The railway enabled trade and allowed the British to expand their political clout and economic power from the 1870s to 1930s.
The four statues also represent four economic pillars - agriculture, industry, transport and commerce. They are a powerful statement to all who see that this station has enabled these elements to flourish.
Mr Ho Weng Hin, an architectural conservation specialist and consultant, said art was one way of conveying messages to the public, who were mostly non-literate.
The same message of economic activities is repeated on the murals inside the station.
Murals inside station
Each measuring about 8m by 3m, the murals depict the economic activities of the people of pre-war Singapore and Malaya.
The murals capture scenes such as shipping, agriculture, mining and rubber cultivation.
It is interesting to note, Mr Ho said, that the murals were made of the same material that made Singapore rich - rubber.
Keeping the murals in the same space as the passengers' waiting hall conveys a sense of grandeur, and arrival to Singapore as a principal city in British Malaya, said Mr Ho.
Key token system
The key tokens were exchanged between train drivers or crew whenever they reached a station or intersection. Gaining the key token signified permission to proceed, based on security and traffic conditions.
Introduced in 1885 when the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) trains first rolled out, the system is still being used in several regions along the trains' routes.
Only the Central route, which includes stops such as Kuala Lumpur, has switched to electronic signalling systems, which are more efficient and require less manpower to handle.
Mr Mohd Fazil Ismail, senior corporate communications manager at KTM Berhad, said the key token system will be fully replaced with the electronic system in the next 10 years.
Push trolleys were introduced in 1885 and were used by station inspectors daily to check the railway. They used to be pulled by coolies, or general workers of that time.
Last used in the 1960s, they have now been replaced by higher-functioning machines such as the EM20, which monitors track strength, the diesel trolley, and the ultrasonic trolley, which can detect problems with the tracks.