Crowds come out for KTM line's final days

Rachel Chan my paper AsiaOne 27 Jun 11;

Passengers have been packing the trains from Singapore to Johor Baru, while foodies have thronged the food stalls in Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

Less than a week before the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) trains cease operations from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Singaporeans are turning out in droves to visit the Malayan Railway lands here.

Passengers have been packing the trains from Singapore to Johor Baru, while foodies have thronged the food stalls in Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

And yesterday, more than 100 people embarked on one last weekend stroll along the railway tracks in Upper Bukit Timah Road. The group started the 3km walk from the truss bridge in Upper Bukit Timah Road at 8am, moving on to highlights such as the girder bridge in Hillview Avenue, the gated level crossing and KTM staff huts in Gombak Drive, before ending at the level crossing in Choa Chu Kang Road.

Armed with cameras, participants snapped pictures and waved with gusto every time a train rattled past. Train drivers and passengers alike waved cheerfully back.

Organised by environmental consultant Eugene Tay and conducted by naval architect Jerome Lim, a history buff, the walk was to raise awareness for the Nature Society of Singapore's (NSS') proposal to conserve the railway lands as a continuous strip of recreational space.

Mr Tay, 34, and Mr Lim, 46, are independent volunteers and not part of the society. Altogether, 600 people have gone on Mr Tay's monthly walks since he started them last November.

There are two reasons he supports NSS' proposal for a "green corridor".

"I want to help preserve shared memories. Buildings like the old National Library have disappeared in a fast-developing city. We need more of these things to remind us that this is Singapore," he said.

Secondly, he believes in creating a shared vision. He said: "A green corridor is not only for nature lovers, but also for history buffs and photographers."

TV personality Denise Keller, 29, who resides near The Rail Mall in Upper Bukit Timah Road, was among those who joined the walk. She said: "I hope that (the Government) will keep the railway, or save some of these tracks for the green corridor, because it's history."

The producer-host for Discovery Channel said that she used to take the train at least once every month as it is a "cheap, cheerful and really scenic" way of getting to the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

For retiree Sally Tan, 56, the sight of the truss bridge near The Rail Mall brought back memories of the nearby squatter hut that her late grandmother used to live in. "We didn't need a clock to tell the time - we went by the trains. I recall there was one that passed her house every day at 5pm," she said. The last of the squatters was resettled in the 1990s.

As for gate operator M. Manikavasam, 48, the railway has been his livelihood for the past 27 years. The Malaysian from Tampin, Negeri Sembilan, joined KTM as a repair man. He worked at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for 13 years before becoming a gate operator.

Mr Manikavasam controls the traffic signals and railway barrier gates at Singapore's widest level crossing in Choa Chu Kang Road.

His kampung-like workplace is surrounded by flowering shrubs and fruit trees, and the jovial man obligingly allows visitors inside his little hut and demonstrates how he does his work.

"I love Singapore. I have been working here all my life, how can I not love (it here)? I am sad, very sad. But what to do?" he said. After Thursday - the last day KTM trains will ply the tracks from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands - he will be transferred to work in Kluang, Malaysia, and his salary will be halved, he added.

He will bid audieu to the last train when it passes his work station at 10.45pm on Thursday, driven by the Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar of Johor.

Over at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station last Saturday afternoon, throngs of people - easily hundreds - voraciously snapped photos for posterity and wolfed down goreng pisang by the wok.

The building has been gazetted as a national monument and the Bukit Timah railway station further north will also be conserved. The railway lands, spanning 173.7ha, belong to KTM but will be returned to Singapore on Friday.

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said in a recent Facebook post that the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the National Parks Board have been in talks with NSS over the "green corridor" proposal.