Making Tracks Down Memory Lane

2/10/2015 5:55:36 PM
written By : Shobha Tsering Bhalla Print

In a nostalgia-inducing move by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), the country’s historic Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, which closed on June 2011, will be open for public viewing on public holidays from Feb 20.

The station, built between 1929 and 1931, was gazetted as a national monument in 2013. Given its rich history and heritage value, the former station has been a popular venue for private events, ranging from carnivals, pop-up restaurants to high-end fashion shows and product launches.

"By opening up the former TPRS to the public on public holidays, we hope that more people will use the opportunity to visit the historical monument for strolls, take photos or to partake in its history," SLA said.

The authorities say the venue will be opened for various fun events and activities so that more Singaporeans will get to enjoy its history and charm. Up next is a flea market organised by Public Garden which will be held at the platform of the station in February.

For many Singaporeans and long-time residents this new initiative by the

SLA will bring to mind the good old days – even as recently as three years ago - when travelling to Kuala Lumpur wasn’t just a harried rush to the airport or a dreary car ride that ended in an unending queue at the Causeway immigration points.  

I, for one, have fond memories of this place and have taken interesting train journeys from this station, mostly to Kuala Lumpur and once memorably all the way to Bangkok on the Orient Express. But it's the simple family journeys on the KL express (several times with the children when they were very young) that remain etched in my mind.

My husband and I love trains so quite often we would leave the car behind and take a sleeper to KL to let the kids experience a bit of the great train journeys that were an integral part of our growing up in India. It was a sad day when Tanjong Pagar station - and a way of life - closed for ever. The over-night sleeper to KL was also my preferred mode of travel when I had to attend meetings or do an interview in Malaysia and I opted for it whenever I could because I hate flying! Their first class sleeper had a shower attached and was much more comfortable than a cramped seat in a plane. The only irritation was being woken up at the immigration checkpoint near Woodlands a short while after tucking myself into my bunk!

Train travel has always held a certain magic for me ever since I was a little girl. Growing up in India in the 1960s and 70s, trains were the most popular, affordable and comfortable way of covering the aching distances between home and boarding school or up-country town and the big city. Every March, returning to school after the three-month winter break meant 48-hour train journeys, well-thumbed “Diana”and “Schoolgirl” comics and groaning tuck boxes.

While there were dining cars in all the trains many people preferred to carry their own food. My family always traveled with a hamper filled with our standard travel food – roast chicken, boiled eggs, parathas, Gobi Ka Achar, bread and butter, oranges and suji cake baked lovingly by my mother.

After a hearty dinner, the rhythmic swaying of the train would instantly lull me to sleep on the upper bunk, just as it did my children when we travelled on the now defunct train to Kuala Lumpur.  

My warm memories speak to the power and allure of train travel. A railway journey allows travelers the chance to experience a destination in a way that’s just not possible from the air. Above the clouds, it’s hard to tell the difference between a Norwegian fjord and a Malaysian rain forest. Plane rides from New York to Singapore are an identical experience to a plane ride is from Bombay to Buenos Aires.

Not so on a train journey where the passing vistas are completely distinct and clear and the diversity of the landscapes and cultures excitingly visible.

And there is one more thing that train rides offer travelers, something plane rides can never do – authenticity.

While I lament the loss of a great heritage and travel convenience, I’m grateful that at least we have the old station and railway tracks to visit and reminisce with my children about a time, not long past, when the journey could also be the destination.

1 comment for “Making tracks down memory lane”

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