The Causeway



 

The Causeway is a road and rail link between Singapore and Malaysia. Completed in 1923, the 1.05km Causeway cost an estimated $17 million and spans the Johor Straits (also known as the Tebrau Straits), with the Woodlands customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) checkpoint on the Singapore end and the Sultan Iskandar CIQ at Bukit Chagar on the Malaysian side. It was estimated in 2011 that between 80,000 to 100,000 vehicles cross the Causeway each day.

Background and conception
From the 19th century, Malaya’s commodities such as tin, rubber, pepper and gambier were largely shipped through the port at Singapore, a British colony. These materials were trans-shipped across the Johor Straits by ferry. The early 1900s saw a rise in cross-straits traffic of both goods and passengers, and the ferry system grew increasingly congested.

By 1911, the demand for the ferries was so high that they had to be operated around the clock. The volume of traffic and the high maintenance costs of the ferries led the colonial authorities to search for an alternative system. W. Eyre Kenny, the Federated Malay States’ (FMS) public works director, suggested the construction of a rubble causeway across the Johor Straits, and this proposal won favour over a bridge as the authorities considered the cost of steel and maintenance costs of a bridge prohibitive.

In 1917, the British government commissioned consultant engineers Coode, Matthews, Fitzmaurice and Wilson to prepare plans for the causeway, and these plans were presented to FMS, Straits Settlements (SS) and Johor governments in 1918. The proposed Causeway would be 1.05km-long and 18.28m-wide, with metre-gauge railway tracks and a 7.92m-wide roadway. It would also include a lock channel that allowed the passage of small vessels, an electric lift-bridge, water pipelines and flood gates to manage the water flow of the straits. The total cost of the project was estimated at $17 million Straits dollars, and was shared among the FMS, Johor and Singapore governments.
 
Construction
In June 1919, the colonial authorities awarded the contract for the Causeway’s construction to Topham, Jones & Railton, a London-based engineering firm. Construction began in August, with the project considered technically challenging for its time. The Causeway was also the largest engineering venture in Malaya then. Construction started at the Johor end of the straits, where the lock channel was to be located, in order to minimise disruption to existing ferry services. The quarry on Pulau Ubin was reopened to supply rubble and crushed stone, and the granite supply was later boosted by stone from the Bukit Timah quarry.

In April 1920, a ceremony was held to mark the laying of the Causeway’s foundation stone. Sir Laurence Nunns Guillemard, the governor of the SS, conducted the ceremony from aboard the yacht Sea Belle, anchored in the middle of the straits. The occasion also involved the Sultan of Johor, Ibrahim II, and the mufti of Johor, who poured ceremonial waters (air doa selamat, air tolak bala and air mawar) into the straits. The ceremony was ended by the emptying of the first two loads of rubble (some 500 tons of granite) into the straits.

During an economic depression between 1920 and 1922, public criticism of the project and its costs nearly led the FMS and SS governments to halt construction. The project continued however and in June 1921 the deposit of rubble began on the Johor side, which allowed construction of the Causeway’s superstructure to begin from both sides. Work on the lift bridge began in August 1922 and the lock channel was completed in December. From January 1923, all shipping on the straits was diverted through the lock channel.

Opening
The straits were sealed up by June 1923 and the Causeway was opened to goods trains from 17 September. The goods ferry service, which by that time was running around 11,000 trips annually, and the passenger ferry service were ended. On 1 October, the Causeway was opened for public use and the first passenger train across it arrived at the Tank Road station in Singapore at 7.41 a.m. that morning. A Causeway toll, which ran up to 40 cents for first class carriage passengers and replaced the ferry fee, was introduced.

Officially completed on 11 June 1924, the Causeway’s construction had involved more than 2,000 workers, local and European, over nearly five years and used around 1.14 million m3 of stone. The Causeway completed Singapore’s rail connection to the mainland, and enabled the rapid rise of motor transportation between Singapore and Malaya.

On 28 June 1924, the Causeway’s official opening ceremony was held in Johor Bahru, and a public holiday was declared there. During the ceremony, the Malay rulers and British officials were the first to be driven across the Causeway in a convoy of 11 motorcars, after which the roadway was opened for public use. A year later, the Johor Causeway Control Committee was formed to oversee the management and maintenance of the Causeway.

Japanese Occupation and post-war period
During the Japanese invasion of Malaya, retreating British troops set off two explosions on the Causeway on 31 January 1942. The first wrecked the lock’s lift-bridge, while the second caused a 21.33m gap in the Causeway. The pipelines carrying water to Singapore were also severed. The Japanese subsequently constructed a girder bridge over the gap before taking control of Singapore.

After the return of the British, the Japanese-made girder bridge was replaced with two Bailey bridge extensions in February 1946, with the rubble of the demolished lift bridge cleared and the railway tracks re-laid. The lock channel and lift bridge were permanently closed as there was insufficient vessel traffic to justify its cost.
During the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), a system of identity card checks was instituted for Causeway travelers. In 1949, it was estimated that more than 27,000 lorries utilised the Causeway each month. Within a decade, more than 30,000 people and 7,000 vehicles were estimated to cross the Causeway daily.

Independence period
Malaya became an independent nation in August 1957 and the Federation government was reported to have planned immigration controls at the Causeway. However, a system where travelers would require passes to cross the Causeway was postponed for fears of an adverse effect on Malaya’s economy, and the existing identity card checks were strictly enforced instead. Singapore then merged with Malaysia in September 1963.

On 22 July 1964, the Causeway was closed to travelers without police permission as part of a curfew after racial riots in Singapore. It was reopened during non-curfew hours the following day and normal traffic had resumed by 26 July. After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in August 1965, the Causeway became the border connector between the two countries. Immigration checkpoints were built on both sides, with passport controls implemented on the Singaporean side from June 1967 and from September on the Malaysian side.

Expansions
In 1964, the Causeway was broadened and raised to allow travelers a view of the Johor Straits. The Causeway was further widened from 1974 to 1976, and from 1989 to 1991 to accommodate the growing traffic. Customs and immigration facilities on both sides were also expanded several times, with these expansions being accommodated through land reclamation. After the Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine complex in Johor opened in December 2008, the Malaysian authorities prohibited travelers from crossing the Causeway by foot.

Calls for replacement
There had been calls from Malaysian politicians for the demolishment of the Causeway before 1996, when Malaysia’s prime minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed that the Causeway be replaced by a bridge in order to open the straits for shipping and for environmental reasons. The Gerbang Perdana consortium undertook construction of a bridge in December 1998, as part of a RM$2 billion project named the Southern Integrated Gateway.

After a series of inter-governmental negotiations, there was no agreement on the Causeway and in October 2002, Malaysia called off inter-governmental talks on the proposed bridge and later announced that it would unilaterally build the bridge. However, Singapore sent a diplomatic note in October 2003 stating that the Causeway could not be legally demolished without the agreement of both countries. Negotiations were restarted in 2004 and ended without agreement in April 2006. Malaysia also stopped construction of the bridge from the Johor end, citing legal complications involving the Causeway.



Author
Alvin Chua



References
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The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Architecture
Transportation
Transportation--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Transportation and logistics
Causeways--Singapore
Arts>>Architecture>>Architectural structure
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation
Architecture and Landscape>>Architectural Styles

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