Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

by Yong, Chun Yuan

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, located along Keppel Road, was a passenger station for trains run by the Malaysian rail operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Berhad travelling between Singapore and Malaysia.1 Previously known as the Keppel Road Railway Station,2 the building was opened in 1932 to serve as the terminus for the West Coast line of the KTM railway.3 In April 2011, the railway station was gazetted as a national monument.4 The last train departing from the station took place before a large crowd on 30 June 2011, marking an end to the station’s 79 years of service.5

Built by construction firm Brossard and Mopin Ltd, the station sits on reclaimed land, with its foundation buttressed by reinforced concrete piles. Constructed between 1929 and 1932, the station was officially opened by then Governor Cecil Clementi on 2 May 1932. The station’s location directly opposite the Tanjong Pagar docks facilitated the easy transfer of cargo between steamships and railway trains.6 Besides functioning as a train station, the building also housed the Singapore Manufacturers’ Exhibition in January 1932 prior to its official opening.7

The Singapore Railway Transfer Bill was passed by the Legislative Council on 14 October 1918. Under the Singapore Railway Transfer Ordinance 1918, the British colonial government handed over ownership of some 200 ha of railway land in Singapore to the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) for a period of 999 years.8 After World War II, management of FMSR was transferred to the Malayan Railway Administration and later KTM Berhad.9 As part of the separation agreement that Singapore signed with Malaysia in 1965, KTM Berhad was allowed to retain control of the railway land, meaning that Tanjong Pagar Railway Station became part of Malaysian sovereign territory.10 Arising from this arrangement, the station was gazetted as a checkpoint along with the customs checkpoint in Woodlands.11

To resolve the issue of railway land ownership, the Singapore and Malaysian governments signed a bilateral accord in 1990, known as the Points of Agreement, in which Malaysia agreed to vacate the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in return for three parcels of land in Singapore. However, implementation of this deal stalled due to unresolved political differences.12

More complications arose in 1998, when Singapore Immigration and Customs shifted their operations to the newly opened Woodlands checkpoint but Malaysian Customs, Immigration and Quarantine checkpoint remained at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. This created an unusual situation in which passengers who boarded trains at the station bound for Malaysia were first cleared for entry to Malaysia by Malaysian customs before being cleared for exit from Singapore by Singaporean customs.13

It was only in 2010, after breakthrough talks between Singapore and Malaysia that joint statements were issued on 24 May14 and 20 September, in which the prime ministers of both countries agreed on the implementation of the 1990 accord. KTM Berhad subsequently agreed to vacate the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station by 1 July 2011 and shift its operations to Woodlands Train Checkpoint.15 In exchange for vacating the railway land at Tanjong Pagar, Kranji, Woodlands and Bukit Timah as well as land along 26 km of railway track, Malaysia was promised ownership of six land parcels in Marina South and Ophir-Rochor. These plots were to be developed by a joint venture company that is 60 percent owned by Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional and 40 percent owned by Singapore's Temasek Holdings.16

On 8 April 2011, the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB; now known as Preservation of Sites and Monuments) gazetted the building as a national monument.17 The impending closure of the station aroused unprecedented public interest towards the building, with many visitors signing up for guided tours conducted by the PMB.18 Enthusiasts took pictures to preserve the memory of the station, while others purchased KTM souvenirs or sought autographs from station staff.19 Train rides were also fully booked as many tried to get a seat on board the last few journeys out of the station.20

At 11 pm on 30 June 2011, under extensive media coverage, Sultan of Johor Ibrahim Iskandar piloted the last train’s departure from the station to Johor Baru Sentral in a ceremony witnessed by a large crowd. At the stroke of midnight, the station was officially closed, with its ownership transferred to the Singapore government.21

Architectural features
The three-storey station was designed by Serbian architect D. S. Petrovitch of architectural firm Swan & Maclaren, who drew upon a range of influences including the Art Deco, neoclassical and local styles of design. He was also said to have been inspired by Finland’s Helsinki Station designed by Eliel Saarinen.22

The station entrance is sheltered by an arched portico featuring green roof-tiles influenced by Chinese temple architecture.23 In the spaces between the arches are four towering statues named Agriculture, Commerce, Transport and Industry, representing sectors of Malaya’s colonial economy.24 While the statues were previously attributed to Italian sculptor C. Rudolfo Nolli,25 recent evidence suggests that they might have been the work of his contemporary, Angelo Vannetti, whose signature appears on one of the sculptures.26 Located above the statues are four crests that bear the initials of the Federated Malay States Railway.27

The main hall of the station has a high ceiling to facilitate ventilation28 with elongated windows that allow daylight to filter in.29 The coats-of-arms of the Federated Malay States and the Straits Settlements can be seen at both sides of the grand hall.30 On the walls of the station are murals designed by William Rowe of Doulton & Company that depict economic activities that were prominent in Malayan history such as tin mining and rubber tapping.31  The train platforms, each 950 ft long, were designed to accommodate the longest mail trains at the time when the station was built.32

Other features
Before its closure in July 2011, the station housed a small convenience store known as Habib Railway Book Store that was established in 1936. A money changer beside it was later set up in response to the splitting of currency after Singapore separated from Malaysia in August 1965. Both units were operated by the same owner.33

At one time, the upper floors of the station also housed a 34-room hotel operated by Lim Jit Chin and his family for more than 60 years. At the height of its popularity, when the hotel was still frequented by dignitaries such as members of Malayan royalty and British colonials, its services were considered on par to those provided by the Raffles Hotel. The Lims also managed a pub and restaurant located within the hotel known as the Prairie Express Pub. In 1992, Lim received a letter from the Guinness Book of Records acknowledging him as the second-longest serving hotel manager in the world.34 The hotel closed the following year, after the Lims lost their legal fight against the Malaysian government, which wanted to evict them.35

Family and friends used to be able to send off passengers at the platform by paying a fee of 20 cents. From 18 December 1988, only passengers were allowed onto the platform as the station stopped selling platform tickets to prevent congestion on the platform.36

New developments
Since its closure, the railway station has been used as a space for both corporate and community events such as exhibitions, fashion shows and stage performances.37 As part of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2015, the Singapore Land Authority organised a “retrolicious” carnival at the railway station on 9 August, where the public enjoyed traditional games such as five stones and capteh while being treated to a live screening of the National Day Parade.38

In October 2015, the Land Transport Authority announced plans to integrate the national monument with Cantonment station – a new train station along Circle Line 6. After consultations with various heritage groups, the government decided to go with the recommendation that the platform canopy structures be dismantled, repaired and kept protected throughout the construction period, and restored only when construction is completed. The other option of tearing down and replicating the monument was not supported.39

Due to the popularity and interest of the railway station among Singaporeans, the SLA has opened the national monument on public holidays since February 2015 for the public to visit. The station will be closed on 26 December 2016 until the completion of Cantonment station in 2025.40


Yong Chun Yuan & Zoe Yeo

1. “Opening of the New F.M.S.R. Terminal Station,” Malayan Saturday Post, 7 May 1932, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Wan Meng Hao and Jacqueline Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2009), 154. (Call no. RSING 959.57 WAN-[HIS])
3. J. A. Stanistreet, Keretapi Tanah Melayu: The Malayan Railway (Lingfield: Oakwood Press, 1974), 10. (Call no. RCLOS 385.09595 STA)
4. Jessica Lim, “Tanjong Pagar Station a National Monument,” Straits Times, 9 April 2011, 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Zakir Hussain, “End of a Era at Tanjong Pagar,” Straits Times, 1 July 2011, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Opening of Singapore’s New Station,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 3 May 1932, 7 (From NewspaperSG); “New F.M.S.R. Terminal Station”; Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 154.
7. “Page 8 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 19 December 1931, 8; Ida Bachtiar, “The End of the Track,” Straits Times, 27 February 1992, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Malaysian CIQ to Stay in Tanjong Pagar,” Straits Times, 31 July 1998, 26; “Legislative Council,” Straits Times, 18 June 1918, 7; “Tuesday, October 15, 1918,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 17 October 1918, 249; “KL-S'pore Pact on Rail Land 'Could Not Work',” Straits Times, 20 March 1997, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Tan Beng Kiang, ed., Rail Ideas: Visions for the Rail Corridor (Singapore: Centre for Advanced Studies in Architecture, 2009), 12, 32. (Call no. RSING 720.95957 RAI)
10. J. Chen, “Singapore, Malaysia Ink Details of Land Swap Deal,” Xinhua News Agency, 28 June 2011 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); K. S. Nathan. “Malaysia-Singapore Relations: Retrospect and Prospect,” Contemporary Southeast Asia 24, no. 2 (1 August 2002): 385–410. (From JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website)
11. “Causeway Clamp: Singapore Agrees on I-Cards,” Straits Times, 23 July 1966, 1 (From NewspaperSG); “Our History,” Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, accessed 8 July 2016.
12. Rachel Chang, “July 1 'Firm' Date for Railway Station Move,” Straits Times, 4 March 2011, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Malaysian CIQ to Stay in Tanjong Pagar”; Zuraidah Ibrahim, “KL Decides Not to Stamp Rail Passports,” Straits Times, 2 August 1998, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Lim, “Tanjong Pagar Station a National Monument.”
15. Chang, “Date for Railway Station Move.”
16. Hussain, “End of a Era at Tanjong Pagar.”
17. Lim, “Tanjong Pagar Station a National Monument.”
18. Magdalen Ng, “Walking Through History,” Straits Times, 9 June 2011, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Shawn Low, “Last Train Out,” Today, 16 July 2011, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Jaime Ee Wen Wei and Poon Chian Hiau, “All Aboard for That Last ride from Tg Pagar Train Station,” Straits Times, 23 May 2011, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Hussain, “End of a Era at Tanjong Pagar.”
22. Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 155.
23. “Former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station,” National Heritage Board, accessed 8 July 2016.
24. “Opening of the New F.M.S.R. Terminal Station”; Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 155.
25. T. K. Sabapathy, Sculpture in Singapore (Singapore: National Museum, 1991), 20 (Call no. RSING 730.95957 SAB); Wan and Lau, Heritage Places of Singapore, 155.
26. “Zou ru lishi guiji de huoche zhan” 走入历史轨迹的火车站 [A tour of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station], Lianhe Zaobao 联合晚报, 3 May 2011, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
27. Sabapathy, Sculpture in Singapore, 20.
28. “Zou ru lishi guiji de huoche zhan.”
29. Stanistreet, Keretapi Tanah Melayu, 42–43.
30. National Heritage Board, “Former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.”
31. Bachtiar, “End of the Track”; National Heritage Board, “Former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.”
32. “Singapore’s New Station”; “New F.M.S.R. Terminal Station.”
33. Tor Ching Li, “The Lost World,” Today, 2 November 2002, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Bachtiar, “End of the Track.”
35. Ida Bachtiar, “The Real Singapore,” Straits Times, 31 December 1992, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “No More Goodbyes at Keppel Station Platform,” Straits Times, 4 August 1989, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “Visit Tanjong Pagar Railway Station This Hari Raya Puasa,” (2016, July 4). Singapore Government News, 4 July 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
38. “Former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to hold Live NDP Screening on Aug 9,” Straits Times, 30 July 2015; “Celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee at the Iconic Tanjong Pagar Railway Station,” Singapore Government News, 30 July 2015. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
39. Melody Zaccheus, “Part of Tanjong Pagar Rail Terminus to Make Way for MRT Station,” Straits Times, 30 October 2015, 8 (From NewspaperSG); “Joint News Release by Land Transport Authority (LTA), URA & SLA - Train Platform Canopy Structures of Former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to Be Fully Reinstated after Completion of New MRT Station,” (2016, May 27). Singapore Government News, 27 May 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
40. “Joint News Release by Land Transport Authority.”

The information in this article is valid as of 8 July 2016 and correct as far as we are able to 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. 

Historic buildings--Singapore
Commercial buildings
Railroad stations--Singapore