Breaking the link – cutting and removing the KTM railway line

A symbolic scene greeted me on my field trip yesterday morning. The Malaysian (Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM) railway I crossed each time I ventured into Mandai mangroves since 1987 has been cut. The fastening clips have been removed and collected in canvas bags along the railway.

All this steel will be returned to Malaysia.

Railway line cut, 21 Jul 2011-1.jpg
Preparation for removal of the KTM rail, near Mandai Besar

Bags of removed Pandrol e-clips along the Mandai KTM railway, 21 Jul 2011.jpg
Canvas bags of harvested Pandrol e-clips peppered the railway track


A railway track consists of rails, sleepers, fasteners, ballast on a foundation:

  1. Two parallel steel flat-bottomed rails are anchored perpendicularly along regular intervals (gauge) to
  2. wood or concrete sleepers (Americans call them railroad ties) with a
  3. rail fasteners such the Pandrol e-clip and all laid on a
  4. trackbed made up of gravel track ballast placed on
  5. a foundation of compressed earth.

The KTM railway track is peppered with distance markers, lights and junctions. The markers along the northernmost stretch are old friends which we used to map back to when I was a field assistant to D H Murphy, mapping the mangroves. I made sure the map got into the mangrove guidebook:

Mandai Mangrove-1.jpg
Map of Mandai mangroves in the Guide to the Mangroves of Singapore
guidebook with the railway line mapped in.
760.25km KTM distance marker, Mandai.jpg
The 760.25km from Butterworth distance marker taken down
– no trains run here anymore.
KTM railway line removal, 21 Jul 2011.jpg
Removal in process closer to Mandai Kechil

I used to take the train to Malaysia frequently in the 70’s to visit relatives; then I started going in the 80’s on my own and in the 90’s to do otter work or meet conservationists and scientists there. My last journey on the train was in the last week of its operations when I visited Taman Negara by way of Jerantut. I filmed the journey back from Woodlands Checkpoint to Ghim Moh and will upload that clip later.

Taking the train from the sterile Woodlands Checkpoint in future will be an anti-climax for sure!

Still, my greatest interaction with the railway line has been in crossing back and forth for mangrove work since 1987 until today. I liked that experience so much that in 1997, I made pains to take a photo (with precious slide film) of Kate Thome debriefing volunteers at the first ever mangrove cleanup I had organised at Mandai Kechil – and I waited to take that photo when the train trundled past. Two years later in 1999, that photo went into the mangrove guidebook!

We also caught the passing train as we walked into the mangrove in Nature at Our Doorstep, a local nature magazine show on 3rd July 2003. We were a little luck with the timing and was happy we were alert about catching it.

Well, you get the picture – I celebrated the quirky situation of the train and Malaysian land running through Singapore every chance I could!

Sungei Mandai Kechil railway-1.jpg
Kate Thome debriefing the first mangrove cleanup for the International
Coastal Cleanup Singapore, September 1997 as the train passes by.

Scene from Nature at Our Doorstep:
Crossing the railway track to reach Mandai mangrove, 03 Jul 2003.
Yusfiandi Yatiman or Yandi, who was hosting the show, is behind me.

Mandai -NAOD[edited] (Converted).mov-1.jpg
Scene from Nature at Our Doorstep:
Entering the mangrove with the KTM train passing behind me, 03 Jul 2003.

At the Sungei Mandai Besar railway bridge with Yandi
and the NAOD crew, 03 Jul 2003.

RGS students waking the railway track as we head
to Mandai mangroves, 07 Aug 2004.

The only LSM4261 Marine Biology class small enough
for me to take to Mandai mangrove (13 Feb 2008).

Jessica Ker, then a final year undergraduate research student,
like many others before her, crosses the railway
to head to Mandai mangrove, 15 Jan 2011.

I suppose by next week the line will be gone. I hope the area will not change too much – there appears to be cause for some hope (see URA’s Rail Corridor website) and you can follow all the developments, news and blog posts at the excellent Green Corridor website.

When I talk about the train tracks in future, assuming the mangrove remains, I will share Jerome Lim’s voluminous documentation of the railway in the days leading to its departure at Journeys through Tanjong Pagar.

Selamat jalan KTM railway!

KTM rail pair behind Mandai Besar mangrove, 28 May 2009.

5 thoughts on “Breaking the link – cutting and removing the KTM railway line

  1. Here are some photos of the Jurong Line, closed in 1969 –

    This line was originally used to transport goods and material to the south western part of Lion City.

    Sitting abandoned all these years and with a bridge reminiscent of The Casandra Crossing, trucks of dirt came to bury the strip in March 2008.

    • trucks of dirt came to bury the strip in March 2008
      That was heartbreaking to watch. Not only was the railway track buried, the adjoining strips of thriving farmland, gardens & railway greenery were also all simply buried 3-4m deep under mounds of imported earth. Wild vegetation has subsequently reclaimed these mounds, but at certain areas, SLA comes every month to mow the vegetation down.

      In early Feb 2011, SLA’s bulldozers excavated the buried track & tore it up. Broken pieces of track infrastructure (rail clips, base-plates, timber sleepers, etc.) can still be seen littering parts of the Jurong Line, ie. until they are gradually removed by souvenir-hunters.

  2. After the trucks left, the first time round in March 2008, some nature walkers took advantage of the clearance to venture in as far as they could. While I wonder what’s to become of that strip of land, I hope that the two bridges will be left long enough for me to re-shoot them. Those rail clips would make nice souvenirs.

    • I hope that the two bridges will be left long enough for me to re-shoot them.
      You mean the following railway bridges of the Jurong Line?
      1) Across the river at confluence of Sungei Pandan & Sg Ulu Pandan
      LTA is currently constructing a new access-road to TradeHub 21 from the south of International Business Park. This new road-cum-vehicular bridge will cross Sg Pandan & cut across the secondary forest. See this LTA announcement & Annex A (map).

      The starting point for the roadworks is located right beside the disused railway bridge (which was hoarded up at both ends by NParks quite some time ago). PUB would also be developing Sg Ulu Pandan & Sg Pandan near this spot towards the end of 2011. I wonder if LTA, PUB & NParks can work together to preserve the railway bridge as it is (but with the hoardings removed). I can’t imagine that KTMB-Malaysia would demand S’pore to “return” these rusty steel & splinted timber.

      2) The “River Kwai” bridge over Sg Ulu Pandan near Sunset Way
      I certainly hope that this iconic railway bridge can be retained too. At 303 ft long, this is the largest bridge along the Jurong Line. Another iconic infrastructure is the 200-ft long Teban Tunnel — the longest along the Jurong Line. Its walls have very interesting graffiti art.

      Those rail clips would make nice souvenirs.
      There were lots of of these older clips (different from the Pandrol e Clips used along the recently-closed main line) littering the SLA-excavated site behind Teban Gardens. However, many of the clips & the smaller items have disappeared recently, although they were simply left lying around for months. I suppose they were taken away by trend-of-the-minute souvenir-hunters influenced by the closure of the main line.

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