I was resting with my kakis at the Binjai Park coffeeshop yesterday after an enjoyable ride on some the easier mountain bike trails in Central Catchment. As we were heading off on our separate ways, they enthusiastically suggested I ride the Rail Corridor back instead of braving Upper Bukit Timah and Clementi Roads.
The Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway track used to run from the causeway in the north to Tanjong Pagar in the south of Singapore. Malaysia returned the land to Singapore and about a year ago, the railways tracks were removed. The remaining trackbed and its adjacent buffer of grass and scrub has left us a clayey walking/cycling trail. Over the past two day, a scorching sun would have dried that all up for a smooth ride.
So I joined the Rail Corridor off Upper Bukit Timah at about 1.00pm and I had the space to myself for the extent of the short four kilometer ride. It certainly was the pleasant countryside ride it was made out to be, with chirping birds amidst scrubby vegetation, shaded in parts by trees but mostly exposed. It was a much shorter route back, heading straight past Holland Village. A couple of SLA signs wished me a pleasant time in this recreational space, which was pretty neat. They have marked out areas to be cautious about but otherwise little else confronts you, which is really nice. A small fallen tree made things a little interesting.
I mentally monitored my whereabouts and marked off the King Albert Park residences, Clementi canal (this drains to Sg Pandan in the south), the Greenleaf – Bukit Sedap residences, the Holland Road bridge, Jelita (you can see the back of Cold Storage) and Ghim Moh.
A bunch of cyclists zoomed into view just before the Commonwealth Ave bridge, riding down a steep slope with whoops of delight, obviously enjoying this safe, serene, green route to Bukit Timah. We greeted each other and I clambered up into the car park across the road from Buona Vista MRT, ultimately emerging at the Holland Drive food centre.
If you have not tried the Rail Corridor on a bicycle yet, plot your route along any part of the stretch using Google Maps – the old railway line is still marked on the map. I was asked if slick tyres can handle the trail – well, along this stretch are a few patches with large gravel bits and a couple of mud pools. These would challenge a city bicycle but it could survive, I think.
Most mountain bikers I know hate riding on the road, which are a necessary evil to brave on the way to the serene mountain biking spots in Singapore. Finding a safe route there was not always possible and the Park Connector Network has been a great relief. Some of these PCNs link with the Rail Corridor and this has opened up an unparalleled feeling of safety and space in this crammed little red dot.
Imagine the possibilities if this 25km route incorporated commuting and offroad trails which would span the north to south of Singapore. This was immediately obvious to cyclists the moment the release of the Malaysian owned land was announced in 2010.
Thankfully the Nature Society (Singapore) put forward a coherent proposal almost immediately and supporters from the community rallied through the Green Corridor webpage and facebook page to promote an awareness and appreciation of the space and the proposal. The government was responsive and today the path is peppered by welcome signs and the authorities promise to try to maintain a green link even as development looms. The area has been largely accessible since January this year.
I hope the corridor will become a reality but not become manicured space in the process. We need rustic spaces to explore and move about safely. This legacy of the Malaysian railway is a boon we should preserve and celebrate.
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