A happy end to a Malaysian-Singapore agreement about a historic rail station


Unaware passers-by or visitors would probably pay little attention to an old building, half hidden behind trees along a highway running parallel to Singapore Port. They should, however, as a page of Singapore/Malaysia history is soon to be finished. In Tanjong Pagar, an concession agreement from 1918 gave to the Malay Rail Administration (KTM) the administration of Tanjong Pagar Rail Station, a grand building from the early twenties still bearing frescoes of old Malaya landscapes. In the old days, Tanjong Pagar used to be the main rail station of the KTM network and the end-station for a rail line linking Singapore to the border to Thailand. The station still welcomes a couple of trains every day, but it looks rather derelict, as little has been done by the rail administration to preserve it.

For years, Singapore has tried to convince Malaysia to sell or to rent the station and its premises to Singaporean companies. Such a large surface in the center of land-strapped Singapore was likely to generate interest. An agreement was signed in 1990 to transfer the rail station closer to the Singapore-Malaysian border, but legal issues and usual political bickering between both countries have delayed the procedure until today.

It sounds then almost like a miracle when Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong agreed on May 24 to finally relocate all train operations to Woodlands from July of next year. Woodlands is already the Singapore border rail station to Malaysia. Singapore would then facilitate the relocation to the Woodlands checkpoint and improve bus service connectivity from the rail station to the closest MRT station.

The Tanjong Pagar area will then be managed by a new company jointly owned by both governments. It is likely that the empty parcel will see real estate and commercial development taking place in this premium piece of land. What would then happen for the old charming rail building? According to Ms. Aw Kah Peng, chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, the rail station facade should be preserved and integrated into a new project. “It would be easy to adapt the old building for a new use as we already did for other historical structures on Sentosa Island or around the port area,” she explained.

Meanwhile, both Prime Ministers agreed to significantly boost connections between Singapore and Johor Bahru in neighboring Malaysia. A rapid transit system link will be built by 2018. Both countries decided also to improve current bus links by opening eight new routes – including direct services to Singapore Changi airport, Resorts World Sentosa, and Marina Bay Sands – while charges along the second link tollway will be reduced. And finally, taxis from both countries will be able to take passengers at any place along the journey from Singapore to JB or vice versa.