Saturday, August 24, 2013

Travel through Philately - Singapore's Historical Railway Stations

Since we are on the track of railway system history, let's get this piece out - SingPost's offer to commemorate the historical railway stations which tirelessly served the nation and her citizens for the past century.

FDC released on 28 February 2013 to commemorate the historical railway stations - Bukit Timah and Tanjong Pagar railway stations.

The rail history between Singapore and Malaysia was a really interesting one, and I only knew about it because I was writing my article on Train Journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and my friend told me that the Tanjong Pagar railway station stopped operating a year before I wrote that article. Those who traveled to or back from Singapore prior to 30th June 2011 will be quite familiar with the latter as the southernmost terminus in the rail which spanned across 3 countries - Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Those same travelers would also know a little known fact which most are ignorant to - the land on which the railway tracks and the stations were situated on were properties of Malaysia. To be exact, they were on a 999-year lease to KTM, Malaysia's rail transportation operator.

An enlarged view of the 4 stamps. Tanjong Pagar railway station holds more architectural value whereas Bukit Timah railway station looks more like a shack when compared to the former.

Prior to the formation of Malaysia and independence of Singapore in 1965, border control between the two countries were non-existent. After border controls were established, the railway customs clearance coexisted in Tanjong Pagar station. In the 90's Singapore entered into an agreement with Malaysia to relocate the station and checkpoint in order to free up Tanjong Pagar train station's land for development purposes. Unfortunately the points of agreement were interpreted differently. Singapore moved its checkpoint to Woodlands while Malaysia was unwilling to budge its checkpoint, leaving it still in Tanjong Pagar.

This peculiar arrangement means that entry from Singapore to Malaysia by train would have to clear Malaysian customs when boarding at Tanjong Pagar. As the train moves to Woodlands, passengers will have to disembark and clear Singapore customs there. The result? Passengers was granted entry into Malaysia (they have cleared Malaysian customs in Tanjong Pagar) before clearing Singapore customs (they have not clear customs yet as the Singaporean checkpoint is at Woodlands). Imagine the potential confusion resulting from this!

A dated photo of the railway station (image taken from Wikimedia Commons).

This peculiarity aside, the train station itself is a marvel of a bygone colonial era. Marble colonnades and art deco architecture lent it an air of historical value. Its popularity is evident in that even after it ceased operations in 2011, the Singaporean public still applied to use the venue for events.

Featured together with the Tanjong Pagar railway station in this FDC is the Bukit Timah railway station. Unlike the terminus, this station is rather nondescript. It is in fact just a crossing loop station, not expecting to receive or disembark any passengers. Its historical value lies in the fact that it serviced the railway line between Singapore and Malaysia until Tanjong Pagar railway station ceased its operation.

A look within the train station when it was still in operation (image taken from Timeout Singapore).

Date of Issue:       28 February 2013
Denominations:     1st local, 65¢, SGD1.10, SGD2.00
Stamp Size:          30mm x 40mm
Perforation:          13.33 x 13.33
Paper:                  Unwatermarked
Printing Process:   Offset lithography
Printer:                 Southern Colour Print
Designer:              Brainwave Design Co.

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