Escape into the rail world

Get respite from the urban crowd by exploring the open spaces of the Rail Corridor

Space comes at a premium in Singapore.

Living in the second most densely populated country in the world, Singaporeans are used to crowds, communal living and the constant presence of other humans.

Over the past year, closed borders and social restrictions have made people feel more hemmed in than usual.

In the light of that, the Rail Corridor presents itself as a possible antidote to urban claustrophobia.

The Upper Bukit Timah Road Truss Bridge is one of two steel truss bridges which were gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2015. They opened in 1932 as part of the then Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway line and served as landmarks for decades. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A flourishing community garden along the corridor in Jalan Bukit Merah. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Workers at a section of the Rail Corridor in Spooner Road in November last year. Two blocks of flats there used to house railway staff, but were later converted to rental homes for the lower-income group. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A gate located along Gombak Drive between Bukit Timah Road and Mindef Gombak Base along The Rail Corridor. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A distance marker along the 24km trail next to the Bukit Panjang Temporary Bus Park in Woodlands Road. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Walking through what occasionally feels like endless greenery, one begins to feel small and anonymous - a rare and surprisingly pleasant sensation on this little island.

The 24km trail from Tanjong Pagar in the south to Woodlands in the north is one of the longest unbroken green spaces in Singapore, with views hard to find elsewhere in the Republic's ultra-urbanised landscape.

Journalist Ng Wei Kai walking past fallen trees along the corridor near Kranji Road. Each section of the trail offers visitors unique landmarks and scenery. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A structure with graffiti near Kranji Road along the Rail Corridor on Dec 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Senna alata, commonly known as Candle Bush, along The Rail Corridor near Queensway on Nov 19, 2020. It is a shrub and able to grow up to 3 to 4 meters tall. The inflorescence, known as a raceme, resembles a lit, yellow candle, because the flowers at the base are yellow, while the unopened flower buds at the top are covered by orange bracts. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The Rail Corridor runs under the Kranji Expressway next to Woodlands Road near Gali Batu Bus Terminal on Dec 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The land was occupied by the former railway line operated by the Malaysian company Keretapi Tanah Melayu, once a key transport artery between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Since the land was returned to Singapore in 2011, the corridor has been kept as a space where people can enjoy the greenery and exercise.

The Bukit Timah Railway Station and its old tracks. Originally constructed as a small station to serve the suburban parts of Singapore, this single-storey building follows the style of traditional small-town stations common in the United Kingdom and Malaya in the 1930s. The station is being redeveloped into a multi-use facility. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The old tracks at the Bukit Timah Railway Station. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A former KTM building along The Rail Corridor on Dec 1, 2020. It was taken over by Singapore Land Authority and located near the Bukit Panjang Gate along Choa Chu Kang Road opposite Junction 10 shopping centre. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Graffiti artwork on the wall under the Commonwealth Avenue viaduct structure along the corridor. The independent street art space was introduced in 2013 in a partnership between the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Arts Council to promote Singapore’s street art scene as well as to provide a more unique experience for users of the corridor. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Many, like retiree Seow Ah Suay, 72, have lived next to the corridor for years and watched its transformation from their homes. "I used to be able to hear the train going by," said the former odd job labourer, who now runs along the corridor two or three times a week.

Its transformation into a green space has attracted a younger crowd as well.

"We took leave today to explore the lower section of the trail," said marketing manager Victoria Lee, 31. She and her fiance, a 31-year-old civil servant, were there to take a welcome break from their pandemic-induced work-from-home routine.

Mr Seow Ah Suay, 72, Retiree, along the The Rail Corridor between AYE and Jalan Bukit Merah on Nov 19, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Ms Victoria Lee, 31, marketing manager, with her fiance, a civil servant, 31, along The Rail Corridor near the AYE with the backdrop of The Interlace on Nov 19, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Mr Peter Teo, 64, a pastor, and his wife, Mrs Noeline Teo, 58, counsellor in a church, walking along the Rail Corridor near Sungei Kadut Ave on Dec 1, 2020. Rain or shine, the couple walk through the Woodlands area up to Kranji Reservoir every day. "We have been walking up and down this stretch for five or six years. It gives us a feel of the kampung life when we were kids; the chickens and the wild dogs and everything," says Mrs Teo, a church counsellor. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Mr Oh Tong Leong, 72, Retiree, singing near Commonwealth Drive along the Rail Corridor on Nov 19, 2020. He has been singing at this spot for over six months and even built a platform to sing from using rocks and stones. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Some residents like Mr Seow mourn the loss of the bumpy dirt track that took the place of the rails for many years. In some stretches, the track is now covered with a spongy surface, similar to what is seen at playgrounds. Others are optimistic about the improved functionality.

Mr Sean Lim, a 23-year-old university student who was at the Bukit Timah section of the corridor with friends, believes the refurbishment will create a more inclusive space.

A closed section along the rail corridor due to enhancement works near The Rail Mall on Dec 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Asian Common Toad found along The Rail Corridor near Jalan Bukit Merah on Nov 19, 2020. It is the most common and well known native terrestrial amphibian in Singapore. It has dry and warty skin, stumped body, short legs and inability to jump very high. It is mostly insectivorous and feed on wasps, bees and ants. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

"Now that the floor is being redone and areas are being restored, it might be safer for those who are less able to walk," he said.

Despite such changes, the corridor remains a space where one can appreciate nature left mostly untamed, and even revel in a bit of dirt.

The Rail Corridor on Dec 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI