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In 2011, I visited the spot where the Mass Rapid Transit tracks between Buona Vista and Commonwealth MRT stations ran above the Keretapi Tanah Melayu railway tracks.

Ten years later, I returned to the same spot. The railway tracks are long gone, replaced by the Rail Corridor, but the greenery around it has largely survived. It’s still an ideal site to watch trains go by.

A forgotten road system that is almost 60 years old has been partially expunged.

The loop of Tanglin Halt Road and Tanglin Halt Close, named after a mode of transport that mostly disappeared from Singapore in 2011, has been reduced in area to make way for new developments.

Tanglin Halt Railway Station - briefly mentioned in my book, Jalan Singapura - opened in 1932, part of the railway line running from Tanjong Pagar in the south to Woodlands in the north, and then across the Causeway to Malaya.

The railway station was named “Halt” because trains stopped there; as for “Tanglin”, it was an oddity as it was nowhere near Tanglin or Tanglin Road. The nearest trunk road to the station was Buona Vista Road (later North and South Buona Vista Road).

A 1961 map showing Tanglin Halt Railway Station (shaded blue) and the surrounding area. Base picture credit: R W H Davies.

Over the next three decades, the station would close and open multiple times, a tussle between low passenger usage and the need for a stop to serve the surrounding area.

The sparsely-populated rural countryside around the station gradually receded by the early 1960s. Queenstown New Town, Singapore’s second satellite town after Toa Payoh, was expanded to the west, from the Alexandra Road area to the railway tracks.

The HDB estate of Tanglin Halt, and the roads of Tanglin Halt Road and Tanglin Halt Close, came up next to the station, and were named after it.

Tanglin Halt in 1963. The Tanglin Halt Road-Close loop is shaded blue.
Tanglin Halt Estate in the 1960s. Credit: My Queenstown.

The land around the loop formed by Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive was filled with the HDB flats of Tanglin Halt Estate. As for the 20 acres of land around the triangular loop formed by Tanglin Halt Road and Tanglin Halt Close, it was taken up by Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate, managed by Jurong Town Corporation. There were 38 lots for cottage industries such as textiles, woodworks, electronics, and chocolate.

On the map, that made sense: The site was next to the HDB flats, which were a ready source of labour; it was also next to the railway station, which, though closed to passenger traffic then, could still be an option for the transport of raw materials and goods to and from Malaysia.

By 1966, Tanglin Halt Close was lined by low-rise factories and workshops.

Credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

There was a factory for Setron Limited, the first television assembly plant in Southeast Asia, which produced Singapore’s first locally-assembled black-and-white TV sets.

Credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

This was Lim Kah Ngam (Singapore) Limited, a woodworks factory.

Credit: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

There was also Daiwa Limited, a Japanese fishing equipment brand.

From the late 1980s, as Singapore’s manufacturing sector matured and larger industrial estates opened around the island, these companies began relocating from Tanglin Industrial Estate. The last newspaper advertisements for brands housed in the area petered out by the year 2000.

Tanglin Halt in 1988.

The roar of passing trains ceased in 2011, when the line between Tanjong Pagar and Woodlands closed for good, and the railway tracks were replaced by the Rail Corridor.

Sometime between 2000 and 2015, when I first visited the area, the buildings of Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate were torn down. All that’s left are an open field, and rusted fences and gates as the only evidence of the activities once held there.

And of course, there are the roads.

Tanglin Halt Road:

Tanglin Halt Close:

However, sometime between 2019 and 2020, the northern part of the original loop was shaved off.

The new northern part of the shrunken loop is clearly marked out by the fresh, white, recently-laid pavement.

Here, the original pavement has given way to the new pavement.

The new northern part of the loop, where a newly-laid section of Tanglin Halt Road gives way to a newly-laid section of Tanglin Halt Close:

Behind hoarding, an original stretch of Tanglin Halt Road has been expunged and covered with fresh grass.

The reason for the shaving of the loop could be this: What looks to be a new road overhanging the Rail Corridor, linking North Buona Vista Drive and the Biopolis complex to Commonwealth Avenue.

This aerial shot shows the recent changes to the Tanglin Halt Road-Close loop: What’s left of the original loop is shaded light blue, what’s expunged is shaded red, while new road is shaded dark blue.

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

The rest of the historic loop is on borrowed time. According to the 2019 URA Master Plan, the area is slated for redevelopment into a business park. The loop does not even appear on the Master Plan map.

Credit: Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Most of Tanglin Halt Estate itself is also slated for redevelopment very soon, under the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme. More of that in another post.

For Muslims in Singapore, the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins today.

Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), or the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, announced yesterday:

According to the astronomical calculations, the crescent for the month of Ramadan did appear this evening after sunset for about 16 minutes. As such, the first day of fasting for the month of Ramadan falls tomorrow, Tuesday, 13 April 2021.

Sighting of the moon - an ancient tradition practised by Muslims to determine when exactly each month begins and ends. This is especially crucial for the months of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar), Syawal (the 10th month), and Zulhijjah (the 12th month). These would in turn determine when fasting begins and ends, and when Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji take place.

Credit: David Moug, CC BY 3.0.

There are two methods of sighting the moon:

1. Rukyah - using the eyes, be it unaided or with instruments such as telescopes.

2. Hisab - using astronomical calculations.

From the newspaper archives, it seems that for much of modern Singapore’s history, Method 1 was used by the religious authorities.

From the Malaya Tribune, 3 May 1924:

The observation stations were Mount Faber, Fort Canning Hill, Pasir Panjang’s The Gap, Tanah Merah Besar, and “the Reservoir, Serangoon”.

The first three locations were obviously chosen for their height. Tanah Merah Besar was known for its seaside cliffs at the time, which would have provided a good vantage point - the cliffs are long gone, replaced by Changi Airport today. As for the “the Reservoir, Serangoon”, I believe it refers to the service reservoir which is presently Woodleigh Waterworks, off Upper Serangoon Road.

The Gap, in a 1923 map of the Pasir Panjang area. Credit: The National Archives, United Kingdom.

Two observation boats were also sent out to the “high seas”.

From the Singapore Free Press, 16 June 1950:

The moon-sighting locations had somewhat changed. Now they included Kallang Airport (opened 1937), Hill Street Police Station (still standing today), “on top of the hillock in Palmer Road” (probably the site of Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh today), and Sultan Shoal, “three miles south of Singapore” (presently surrounded by the reclaimed areas of Tuas South and Jurong Island).

Kallang Airport in 1950. Credit: Ministry of Culture Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

That year, Ramadan began a day later because the moon was not sighted.

From The Straits Times, 1 April 1957:

That year, “the sighting of the moon in the Federation (of Malaya, which would gain its independence from the British that August) would be recognised in Singapore”. That proved to be useful, as “the new moon (for the beginning of Ramadan)... was not seen in Singapore”.

By the 1970s, the moon-sighting process in Singapore was evolving.

In 1972, the Berita Harian reported that “a decision... (would) be made by the (religious authorities) on whether or not to begin the fast according to astronomical calculations should the moon not be sighted at the appointed time” - which meant reliance on just Rukyah was shifting to a combination of Rukyah and Hisab.

Sometime in the mid-1970s, Singapore shifted to astronomical calculations, which I believe is still the case today. (Malaysia still practises a combination of Rukyah and Hisab.)

If Rukyah is still practised in Singapore today, I wonder where the moon-sighting locations would be. Mount Faber and Fort Canning Hill would still be favoured, I guess, but how about the top of our tallest skyscrapers too?