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Retracing the Jurong Railway Line

In my book, Jalan Singapura, I briefly mention Singapore’s Jurong Railway Line, which was laid down in the 1960s to facilitate the transfer of raw materials and goods between fledgling Jurong Industrial Estate and Malaysia. In all, 19 km of track connected Jurong to the main Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway tracks between Tanjong Pagar and Woodlands.

Here’s a 1975 map of the line, highlighted in green. The track highlighted in red is the main KTM line.

Photos of a train on the line in 1965.

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

The Jurong Railway Line did not last long; it closed in the 1990s. Thereafter, the authorities removed most of the tracks as part of the usual process of urban redevelopment. I wrote:

Scattered remnants remain - tunnels, a truss bridge, some rusting tracks - tucked away in the footnotes of Singapore’s urban history.

My interest is searching for the footnotes of history.

And so I spent one afternoon searching for the remains of the Jurong Railway Line - its easternmost section, in the Clementi Forest, an 85-hectare green lung that is part of the Rail Corridor ecosystem. I wanted to see how much of the track still existed in the forest, and whether it was possible to explore it.

I travelled to Bus Stop 12089, opposite Maju Camp, along the southbound portion of Clementi Road (see Point A in the map below).

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

Behind the bus stop was a disused railway tunnel, with a stretch of track still laid on the ground.

Could this 1965 photo of the Jurong Railway Line be of this tunnel? Possible...

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

The track ran west into Maju Forest, and east into Clementi Forest, so I headed in the direction of the latter.

Immediately, I realised how much the surrounding forest had reclaimed the site after three decades of abandonment.

Tall trees and palms encroached right up to and even on the track, soaring up to four storeys above me. The sun was out, yet its rays did not fully reach the tracks, because the canopy above was dense.

I managed to get a clear shot of the track.

It also became apparent to me that the track had been laid down in a cutting carved out of the terrain. There were rusted metal and crumbling wooden beams holding back the hilly terrain on both sides - in some areas, it looked as if they were on the verge of giving up. I hope no one will be around when the inevitable landslide occurs.

There were plenty of fallen branches lying across the track, but traversing them was not difficult.

Since the track was on the lowest point of the terrain, flooding was a problem. Stagnant water, thick with mud and decades of decaying plant matter, lay on both sides of the track.

The cutting in which the track was laid must have been on a gentle decline, because soon, the surrounding soil became muddier, and wetter - until I was wading in swamp-like conditions (see Point B below).

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

Fortunately, hikers had marked out an alternate path on higher ground to the right of the track, so I clambered up and continued on my way.

After a short distance, the track completely disappeared under deep, coffee-like water. I had no idea as to its depth, or whether anything lived in it. All was still and the air thick with stifling humidity. Nature had triumphed over human construction.

The muddy path on higher ground continued in an east-north-east direction for a good distance, and then I saw the track emerge again from the flood! (See Point C below.)

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

It was around here that I could clamber down from the path on higher ground, to the level where the track was. The soft mud gradually gave way to more solid, drier ground again.

Some of the wooden sleepers are still around - I’m not sure whether they’d survive another three decades, though.

Eventually, as I was nearing the Rail Corridor, the track abruptly ended (see Point D below).

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

This was the end of the track.

In the background of the photo above, there was a wall of bush as tall as me; after I charged through the bush, I emerged in a glade bathed in brilliant sunshine. There were immense trees all around me, and no further traces of railway track.

The glade was next to the Rail Corridor. The photo below was facing south. The former Bukit Timah Railway Station was around 600 metres to the north.

In all, about 600 metres of railway track still lie inside the Clementi Forest, of which close to 400 metres is permanently flooded. As of now, it is still possible to cover the entire length on foot.

Base picture credit: Google Maps.

As long as the forest survives, this footnote of Singapore urban and transport history will likewise live on.


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