An emotional goodbye to KTM railway station


In a three-part feature series on the final days of the Tanjong Pagar KTM Railway Station, Yahoo! Singapore takes a final trip on the railway train to discover the wealth of untold stories and history held dear by the staff, Malaysians and Singaporeans alike.

In this first part, Faris Mokhtar and Jeanette Tan speak to the people who work at the railway station—stallholders, staff and platform officers alike—and try to find out "What's next?" for them.

For 37-year-old Ajimul Naseerullakhan, the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) railway station proved to be more than just a place to make a living.

Helping out at his grandfather's Habib Railway Book Store since the age of 15, the place is full of his childhood memories. It is the only store in the station which sells travellers' items like shampoo and magazines.

KTM staff, stall owners and passengers bid adieu to the railway station which has stood in Tanjong Pagar for almost 80 years. (Yahoo! photo)

"I was 15-years-old when I first helped out at the store. I played here when I was young and this place reminds me of my childhood years.

"This is where I learn how to deal business, socialise with people and learn about life. This place helped me to mature a lot," he told Yahoo! Singapore.

"Of course I felt sad when I heard it's going to be closed. Personally, it is a huge loss for me."

For Ajimul Naseerullakhan (right), the station proved to be more than just a place where he earns a living. (Yahoo! photo)

Last May, leaders from Singapore and Malaysia reached a landmark agreement over the implementation of a pact signed in 1990 on the railway land.

While the original Points of Agreement was signed by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, it had not been implemented due to different interpretations on some of its clauses.

In the agreement finalised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the railway train service will begin operations at the Woodlands Train Checkpoint on 1 July. There, a ticketing counter will be opened.

However, the public can bid goodbye to the last train which will rumble out of the Tanjong Pagar railway station for the last time on 30 June — almost 80 years since the station was first built by the British in 1932.

When news first broke that the station will be closed, drink stall vendor who wanted to be known as Kak Ros, was in initial disbelief.

"When I heard the news, like I can't believe this is going to happen. It has been 17 years working here, so just imagine it, imagine how I must have felt," she said.

"I am so used to serving the customers here that I have treated them as part of my family. And this news had to come."

But it was much more emotional for 50-year-old Zuratun -- who has been employed as a cook since 1998 -- that she had to pause for a moment during the interview as tears started streaming down her cheeks.

"It is sad to leave this place…," she paused, pursing her lips and trying to control her emotions.

"Because I have worked here for so long, so it is sad. We liked working here and I have made many friends through my co-workers, this place is like our own 'kampong'," she said in Malay.

It was an emotional heartbreak for 50-year-old Zuratun who has been working there for almost 14 years. (Yahoo! photo)

As the sun sets on 30 June, their stalls too will cease operations. Given the looming deadline, what comes next for the stalls and staff?

"That's the question now," said Kak Ros. "We would like to ask KTM what happens now. Where are we going to put all of our store equipment."

When asked where will her stall relocate, she expressed disappointment and said, "I don't know. I don't know yet."

Drink stall vendor Kak Ros, was in disbelief that she would have to leave the place where she has worked for around 17 years. (Yahoo! photo)

Still, when this reporter visited the station on Tuesday morning, some of the stalls had already stopped operations, with kitchens being dismantled and equipment packed up.

Haji Peria Seeni Mohd Kassim — who operates both the book store and money changer — told Yahoo! Singapore that while KTM had informed them verbally that there might be a chance to relocate at the Woodlands station, nothing has been confirmed on paper.

Starting last Sunday, his shops are also in the process of being torn down.

Speaking in a mix of smattering English and Malay, he said, "When I first know that I had to leave this place, my heart was in pain. At least if I am able to relocate to the new station, I will feel a sense of relief."

On the other hand, chief tenant Masudul Hasan, 63, who manages the lease of the stalls, including the famous chappati stall in the food centre, said that he is searching for a place big enough for the stalls to move in collectively.

"We would like to find places which are accessible to the public, so that they can find our stalls and where there is easy parking like the one in the station," he said, adding that he had already pin-pointed a few locations but will finalise the decision only after the Hari Raya festivities in August.

Meanwhile, when asked whether she was ready to leave the station, Zuratun said with a wry smile, "Yes, I am ready because the time has come for me to go."

Where will you go, asked this reporter. "Back to Malaysia," she replied, with a smile which lit up her face, but perhaps hid a wrenched heart.

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