Saturday, January 5, 2013

Places around P.E.E. (9) - Rail Mall

I was wondering if I should be writing a blog article on Rail Mall?
The simple reason was that Rail Mall didn't exist when Princess Elizabeth Estate was still around and vice versa. But I decided I might as well as some of you may not have been there since moving away from Princess Elizabeth.

Rail Mall is a misnomer. It is not a mall, more of an arcade and comprise shops along 3 rows of converted old style shophouses. It fronts Upper Bukit Timah Road between the old KTM Railway truss bridge (hence its name) and the Praisehaven Salvation Army opposite Hillview Road.

The majority of the shops there are eateries. Some of which are quite familiar such as Eat, Subway, Harry's and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaves. There are also shops like Cold Storage Supermarket, Watson's, RHB Bank and a few specialty service shops.

It is a regular haunt for residents who live around the Hillview condo belt and as yet is uncrowded and has a laid back atmosphere that attracts the young and trendy. It is also a welcome waypoint for trekkers to and from the Dairy Farm Nature Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, located at opposite ends of Rail Mall.

BBQ Gangnam Style !

The old shophouses were actually part of the housing development called Fuyong Estate that is located behind Rail Mall. In fact, I lived at Fuyong Estate for about a decade in the 70s and can still remember the old run-down shops. Fuyong Estate used to house many of the British Forces staff. As such, the old shops catered mainly to them as they were quite isolated.
I can clearly remember the Chinese sundry shop (now occupied by Coffee Bean) that stocked mainly British provisions. I used to buy canned Irish Stew, which almost became a staple for my lunch! There were hardly any fast food for schoolboys those days!

The old shophouses around 1970. These were beside the old Chia Eng Say Road.
The same row of shophouses after conversion into Rail Mall.

The shophouses as it were in 1992. Some units were used as warehouses and storage.
There was a provision shop, a Chinese laundry, a hairdresser, a medical store and even a tyre repair shop then.

The same shophouses after the 1995 conversion as Rail Mall.

For those who remember the area before Rail Mall. Across the road were squatters on the KTM Railway land.
These included a lumber yard and an aquarium shop.

Here's a well kept secret. There's a nice quiet park just beyond Rail Mall.
Perfect for that evening walk or picnics. There's a shortcut to the Singapore Quarry Park nearby too.

Related links:
Fuyong Estate
Dairy Farm Nature Park
KTM Railway bridge
Singapore Quarry Park


  1. Fuyong Estate was 'up market' residential estate (relative to PE Estate) i.e. landed properties , so popular 'target' for the cub scouts of PEES during the Scouts' "Job Week". Usually simple tasks like gardening and watering the plants.

  2. In the 1950s, the railway mall was painted black for reasons I wont know. Then I saw lorries unloading gunny sacks for storage. According to my prrmary school classmate who lived in Fuyong Estate, rice bags were kept there. BTW are you aware x-President SR Nathan lived in Fuyong Estate in the 1950s?

    1. Peter,

      I don’t know about the ex-president Nathan, but Fuyong Estate was certainly the childhood or adolescent home for some other luminaries, eg. Gary Yeo Peng Yong (formerly Dy. Commander RSAF, 1986-1989); Ivan Fernandez (associate editor of the Straits Times) and Thomas (Roy) Thomas (former nominated MP). I believe Leong Sze Hian lived in the estate for a short time in the mid 70s.

      Ivan & Roy were alumni of PEES as well.


  3. Rozianah TalibJanuary 06, 2013

    Fuyong Estate, 9-mile or Batu 9 Upper Bt Timah is where I grew up. Nice. Rail mall is just an upgraded name about 10 years ago I think. The stretch of shops was where my kampung friends & I got bicycle tyres fixed at the lorry tyre shop, got my haircut at a 60s style aunty hairdresser salon, got cold fantas on hot days, my family got supply of the cooking LPG gas from uncle Ah Nam, got to see a dhoby shop while waiting for the bus at the bus stops on both sides of the road. So wonderful memories I'm sure the rest of my Kampung Lor Chamar friends from PEES can testify.
    Thanks James Tann for this article.

    1. Rozianah,

      I stayed at Kg Lorong Chamar for a short time when I was a very young boy, before our family moved to Block 13 at PEE. I'm trying to recall if we knew your family, because your father's name (Talib) sounds so familiar.

    2. Oldstock, when did you move to Lor Chamar? I do recall families that moved in and out of the kampung during my childhood days in the 80s.

    3. Oldstock, when did you move to Lor Chamar? I do recalled families moving in and out of the kampung during my childhood days in the 80s.

  4. I was asked some time back about Fuyong Estate in another article by a reader and Fuyong Estate resident and perhaps I should c.c. my reply here again as it pertains to this article and especially to Rozianah's comment.

    ".. I have not done much ‘research’ about Fuyong Estate at all, but as far as I can recall the estate was built by the wealthy and successful businessman Mr Chia Eng Say.
    Chia Eng Say was an entrepreneur from Penang who made his fortune in Singapore.
    He lived in Katong with an extended family and was the owner (?) of the Singapore Granite Quarry.
    Or at least he is very connected to it. The road that led to the quarry was named after him.
    This road ran from Upper Bukit Timah Road beside the KTM truss bridge and ended at the quarry.
    Today the original road has been expunged though if you walk through the area you can still see parts of it and a bridge that connected this road to Upper Bukit Timah Road across the old KTM railway track.

    Luckily, the authorities had seen fit to name the new road that now runs in front of Rail Mall as Chia Eng Say Road. Previously this road had no name before Rail Mall was created from the old shop houses.

    In the past, there was a Chinese kampong at the southern end of Fuyong Estate which was called Kampong Chia Eng Say. Today it has been demolished and a playground built over the site. It is at the end of Jalan Asas near today’s Rail Mall near the KTM black railway bridge.

    See this link about Chia Eng Say –

    Being a successful businessman, Chia Eng Say named the streets in Fuyong Estate after the principles of doing business. That’s why they are called Jalan Siap (Preparedness), Jalan Asas (Fundamentals), Jalan Tekad (Strength/Willpower), Jalan Uji (Challenge/Test) and Jalan Tumpu (Focus)

    There was a Malay kampong behind the estate (I not sure of the Kampong’s name).
    The kampong could be accessed via Lorong Chamar which was at the top end of Jalan Asas (where the Methodist Church now stands) as well as via Jalan Uji and Jalan Tumpu.

    In my article on another aerial photo of Hillview (Photos from ex residents-8), you can see a well worn path that was made by residents walking down the hill side from Jalan Asas to the bus stop in front of the Salvation Army.
    This area is occupied today by the Trinity College (St Francis school).

    I am very glad to hear that you are conserving your old house. I was there a few times recently and was actually quite sad to see the old estate becoming so ‘cramped’ due to the disorganized re-building. It has become so rojak now. "

  5. Hi James,
    I love looking at old photos and being a car enthusiast, I always use vehicles in a photo as a tool to date the photograph. It's not pinpoint accurate but usually it's good to within a few years.

    For example, you date your first B&W photo of the shophouses to be around 1970. But the car behind the pickup looks like a Honda from the 80s. The third photo after this one was dated 1995 but the cars in there are all 21st Century. In fact, I can just barely make out the alphabets on the black BMW and Toyota Corolla which read "SGH" and SGD respectively. That would be from 2006 and 2005.

    Hope this little tip helps. Thanks for a great blog.

    1. The B&W photos are taken from the National Library Board Photo Database and are not mine.
      The 1970s date was given by them in their description so I had to take them at face value.

      The year 1995 you referred to indicates the year that the shophouses were 'converted to Rail Mall' not the year when the photos were taken. The color photos were all taken by me about 2 weeks ago (just after the new year 2013), except for the first 2 which were taken in 2011 when I visited the KTM railway bridge when it was opened to public after being returned to the Singapore government.

      Thanks for visiting my blog. Cheers.

  6. Hi James,

    I remember a motorcycle shop someway around where the Subway sandwich shop.. bought a second-hand motorbike there around 1993 or 94.

    thanks for the marvelous blog.