Saturday, November 30, 2019

The railway bridge at Hillview Road.

Before the year 1948, what would become Hillview Road was nothing more than a country track that was the land boundary between two gambier plantations belonging to Messrs. J Jacobs and Messrs. Tang Kok. This boundary track led from Upper Bukit Timah Road at 9-1/2 milestone into the Bukit Gombak farms and rubber plantations.

What had puzzled me for a very long time was the railway girder bridge that was built over the later Hillview Road.  I was confused because I knew that Hillview Road was only constructed in 1948 but the KTM (Keretaapi Tanah Melayu) railway line was built in 1932, a good sixteen years before the road was built. So my question was 'Did they build the girder bridge over a country track?'. If so, why would they do that? Was there a need to build a bridge there? It didn't make sense to me.
Moreover, about 500m further down, there was also another country track called Lorong Taluki. This track crossed the KTM line too but there was no bridge, just a slope up to the embankment and then down the leeward side. Why did they need a bridge here?

I even referred to my good friend, Dr Lai Chee Kien, who has extensive expertise with the rail system in Singapore. Dr Lai and I both lived at Fuyong Estate before where we would see the KTM trains passing everyday on the high embankment along the Hillview ridge. Dr Lai wasn't too sure of the reason as well. So, was the bridge there even before Hillview Road was built?

For a long time, I left the question open till about a month ago when I found a photomap dated 15 April 1948. The aerial map showed the on-going construction of Hillview Road and Hillview Avenue on that date. It totally resolved the question of the girder bridge!

(Click on photo for a detailed view)

The girder bridge was built at the same time as the construction of Hillview Road in 1948!
There was no girder bridge when the railway line was built in 1932. In order to construct Hillview Road, KTM had to create a temporary diversionary rail siding to allow for the construction of the girder bridge.

Hillview Road was created by cutting through the ridge from Bukit Timah Road. Passing the road today, you can still see the cut made then. Hillview Road is like a huge hump with the summit exactly where the gate of the former Union Carbide Co (then National Carbon) was. Hillview Road and Hillview Avenue were specifically created for access to the two new factories of National Carbon and Malayan Guttas.

As I had mentioned in a previous article, the creation of Hillview Road and Hillview Avenue was the first time that the area was officially called 'Hillview'. The name was used because at the other end of this Hillview ridge near Bukit Batok Hill, there was a grand private country estate called 'Hillview Estate'. This country house Hillview Estate was the wartime headquarters of the Australian Division that fought the invading Japanese army in 1942.

Though, adequate at its time, the girder bridge at Hillview Road was to become a bottleneck for vehicles with increasing economic activities in the 1970s. Hillview Road was then the only access to the industrial factories being built at Hillview. The solution, in 1969, was to extend the other end of Hillview Avenue to join Jurong Road at Bukit Batok.

The girder bridge was dismantled and removed on 26 November 2011 as a result of the return of the KTM land by the Malaysian government to Singapore. The bridge support buttresses were only removed in 2017 and we can expect that Hillview Road will be further widened in future to accommodate the increasing traffic through the area.

The KTM railway girder bridge at Hillview Road.

The bridge was dismantled in November 2011.

Other links to the girder bridge:-
The Girder Bridge at Hillview
The development of Hillview Avenue
The colonial Hillview Estate

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