Highline Park as inspiration for disused railway

Sometime next year, Malayan Railway will vacate its station at Tanjong Pagar; its trains terminating at Woodlands instead.

Over the last few days, there have been many letters to the press giving suggestions for using the land that will be freed up. Frankly, I think we all know that with land parcels of any size, the major use will be, drumroll please — high density development.

However, there are also ribbons of land on which tracks currently run. They may be too narrow for building. They could be annexed to adjacent parcels, but I hope they are kept for recreational use. Singapore’s quite keen on park connectors, and I hope we see more of those.

My problem with our park connectors is that they generally don’t have much character. One looks not a lot different from another. There’s a lack of creativity.

So, for inspiration, let me show you six photos I took of New York’s Highline Park. They are not good photos; it was a dull wintry day and the setting sun was often on the wrong side of the lens. But they should be enough to show you why Highline Park won much praise from landscape designers the day it opened and how New Yorkers have fallen in love with it since.

The “park” once used to be a disused elevated railway (picture above) that mostly carried meat to and from the Meatpacking District, a part of New York that was exactly what its name implied — an ugly area of abbatoirs and butcheries. The area has since been much gentrified and as part of the process, the elevated railway was marked for demolition.

In the end, as you can see, it was saved, and converted into an elevated park. But the designers used both its histories (as a working railway and as an abandoned site)  and its  elevated position to lend a unique character to it. The next picture shows you how they not only kept some parts of the railway track, but also the wilderness that is so refreshing to see in downtown New York – though I’m pretty sure the wild plants were very precisely positioned and managed.

Here’s another view. The wild grass has grown tall and obscured the sections of track still there:

Other sections of the elevated track were made into pedestrian concourses, with recliners:

Look closely and there is a surprise. The recliners are on rollers mounted on the old track. You can push the seats around, e.g. to sit closer to your friend.

Here and there, the railway crossed a road. The designers treated each crossing differently. Some have seating; you could sit and watch the city lights change as day turns into night. This one below gives you a visual contrast between the wilderness of the foreground and the urbanness beyond.

We could make a tourist attraction in Singapore out of the disused ribbon of land the way New York has made one out of its  track. All it takes is flair.

5 Responses to “Highline Park as inspiration for disused railway”


  1. 1 yuen 10 June 2010 at 12:04

    I have no views on the station buildings, adjacent land parcels, etc, but believe the track should be used to run a high speed commtue train service from Woodlands to Tanjong Pagar, with interchanges with North-South line at Sungei Kadut, light rail at Bukit Panjang, Downtown Line at King Albert Park, East West Line and Circle line at Buona Vista, and North East Line near Telok Blangah

    it is possible to run a communte service on a single track: make sure there is only one train on each section, and trains on neighbouring sections run opposite directions; two trains running towards each other would meet at a station, which would have two tracks/passenger platforms, then leave in opposite directions to meet another train at the next station

  2. 2 tk 10 June 2010 at 14:38

    hi alex,

    i couldn’t agree more that what NY has done so well is to conserve a feeling of “randomness” which makes a stroll along the highline so enjoyable and engaging. (for years before it was a park, urban expolorers and graffiti artists would break in and have a ‘stroll’ around above the city.)

    however i disagree with your statement about the PCNs here though, and i wonder just how much experience you’ve had of them. i wasn’t aware you were a keen cyclist?

    the western PCN (canal / hdbs) has a very different character from the eastern (coastal) PCN, and each of these is different from the more urban alexandra canal (or will be, whenever they get around to re-opening it.)

    as i said in my (shoddily edited) letter to the ST, a “KTM park connector” would link up the western / northern / southern PCNs, but would by its very nature (excuse the pun) have a completely different feel to them – pre-urbanised jungle.

    as others have also suggested, many sites along the route could be preserved and turned into heritage / education areas, as was done with colbar, reflections at bukit chandu and the old ford factory. also, in the same way as the ‘rolling stock’ chairs of the highline reference its previous incarnation, the KTM PCN (more beloved abbreviations!) could have areas for rest and relaxation along its length that incorporate aspects of its previous life, such as a carriage-cum-cafe or a bridge as outdoor gallery space.

    yuen’s suggestion of a high-speed commuter train is also valid, and there’s no real reason (apart from cost and aesthetics) that an E-train of this type could not be built along the top of the trail. however train links from woodlands to tanjong pagar already exist, albeit slow, so duplication would perhaps be a bit of a waste.

    this really is a once-in-a-99-year-lifetime opportunity for singapore. minister mah bow tan made it perfectly clear in his parliamentary speech that building a network of green corridors and park connectors around and across the whole of singapore is a real national priority, so hopefully the government can follow through on this one.

    incidentally, if i’m mistaken and you are actually a keen cyclist, drop me a line and we’ll go for a ride one day!

  3. 3 jaka 10 June 2010 at 15:11

    There are many good ideas, but before all that, LTA should widen the various roads crossing the railway. These roads have been the traffic choke points to some residential estates.

  4. 4 yawningbread 10 June 2010 at 22:07

    tk – I shall have to defer to your opinion of the park connectors. I’ve walked a few but it must be nothing compared to someone like you who cycles through it. The last time I rode a (rented) bike was years ago.

  5. 5 aplatedcat 11 June 2010 at 11:49

    Alex, it would take a mental revolution for the govt/URA to accept or allow a ‘disused’ or even neglected appearance as deliberate design. Everything here must be first class!


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