Singapore's Military


A number of Military railways operated in Singapore during the twentieth century and details of these are now coming to light. Many thanks to Brian Raybould for details and photographs of two of the depots around Tanglin.

1. The Admiralty Railway.

This branched off the main line near Woodlands and was built in the 1930's to serve the Naval Shipyard at Sembawang. Three of the locomotives were 0-6-0Ts built by Hunslet in 1929 and numbered SL18-20. In November 1941 they were transferred to the FMSR as the second Class A, later becoming 331 class before being sold to the Port Of Singapore in 1946. In addition to the metre gauge line there was a standard gauge system and two of the locomotives which operated this system were returned to the UK in 1955. One of these, Hawthorn Leslie 3865 of 1936, an 0-4-0ST named "Singapore", has been preserved.

"Singapore" on display in St. James Park, London in June 2005 above and working in Singapore docks, below.

2. The Changi Military Railway.

This was a 4-mile long standard gauge line built by the FMSR for the War Department, for the protection of Singapore's new Naval Base at Sembawang. The fortifications for the Naval Base were laid at the entrance to the Old Strait, at Changi, where one 15-inch gun, one 9-inch battery, one 6-inch battery and search lights were installed. The artillery installations were supplied with underground ammunition depots and loaded with armour piercing shells. On the beach, concrete machine emplacements and wire were installed. Airfields in Sembawang, Seletar and Tengah were to provide air cover for the Base. Bagnalls of Stafford supplied an 0-6-0ST, number 2547 of 6/1936, to the War Office department, Changi, Singapore. It had 16" x 22" cylinders and 3' 4" driving wheels. It was last seen derelict in 1947 but its fate is unknown. The railway ran from Fairy Point pier to the battery with a short branch to a depot. Further details are available from the Industrial Railway Society. 

A British Library interactive map of the Changi base dated 4.5.33 can be viewed here.

3. Military sidings to and in depots.

Two of these branched off the main line between Tanjong Pagar and Tanglin Halt, the exchange sidings for the latter being adjacent to Tanglin halt.  These were served by two Avonside Engine Company 0-6-0STs, 2030/1929 SL7 (yard No 144) and 2031/1929 SL8 (yard No 145), and a Bagnall 0-4-0ST 2770 of 4/1944, yard No 1729. Whenever these locomotives moved between depots they had to use the main line and a token had to be obtained from either Tanjong Pagar or Bukit Timah and returned promptly by road after the movement. A third line branched off south of Bukit Timah, near my old home at Jalan Jelita, ran westwards, then turned north and crossed Ulu Pandan Road and entered a depot at Buona Vista Battery (see map on Singapore Railway history page). There was a fourth siding to the ammunition depot at Kranji, closed in 1959 - I am not sure if this is the same siding which later served a Shell depot at Kranji.  The line from Tanglin exchange sidings ran south and then west, crossing Portsdown road near a school and ending up in the military complex adjacent to Ayer Rajah road near the junctions with North and South Buona Vista roads. Details of locomotives can be found here.

The Sir John Jackson contract was to build the Naval Base at Sembawang and a large number of locomotives of both metre gauge and standard gauge were required. The construction required a huge quantity of granite blocks which were quarried from mountains in south Johore and shipped by rail down to the coast opposite Sembawang for loading into barges. I have not yet ascertained the gauge of this line.

Avonside Engine Company 0-6-0ST SL7, Yard No 144 in the railway compound on the Ayer Rajah road. The gate leads into another military depot.
A close up of the plates on SL7.
Avonside Engine Company 0-6-0ST SL8, Yard No 145, in the exchange sidings adjacent to Tanglin halt. The station buildings are in the left background.
Brian Raybould in the cab and the plates on SL8.
Bagnall 0-4-0ST 2770 of 4/1944, Yard No 1729.
The plates on 1729.
This is also Yard No 1729 in the railway compound at Ayer Rajah road.
One of the 0-6-0STs, possibly SL8 (SL7 had a bullet wound on its right cylinder cover), running between Tanglin and the railway compound. The loco is facing Tanglin.

I found this line on a 1995 map, after the Ayer Rajah Industrial estate had been built on the site of the military compound. Was the line still intact until recently? e-mail me if you have any more information.

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Page created 28th August 2004

Last updated 29th October 2017.

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