Sep 22, 2008

My First Train Spotting Experience

(My first train spotting on 200908. I hope the readers don't find it too mushy.)

Initial Encounter

There is no mistake. I'm going back.

You see, last Saturday while executing my missions, I saw a most magnificent train to travel past Ten Miles Junction.

The time was 5:03pm.

Moments before, I was still wondering whether a train would appear. They don't appear every few minutes like the MRT or LRT and I consider myself lucky if one is spotted.

Then .... (substitute the sound of train approaching). Before I knew it, she was moving horizontally across my eyes.

I was too stunned to take out my camera.


Missing Her

From that day, I began to ask around frantically. A bit exaggerated, but I did attempt to find out more about the train. From email correspondence with railway enthusiasts, I learnt that it was a freight train. The train can be described as a flatbed wagon or flatcar, or what I call long trolley on wheels. But there was no freight on board. The locomotive was pulling a never-ending series of flatbeds with nothing on top. It was my first time seeing such a train. Normally the locomotive will be pulling passenger compartments or boxcars and if you are too used to seeing MRT trains on viaducts like me, you'd forget a train can be much much longer.

I have to find her again. Not even the cars and babes from Super Import Nights can deter me.


The Mission

I took a gamble. Without consulting any railway enthusiast or website, I assumed the train would come again next Saturday at the same time. If not, I would return from Choa Chu Kang a dejected person. The mission would have failed and this blog would not be written.

My destination: Ten Miles Junction. The map shows the railway line crossing over the LRT line and under Choa Chu Kang Road. This is misleading. The LRT line is elevated and the railway track crosses the road as a level crossing.


Where is the Bus?

At 4:40pm I was pressed for time. No proper planning was done before the trip and I reached Choa Chu Kang Bus Interchange with the impression there would be many buses to Ten Miles Junction. I couldn't be more wrong. There were only two and they would only come few minutes later.

I panicked. Should I hail a cab? Or take a bus from outside the interchange? Precious seconds ticked by. I knew I was doomed. Even if a bus were to come now, I might not reach there before the train.


A Long Wait

The wait had become excruciating. Once again, precious seconds ticked by. The train still had not appeared.

At the interchange, a bus - service 67 - arrived at the berth, before time. I hopped onto it and hoped for the best of luck. I alighted at Phoenix LRT Station around 4:55pm. Phew.

I thought I would be late, but the train, if she were to come, snatched the honour. Three minutes past five. That was when she appeared at the same time one week before. I planned to give her 15 minutes grace. Then fifteen minutes past five. Was she going to come?

Waiting for her was not fun. I looked like a fool loitering above the canal. Instead of flowers, I had brought a camera.

The pavement had more than a few people walking. Plus there was a female security guard or car park attendant sitting nearby. I felt like a terrorist in her eyes, so I ensured the LRT viaduct pillar stood between us. However I could do nothing for the people streaming past me. What did they think I was doing, then?

To kill the boredom, I started imagining things. Looking at the crossing barriers pointing to the sky I thought, what if it goes down with a car just below? Will the windscreen get smashed or will the barrier get dented, in the event it is not a car but a truck?

Choa Chu Kang Level Crossing
Choa Chu Kang Level Crossing. For vehicles flouting traffic rules by stopping inside the yellow box, what if the barrier on the right goes down at this time?

I tried to kill time by doing other things - loitered around, stared at the dirty canal water, flipped my street directory (I think so), looked at my watch; every now and then stealing a glance at the barrier.

The barrier was the only clue to a train approaching. I dared not stand near the barrier, for fear that in my excitement of an approaching train, I would miss the barrier coming down on me. Neither was it a good idea to wait on the track - the pedestrians and vehicle drivers would find me idiotic or suicidal. Now I wonder what do real train spotters use to scan for approaching trains? A binoculars? A telescope?

Grace period over. No sight of the train. She stood me up. But wait, did she ever promise to come again next Saturday, at the same time?

I left the spot in disappointment. I still harbored the thought of seeing her, so I left the spot but not the place. I skirted around the mall to the heavy vehicle park on the other side, to check out the railway bridge (over the canal) from that position. I saw the bridge last Saturday - the ugliest railway bridge that I've seen in Singapore.

By this time, the mission was already a failure. Even if she were to arrive, I would not be prepared. With no clue from the barrier, the train would just move across unexpectedly like last Saturday. Worse, she might arrive just when I am in front of the mall.


The Diversion

The bridge is ugly all right, regardless of your position from it.

At the heavy vehicle park, the stretch of railway was visible behind the canal. As expected, no sight of the train. I had gave up by then; I was there just to look at the bridge.

The ugly bridge did not make me stay for long, so I walked back to my original position, not to wait for her but to leave the place altogether. Along the way, I shot the row of shophouses opposite Ten Miles Junction. That activity did not take me more than a few seconds. In fact I took only two pictures, from the side of the mall.

At the bend where Woodland Road turns into Choa Chu Kang Road, I turned to my right.

A short distance away was the level crossing, with the familiar sight of barriers and vehicles stopping and moving off, taking their cue from the traffic lights at the junction of Woodlands/Choa Chu Kang Road.

The vehicles were not moving this time; neither did they stop inside the yellow box but parked neatly behind it, like waiting for something to happen.

The barrier was down.


The Finale

My mind yelled the four letter word (commonly associated with the latrine).

In that split-second, the legs began to take flight, the New Balance pounding the ground to achieve even faster speed.

The arms did a quick draw, one arm tearing the flap off the messenger bag, the other fishing the weapon out of it. The fingers, not idle, but twirling the dial to video mode.

The legs braked at the location where I stood few minutes before. This time, I saw her approaching from the distance.

Still huffing and panting nonetheless, I pressed the shoot button.

Mission accomplished!


The Video

Here is the video from my first train spotting mission. As you will see, the camera rocked quite violently during the first few seconds due to the race to reach the crossing before the train.

Also, to make the video more original, I challenge the reader to guess the number of flatcars towed by the locomotive. Then watch, as the video counts the flatcars one by one to arrive at the answer.



Adelin said...

26!! Chio lor ! Now you're into trains. Tsk.

Next time bring me on such trips leh, feels fun !

Mushy but damn interesting from my POV. It's another side of Icemoon!

Anonymous said...

Can I suggest next time you telephone the guard room at MINDEF Bukit Gombak for the train timings. I understand that the MPS got a daily task to do i.e. to count how many coaches or wagons are pulled by the locomotive. What for you may ask? YES I also ask what for?

Maybe someone from SAF can answer or is it meant to keep the MPs busy?

Icemoon said...

Wah, then those MPs are the real professional train spotters in Singapore!

Victor said...

Nice video. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I have not seen such a train before either. Wonder what it carried on those 26 flat-beds? Ahh... maybe that could be your next assignment?

Icemoon said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

A railfan told me the flatbeds carry water pipes. But I wonder why they are empty.

yg said...

alamak, icemoon, so much drama. i live at bukit panjang and i have to put up with this inconvenience once in a while - stopping behind the barrier for the train. another thing you need to know: the train schedule is as flexible as one of malaysia's main produce - rubber.

stanley said...

Nice catch..
We don't normally see class 25 with long hood in front.

You saw the locomotive number ?

Last few months, NeWater pipes were begin transported to Tanjong Pagar yard. I think you can still see them on the move if you are lucky.

In 1 day there are more 5 express/mail train (daytime) excluding freight.

You can join some of the young KTM railfan members (if you like) at the next level-crossing.
They knows the time & the train no.

You'll be lucky to catch a 'Blue Tiger' class 26.

stanley said...

In fact in 2006 i was applying for a flat in Queenstown, somewhere along the KTM track, so that i'll be easier for me to go trainspotting.
Too bad, i didn't get it.

Anyway Ice, welcome to the railway Hobby!!!

Icemoon said...

Stanley, the number is 25107.

Wah, so if you add in freight, say 8 trains, it will be average 1 train every 2 hours.

The only train timing I remember is the night sleeper coach years back, leaving T.Pagar around 2300 and reaching KL at 0800. I remember sleeping in it twice. Love it absolutely.

Icemoon said...

yg is so lucky to live near MRT, LRT and Railway. :P

Eh, can anybody tell me whether there are accidents involving the barrier and vehicle? What if barrier goes down with vehicle in yellow box?

Adelin said...

Ice, i don't know if you're sadistic or what. U wan accidents in such situation ah. I think before the barrier comes down there will be a siren or warning that the barriers are coming down soon. In this way, people can siam the barrier. Or I think a few m away from the barriers there's this train traffic light asking motorists to slow down, displaying incoming train ahead!

Icemoon said...

I'm talking about if you are stuck in the yellow box, like in my picture.

Adelin said...

then did u see any traffic lights for the train as i mentioned?

i am still pretty sure that such incidents won't happen. train drivers are also taught to go slow when approaching such junctions.

Icemoon said...

Got traffic light. In fact there are two barriers, one big one small, and one traffic light on that side of the road in my picture.

Adelin said...

then it could be the good work of those lights and motorists' fear of getting into such freaky accidents that has no such incidents of being trapped in the yellow box so far bah!

Lam Chun See said...

One place that I can recommend for train-spotting is the pedestrian bridge near Ghim Moh block 9A which crosses over the railway track and N. Buona Vista Rd to somewhere near the Civil Service College. Should be safe and comfortable as it is covered.

moody said...

Well, the last I heard was that the station is going to shift to Woodlands and all this land is going to be returned to Singapore.

And if you were to shoot the video at the Gombak base, confirm the MP will invite you in for a cup of tea.

Good writing.