HRH Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar of Johor
Why I drove the last train out
July 01, 2011 Friday, 10:00 PM
His Royal Highness, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar of Johor, on why he asked to drive the last KTM train out of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
WHEN I found out last year that Tanjong Pagar Railway Station would be closed, I expressed my desire of driving the last train out of Singapore to the KTM chairman.
What the governments do has got nothing to do with me. To me, it is a sentimental matter.
It was my great grandfather, the late Sultan Ibrahim, who opened the Causeway, designed for both road and rail links. He paved the way, literally, for the first train to rumble into Singapore from Malaysia back in 1923.
I felt it was only appropriate for me, as the ruler of Johor, to drive the last train out.
Besides trains, I fly jets, helicopters, and I sail my own yacht. I am never a boring person. Everything to me is a challenge. I always like to find something new to do. Every day, I look at the weather and think to myself, what should I do today?
So when the KTM chairman said OK, the train instructor was sent to my palace.
There was no train simulator. I had to study the diagrams of the controls and learn about the mechanics of how a train moves. After that, we started the practical lessons.
The first time I sat at the controls, it felt a little funny because there is no steering wheel. There is only the throttle and the brake.
It was a little scary too because, unlike a car, you cannot swerve when you’re driving a train. If there is something on the tracks, you cannot avoid it. You will hit it. It’s not like a helicopter, where I can go up and down.
What helps is that there is a note, or manifest, that the station master hands you before you leave the station, and which you need to sign for. It describes the route you would be taking, what the speed limits are, where the crossings are, etc.
As the lessons progressed, I learnt one other thing: You cannot think only for yourself when you drive a train.
You need to feel it. You need to feel its length, its weight, the momentum and the gradient you are on.
I drove around to places like Negri Sembilan, Kluang and KL, after I received my locomotive driving licence.
Thursday night was the first time I set foot into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. That’s because when I come to Singapore, I usually drive or take my yacht.
I was told not to go more than 60km per hour, because these are old tracks and they could be a little unsteady.
There were two safety drivers with me at the controls. One of them was my instructor, because I always feel more comfortable when he is beside me.
I also brought my iPad onto the train because I always like to find out where I am and how fast I am going (Yes, you can do that with an iPad!).
I felt a little sad that it was a night journey and that I couldn’t see what was around me as I drove.
But I also felt very honoured, because there were so many passengers. They are a testament to the bond of friendship between the people of Johor and Singapore.
I knew many of them felt sad about the station. Some of them feel that Singapore is developing too fast. But I don’t think so.
We cannot control development. It happens at its own pace. But we must always know our history.
In Malaysia and Singapore, when we go to school, we do not learn about ourselves, but about the world.
You ask a Singaporean on the street: Where is Kazakhstan? Or, say, where is Cape Town? He will probably know.
But Segamat, Malaysia? Probably not.
So this is the message I want to say to Singaporeans: Learn about the history we share.
More than anything else, that is why I asked to drive the train.