I meant to write this more than a year ago when Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Malaysian government agreed to relocate Keretapi Tanah Melayu’s terminus from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands. News that the Tanjong Pagar Station will finally close on July 1 encourages me to open up my archive of unfinished writings and finish this particular entry.

While the agreement has improved relations between Malaysia and Singapore, which is good, I was disappointed with the decision, and remains so today.

It is a disappointment because Tanjong Pagar is the last visible link that exists between the two countries, harking back to a time when Singapore was part of colonial Malaya and later modern Malaysia. It reminds Malaysians and Singaporeans alike that we share a common past. There was a dream unrealized; Singapore to Kuala Lumpur as New York to Washington D.C.

For regionalists who dream of a closer Southeast Asia, the link provides concrete infrastructure to that dream.

The dream will live on, even without Tanjong Pagar. And of course, the link is not severed at all. It is only shortened. Woodlands is still in Singapore after all.

Still, the link to Tanjong Pagar is special. It is special not just because of the past but also for what it can be. A high-speed train between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will greatly enhance people-to-people interaction.

Even so, the KL-Singapore high-speed train link is only part of a bigger dream. Imagine a Penang-KL-Singapore link. Imagine a Bangkok-Penang-KL-Singapore link. Imagine bigger.

Of course. Of course. Of course there is still Woodlands. But the experience will be vastly different. Trains are not supposed to be like airports, detached from cities with all the associated hassle. Trains are supposed to be convenient. One embarks in a city only to disembark in another city.

Woodlands is nowhere. Like Changi. Like Sepang. Unlike Brickfields. Unlike Tanjong Pagar.

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