Former FMS Railways Terminal Offices, George Town, Penang | A railway station without a rail

Former FMS Railway Terminal Office, China Street Ghaut, George Town, Penang
Former FMS Railways Terminal Offices, George Town, Penang

This grand building was originally known as the Malayan Railway Building or also called FMS Railway Station, Penang for it housed the FMS (Federated Malay States) Railways Terminal Offices. It served as the FMS Railway's northern region headquarters besides acting as a common railway terminal where people came to buy the train ticket at the ticketing booth.  However what is uncommon about this railway terminal is it is perhaps one of the grandest railway terminals without a railway track! So there was no platform or trains to be expected here.

Instead passengers would buy their tickets here and walk to the FMS Railway Jetty at the end of the China Street Ghaut and board the Railway Ferry Streamers to Butterworth on the mainland where the railway station was located  to catch the train. Fares to and from Penang Island were inclusive of the ferry ride.

A rail line from Penang to Taiping was completed in 1900, and by 1903 one could travel all the way from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur.  In anticipation of increased passenger and freight demands created by the opening of the rail, a 644 feet-long (196m) jetty (FMSR Jetty or also called FMSR Pier) had been constructed opposite by the FMS Railway in 1901.

The former Malayan Railways Building was designed in 1904 by the prolific British Government Assistant Architect, Arthur Benison Hubback, from Public Works Department (PWD). The Neo-Classical building with some elements of Indo-Saracenic on its domed clock tower features uniquely distinct arcades (a structure composed of a series of arches supported by columns) on the ground floor.

Despite the year of 1907 on the building facade, construction of this building by the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) commenced in 1905 and was not finally completed until early 1909, at which time it was the largest in Penang; its clock tower also making it the highest. When opened it housed the railway administration offices, private offices, a booking office, a restaurant and even some basic accommodation.

Former FMS Railway Terminal Office, China Street Ghaut, George Town, Penang
The centre of the third level of the Malayan Railway Building is inscribed in appliqued poster "M.R. 1907", indicating the year of completion of this building (The building was actually completed in 1909 though). 

The clock tower of the former FMS Railway Terminal Offices
In the olden days, as travellers to Penang approached the FMSR Jetty, they were greeted by the sight of the imposing FMSR Station Building and its magnificent clock tower.

The construction of this grand edifice in 1907 signified the completion of the FMS Railway, which served as a reliable and effective means of transporting tin and crops from the Federated Malay States for export besides ferrying passengers.

The railway and pier proved to be a massive boost to Penang’s flagging economy by making the port the principal import and export hub for the FMS. Thousands of migrant workers arrived at the pier, predominantly from India and China, to seek employment in the mainland tin mines and rapidly increasing number of rubber plantations. George Town also became a major departure point for pilgrims to Jeddah to perform the hajj, and thousands would converge on the jetty when the pilgrim ships departed or returned. This business continued up until the 1970s, when air travel was generally preferred.

Now this elegant building has been renamed Wisma Kastam since the Penang Custom Department took it over in the late 1960s.

Below are 5 old photos of the FMS Railways Terminal Offices made into postcards which have been published in Penang 500 Early Postcards book written by Cheah Jin Seng.  I reproduced them here without permission but in accordance with the principle of fair use.

The hand-colored photo on this postcard is dated 1909 published by TCB Penang. 
It shows the FMS Railway Building and its clock tower on the left and the FMS Railway Jetty with green roof measuring 644 feet long  

A real photographic postcard (d. 1930) showing the FMS Railway Jetty (left, foreground) and the FMSR Station Building in the centre. At its left is Wisma Yeap Chor Ee. Both buildings are located on China Street Ghaut.  The FMSR Station Building was often called "the only railway station without a rail" and as such operated more as an administrative centre. It had offices, a ticketing booth and a Railway Restaurant with bar and grill.

A triview postcard (d. 1916) showing, from top clockwise, the pier in Prai (Seberang Prai), the railway station in Prai and the FMSR Station Building in Penang.

A hand-coloured photographic postcard dated c. 1910
 
The FMSR Station Building and the clock tower stand majestically in this hand-coloured photographic postcard. In the foreground are many sampans and tongkang at Weld Quay.  The pier is congested with lighters and tongkang, evidence of Penang's status as a thriving harbour and port town. To the right of the FMSR Station Building is the Paterson, Simons & Co Building.  The company commenced business in Penang in 1902, after taking over the business operations of Hallifax & Co., importers, exporters and general merchants. Paterson, Simons & Co. operated from Weld Quay, and engaged in business of a varied nature, but had a special branch concentrated on tin and coal. 



REFERENCES

Arthur Benison Hubback: FMS Railways Terminal Offices, George Town (1909). (2017). Retrieved from https://www.abhubback.com/copy-of-anderson-boys-school

Cheah, J.S. (2013). Penang 500 early postcards. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet.

Khoo, S.N. (2007). Streets of George Town, Penang. Penang: Areca Books.

Langdon, M. (2010). George Town’s historic commercial and civic precincts. Retrieved June 8, 2015 from http://gtwhi.com.my/images/pdfs/George%20Towns%20Historic%20Commercial%20and%20Civic%20Precincts.pdf




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