100 Years of the Causeway

The Causeway is finally reopened after almost two years of closure. Despite decades of congestion woes, trafficking issues or an occasional tool used in political bickering, the Causeway remains an important link between Singapore and Malaysia.

The Land Connection

Mid-1910s – Goods and passengers between Malaya and Singapore were originally transported across the Johore Strait using ferry services, but by the mid-1910s, it was clear that the ferries could not cope with the increasing traffic volumes. Each ferry could carry only six goods wagons at one time. By 1917, there were 54,000 wagons to be ferried compared to only 11,500 in 1911.

1917 – The colonial government studied the feasibility of a stone causeway between Woodlands and Johor. A bridge was initially considered, but the foundation sites were deemed unsuitable due to the large varying depths of water – from 14m to 21m – during the low tides. Then-director of Federated Malay States (FMS) Public Works Eyre Kenny proposed a stone causeway, which was later accepted. The contract was subsequently awarded to an engineering firm called Topham, Jones and Railton.

24 April 1920 – Sir Laurence Guillemard (1862-1951), the Governor of the Straits Settlements, paid an official visit to Johor to attend the laying ceremony of the foundation stone for the new causeway. The construction had actually already started in late 1919, and was scheduled to complete in five years.

1920-1924 – As much as 1.15 million cubic metres of granite extracted from the Bukit Timah and Pulau Ubin quarries were transported and deposited into the strait between Woodlands and Johor. Site surveys were also carried out for the railway networks between Singapore and Malaya to be linked via the new causeway.

17 September 1923 – The causeway’s railway for goods transportation was opened for operations, although the causeway was still only partially completed.

1 October 1923 – The causeway’s railway for passengers was opened for operations. It was the first time in history that a direct link was established between the Malay peninsula and Singapore island. Since then, passengers could travel via the FMS Railways from Singapore to Johor, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Perak, Kedah and Perlis before joining up with the Royal Siamese State Railway at Padang Besar.

October 1923 – The construction of the causeway, named Johore Causeway (The English spelling is Johore whereas Johor is the Malay spelling), was completed. It was 18m wide with a motorcar roadway and two railway tracks. At the centre of the causeway, there was also a lock channel and lifting bridge for small vessels to pass through.

Measuring 1,056m long and 14m deep during the low tides, the eventual cost of Johore Causeway was 17 million Straits dollars, borne jointly by the governments of the FMS, the Straits Settlements and the Johor State. The official opening ceremony of the new causeway was originally scheduled on 5 October 1923 but had to be postponed due to the illness of Sir Laurence Guillemard.

28 June 1924 – The Johore Causeway was officially opened. The distinguished guests-of-honour included the Governor, the Sultans of the FMS, King of Siam, Chief Justice and many other Malay royalties as well as colonial government officials.

1926 – The pipelines along the Causeway were completed. As much as 38 million litres of water could be piped daily to Singapore’s Pearl Hill Reservoir from the Gunung Pulai waterworks.

The World War

1940 – Additional lighting was installed at the Customs Examination shed area. The lighting system for the Causeway was inadequate as only one half was lighted at a time; its alternate side was switched on and off on a weekly basis.

31 January 1942 – The British set off explosions at the Causeway in an attempt to delay the Japanese’s advance into Singapore. The Causeway’s lock channel and lifting bridge were destroyed by the explosives. After the Fall of Singapore, the Causeway was repaired by the Japanese but the lock channel and lifting bridge were not replaced.

1950 – New 60-inch steel waterpipes were laid along the Causeway by the Municipal Commission due to Singapore’s increasing needs for water. It added an extra of 7.5 million litres of water supply from Johor.

6 March 1956 – Members of the Singapore Motor Club and reporters waited eagerly at the Singapore side of the Causeway to welcome the six-men Oxford-Cambridge team arriving in two dust-covered Land Rovers. They became the first ever to complete the overland trip from London to Singapore, which took about six months.

9 November 1958 – The Causeway was temporarily closed to ease the traffic due to the first state visit of Johor by Yang di-Pertuan Agong and his Consort.

February 1959 – The Causeway was heavily jammed during the 1959 Chinese New Year period, with as many as 2,500 cars passing through every hour. Thousands of firecrackers were confiscated by the Customs.

The New Border

1 February 1967 – Hundreds of lorries piled up at the Causeway as they waited for hours for their goods to be cleared by the Customs. It was the first day of the imposition of a new two percent surtax on imported goods.

2 July 1967 – Immigration barrier was established at Singapore’s side, as both countries began their issuing of the restricted passports. Malaysia set up their checkpoints in September 1967. The usage of the Singapore Restricted Passports would last 32 years until the end of 1999.

18 February 1968 – Johor carried out an exercise to inoculate against cholera for 35,000 people at the Malaysia side of the Causeway, after a report of cholera case at Lavender Street. It took the motorists more than two hours to cross the Causeway.

3 June 1969 – Stricter checks and controls were stepped up at both sides of the Causeway due to the racial riots erupted at Kuala Lumpur on 13 May 1969 and its possible spillovers into Singapore.

11 April 1971 – Bus service 170 was launched as a cross-border service between Queen Street Terminal and Johor Bahru. The bus service was managed by the United Bus Company (UBC) Ltd, but was later transferred to the newly-merged Singapore Bus Services (SBS) in 1973.

15 August 1971 – Malaysia implemented a new immigration control system at the Causeway, where all foreigners entering Malaysia were required to fill embarkation and disembarkation cards. The pink immigration cards were for Singaporeans while the white ones were for general foreign visitors.

9 January 1972 – “Operation Snip Snip” was carried out at the Singapore side of the Causeway. Long-haired Singaporeans had their passports seized and were told to collect them back at the Immigration Headquarters at Empress Place after their haircuts. Non-citizens could get a quick haircut at a temporary barber stall 50m away from the checkpoint. Otherwise, they would not be allowed to enter Singapore and had to turn back.

1972 – Singapore and Malaysia pondered the building of a second causeway.

1 November 1973 – Malaysians driving into Singapore in their private cars were required to obtain vehicle entry permits. It was to restrain the growth of private car population in Singapore. Goods and public service vehicles were exempted from the new rule.

1974-1976 – A study in 1972 found that the average daily traffic volume at the Causeway was about 18,000. In view of increasing traffic demands, the Public Works Department (PWD) was tasked to improve the Causeway. The project included new link bridges, slip roads and the widening of the Causeway from three to six lanes (both ways) at a cost of $9 million.

17 October 1976 – A five-hour power failure threw the Causeway and checkpoints into darkness and chaos as the immigration officers scrambled to get candles and torches to continue their work. It caused a huge jam on the Causeway and delayed clearance for the travellers. Electricity was restored by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) at 10pm.

The Computerisation

1977 – A new $13.8-million Woodlands Immigration Checkpoint was built to manage the increasing traffic flow between Singapore and Malaysia. Officially opened by Home Affairs and Education Minister Chua Sian Chin, it was equipped with new computerised systems which meant Malaysian cars entering Singapore were no longer required to carry their car registration books. A new Exit Control Scheme was also implemented in the following year, on 3 January 1978, to prevent visitors from illegal overstaying.

June 1981 – Replacing the manual checking of blacklisted travellers, the new computers had greatly improved the efficiency for the Woodlands Immigration Checkpoint. Previously, the officers could only detect an average of 35 suspects a month. With the help of the computers, the detection rate increased to 470 blacklisted personnel among the daily 30,000 to 40,000 travellers across the Causeway.

1984 – Singapore’s Traffic Police cramped down on illegal parking of vehicles along the Causeway.

December 1984 – A $210,000 set of concealed cameras and close-circuit television (CCTV) was installed at the Woodlands checkpoint to battle increasing crimes. Covering the bus passenger lanes, waterpipes and jetty areas, the new system was able to detect suspicious personnel trying to sneak past the border checks.

1985 – A special lane on the Causeway was allocated, between 6am and 8am, for lorries carrying perishable goods from Malaysia to Singapore. There were 50 to 60 such lorries plying the route everyday.

November 1985 – The new Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), absorbing some of the northbound traffic towards the Causeway, eased the congestion issues at Upper Bukit Timah Road and Woodlands Road. It also acted as a link between the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) and the Causeway.

1986-1990 – Kampong Lorong Fatimah, situated at the Malayan Railway Administration lands beside the Causeway, was gradually fading away as many of its residents had moved to the Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats at Woodlands.

Made up of both Singaporeans and Malaysians, it was the only village in Singapore guarded by an immigration outpost, where the residents had to show their identity cards (for Singaporeans) or passports (for Malaysians) upon entering and exiting the village. In late 1989, the village eventually had to make way for the new Woodlands immigration complex extension.

18 November 1986 – Held in 1986 and participated by 57 nations, the First Earth Run was a global relay event advocating world peace. However, at the Causeway, Malaysian demonstrators blocked the passage to protest against Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s visit to Singapore.

To avoid the crowds, Malaysia’s last relay runner Lynda Seow had to be driven onto the Causeway in a police van with the Peace Torch. She then ran the last stretch with the torch before passing it to the Singapore team of runners who relayed the torch to the National Stadium.

6 February 1987 – Indonesian President Suharto was welcomed by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the Causeway when the former drove to Singapore after his official visit at Johor.

July 1988 – Daily commuters across the Causeway had increased to 80,000. Expansion works were added to the Woodlands immigration complex, including additional immigration booths, new bus lanes and more Customs facilities. The $10-million project was completed in 1991.

8 April 1989 – A new half-tank rule added to the Customs (Amendment) Bill was passed in the Parliament. A maximum fine of $500 would be imposed on any Singapore-registered cars leaving the country with less than half-tank of petrol. The new rule was implemented on 17 April, with a grace period of two months. Cars not meeting the requirements were allowed to turn back instead of being fined during the grace period.

August 1990 – The “express card” scheme aided the quick clearance of frequent travellers to Singapore at the checkpoints.

17 October 1990 – The Causeway was closed for more than five hours after ammonia gas had leaked from a lorry’s portable tank.

4 February 1991 – The half-tank rule was revised to three-quarter tank. A one-month grace period was given to Singapore cars travelling to Malaysia.

August 1991 – A six-month study was conducted on the feasibility of a light rail transit system across the Causeway between Singapore and Johor.

1993 – Malaysia was interested in the proposed extension of Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system to Johor Bahru. However, the plans were not materialised.

1993 – The average number of commuters crossing the Causeway had risen to 190,000 per day.

3 May 1994 – A new 12-lane clearance complex was opened for Malaysian motorcyclists entering Singapore, greatly speeding up the clearance process and reducing the congestion during peak hours.

July 1995 – For traffic safety reasons, Singapore cars entering Malaysia were required to be fitted with a third brake light.

The Political Bickering

1996 – Malaysia called for the demolition of the Causeway to be replaced by a bridge, which would be named the Southern International Gateway. The Singapore-Malaysia ties became frosty in the following few years.

13 December 1996 – Singapore and Malaysia reached accord on how and when to clean up the Straits of Johor. Flotsam and floating debris tended to accumulate along the Causeway.

2 January 1998 – The Malaysia-Singapore Second Link, or Tuas Second Link, was officially opened, becoming the second vehicular link between the two countries.

1999 – Malaysia and Singapore blamed each other for the traffic congestion woes at the Causeway.

18 July 1999 – Costing more than $400 million, the new Woodlands Checkpoint was opened, replacing the old one. It was more spacious and equipped with better facilities that would enhance border security.

31 December 1999 – The blue Singapore Restricted Passport, used for travels to West Malaysia since 1967, was phased out. The red Singapore Passport became the only valid document for overseas travels by Singaporeans from 1 January 2000 onwards.

September 2001 – The Causeway was one of the issues listed in a deal between Singapore and Malaysia, which also included the issues of water supply, air space, railway land and CPF withdrawals for Malaysians.

2002-2006 – Malaysia announced that it would unilaterally proceed to build the new bridge. Inter-governmental talks resumed and ended without agreement several times over the years.

February 2002 – Both Singapore and Malaysia increased the toll charges for vehicles using the Causeway and Second Link. At Singapore side, the increase ranged from 10 cents for taxis to $2.50 for big lorries.

March 2003 – Security at the Woodlands Checkpoint was stepped up due to the looming Iraq war and potential terrorist threat. Cars were ordered to open all their storage compartments for inspection, whereas motorcyclists even had their helmets and pockets checked. The increased security measures led to large traffic congestions at the Causeway, with car queues almost 1km long.

May 2003 – There were disputes again when Malaysia accused Singapore of breaching the Asean agreement when the latter blocked the entry of a probable severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) case at the Woodlands Checkpoint.

September 2004 – SBS launched two more bus services to Johor. Bus service 160 would start from Jurong East Interchange, ply through Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang, Kranji and Woodlands before crossing the Causeway to Kotaraya, near Johor Bahru’s City Square. Bus service 950’s route was between Woodlands Regional Interchange and Kotaraya.

September 2005 – The Singapore side of the Causeway built a road divider to segregate motorbikes and cars, due to the increasing number of motorcyclists violating lane discipline, jumping queues and obstructing traffic.

February-March 2008 – The escape of Mas Selamat Kastari led to tightened border checks at the Woodlands Checkpoint. It was the worst Causeway jam for trucks since the mid-nineties.

December 2008 – To further ease the congestion woes, the old Woodlands Checkpoint, closed since 1999, was reopened to cater for clearance for motorbikes and trucks. At Malaysia side, a new RM$1.3-billion 76-lane Johor Bahru Checkpoint was opened.

May 2009 – A third bridge linking eastern Johor and Singapore was proposed. The widening of the Causeway was also considered. The plan did not materialise in the end.

November 2009 – Lorry operators and businesses welcomed the decision by Johor’s Tanjung Puteri Customs Complex to open 24 hours.

The Covid-19 Pandemic

18 March 2020 – The Causeway was shut down as Malaysia implemented its Movement Control Order (MCO) in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Only food supplies and other necessity goods were allowed to go through the Causeway.

29 November 2021 – A daily limit of almost 3,000 passengers were allowed to pass through the Causeway between the two countries under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

1 April 2022 – The Causeway was fully reopened again, after almost two years of closure and restrictions. It was the longest period of inaccessibility for the Causeway since the Second World War.

Published: 19 April 2022

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4 Responses to 100 Years of the Causeway

  1. Peter Tame says:

    I remember well the early ’60s when you could drive over the causway with just a friendly wave. Great running with the Hash House Harriers, splendid curries and and other delights to be foung in JB. Unhappily, when politics got into the act, I just gave up. A sad loss.
    Peter Tame, resident 1957-1998.

  2. Wuxl says:

    Actually 1km traffic jam at the causeway is not uncommon considering the causeway itself is 1 km.
    Even sometimes on weekends (non Chinese NY period) you can get 1km queues on SG side lining up for immigration checkup before exiting SG and everyone in the car thought it was due to MY side, and most times there was very little traffic crossing the causeway and the MY checkpoint was faster. Some of us thought it was SG government’s way of discouraging SG spending money in MY instead of buying local (although quite a lot of food and goods in SG were produced in MY anyway) and paying GST.

    What I am interested to know is when did the car toll start? By whom? And both direct or only one side originally?
    I know the car toll for SG cars was 50 sens at MY custom for quite a few years, whereas the SG charges for MY cars was more for restriction of cars plying SG roads and hence calculated according to number of days spent in SG rather than a flat fee for causeway toll.

  3. The most serious causeway accident in recent years…

    Lorry driver arrested after ramming into 11 vehicles on Causeway

    7 July 2022
    The Straits Times

    A 34-year-old driver has been arrested by Malaysian police after he lost control of his lorry and rammed into 11 vehicles on the Causeway towards Singapore yesterday morning.

    The accident involved the lorry, one van, one bus and nine cars. The South Johor Bahru District Police said in a statement on Facebook that six of the vehicles were Malaysian, while the rest were foreign-registered.

    The Malaysian driver tested negative for drugs, Johor police said, adding that initial investigations found that he lost control due to technical issues with the brakes, then collided into the vehicles at the scene.

    No one was hurt or killed, the police said.

    The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) had, in a Facebook post on Thursday morning, said two out of three lanes at the Causeway towards Woodlands checkpoint were blocked due to a traffic accident involving several vehicles. ICA updated slightly past noon that all lanes were cleared.

    Videos of the incident circulating on social media showed the lorry crashing into a the vehicles at the Causeway towards Woodlands Checkpoint. There was debris strewn along the road and several damaged vehicles parked to the side. A white van was also seen being towed away.

    An SBS Transit bus was spotted near the accident scene as well. The transport operator told The Straits Times no one on board was injured.

    Malaysia’s Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said on Facebook that stern action will be taken against the lorry driver or his company if they are found to have failed to follow regulations.

    https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/truck-rams-into-multiple-cars-near-woodlands-checkpoint-two-out-of-three-lanes-blocked

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