By Toh Yong Chuan, Straits Times

TRAVELLERS with backpacks and FairPrice plastic bags – that is a sight seen no more at the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. But people in search of a bite may return, if the authorities go ahead with plans to reopen the iconic building as an eating place.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has approached architects and consultants this month to study whether former food stalls in the Keppel Road building can be reopened to serve the public.

Refurbishment works such as sprucing up former food stalls in the station and adding new toilets can be completed as early as 2016 at an estimated cost of $400,000.

The former railway station was shuttered in 2011 after 79 years in operation.

In the plans it has drawn up, the SLA described the former railway station as once having “a bustling and popular local food spot with numerous food stalls”.

It was subsequently gazetted as a national monument, but has remained closed to the public except for ad-hoc events such as heritage tours, fashion shows and product launches.

The SLA said the latest move was prompted by a “growing interest” in the vacant properties it manages.

But it would not be drawn into saying more. “Since plans are still preliminary, we will not be able to provide more details at this time,” said a spokesman.

Experts welcomed the possible reopening of the former railway station to the public. “The worst thing that can happen to old buildings is that when they are not used, they fall into disrepair,” said Dr Yeo Kang Shua, assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

But the honorary secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society added that the new food shops in the station have to be as close as possible to how food stalls were part of the railway station.

“It cannot become a giant foodcourt,” said Dr Yeo.

Food blogger and entrepreneur Seth Lui suggested bringing back the hawkers who used to be at the railway station but are now scattered all over Singapore.

“These are the food associated with the place and there is a sense of nostalgia about them,” he said.

One stall formerly at the railway station is nasi briyani stall Ali Nachia Briyani Dam, which moved to a coffee shop at Tanjong Pagar Plaza after the railway station closed down.

“I will not say no to any opportunity to return to the railway station because that was where our customers associated us with,” said its owner Ali Latif.

He said SLA staff approached him six months ago to discuss the possibility of returning to the former station, but talks stalled because he was required to bear renovation costs.

“I have worked so hard to build a steady customer base at my current location, so I may open a branch at the railway station,” said the 64-year-old.

“But it still depends on the rent and how long we get to stay there. We don’t want to be asked to leave again after one or two years,” he added.

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