Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (2024)

More than 300,000 people travel across the Johor-Singapore Causeway every day, making it one of the busiest land border crossings in the world.

But it is more than just a conduit for goods and people between the two sides. It is also a symbol of historical ties and the close relationship Singapore has with its closest neighbour, Malaysia.

The Causeway was officially opened on June 28, 1924, when Singapore was still a British colony. The project, which took about five years to complete, was hailed as a “great engineering work” back then. It was also crucial to keeping Singapore connected to bigger markets, says Dr Shaun Lin of NUS College, who is an expert in South-east Asian border relations.

During British colonial days, it was infrastructure that was meant to connect Singapore to the Malay Peninsula and to capitalise on the strategic location of the Singapore port.

“It was seen as the missing link back then,” says Dr Lin.

The Causeway connects Singapore to not just Johor Bahru but also the rest of Malaysia through the KTM rail

The Causeway has evolved not just architecturally, but also in the different forms of significance it has taken on over the last century, says Professor Chong Xu, who teaches global urban history at Soochow University in China, with a research focus on the British and French empires in South-east Asia. He is also the key researcher at the university’s Centre for Chinese Urbanisation Studies.

Today, the Causeway is also a bridge for jobs and leisure. Many Malaysians cross the border daily for work and better economic prospects, while Singaporeans cross the border for sightseeing and cheaper shopping.

War, separation, congestion. Here are some of the Causeway’s milestones in the past 100 years.

Let’s go back in time. How did people and goods travel across the Johor Strait before the Causeway existed?

They went by rail and ferry boats.

Passengers in Singapore had to disembark in Woodlands on the Singapore-Kranji Railway, and then board ferry boats to cross the Johor Strait. There were two steam-powered ferry boats – one named Singapore and the other Johore. Each ferry could take up to 160 passengers. By 1912, a third ferry, named Ibrahim, was deployed.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (1)

Wagon ferries, or train ferries, were introduced in mid-1909 to keep up with demand and ease congestion. Used initially for transporting goods across the Johor Strait, they were barges specially outfitted with railway tracks and were capable of transporting whole train carriages.

In 1913, wagon ferries began transporting motor vehicles – together with the drivers and passengers – across the Johor Strait in open railway trucks protected by tarpaulin sheets.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (2)

But while it was a step forward in improving the flow of goods across the Causeway, demand for the wagon ferries’ services soon surpassed their capacity. Between 1910 and 1911 alone, the volume of goods conveyed across the strait increased from 19,278 tonnes to 30,142 tonnes.

Over time, it became increasingly expensive to maintain the wagon ferries.

In 1917, the director of public works of the Federated Malay States (FMS), Mr W. Eyre Kenny, suggested building a “rubble causeway” across the Johor Strait. There were also discussions about building a bridge, but ultimately a causeway – a raised road of solid fill across water – was preferred, mainly because it was cheaper, says Prof Xu.

The Causeway’s foundation is made mostly of rubble and crushed stone from Pulau Ubin, which were cheaper alternatives to steel that would have been used to build a bridge. A stone causeway would also be more resistant to bombing if it were attacked during a war, adds Prof Xu. According to reports, the varying depths of water – from 14m to 21m – during low tide also made the bridge option unsuitable.





Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (3)

1919-1924The great engineering plan

The planning and design of the Causeway began in 1918. British consultant engineers Messrs Coode, Matthew, Fitzmaurice & Wilson drew up plans and presented them to the FMS, Straits Settlements and Johor governments in 1918.

The Straits Settlements government formally approved the project in 1919. Construction was done by another British engineering firm, Messrs Topham, Jones & Railton of London, which had successfully carried out several major public projects in Singapore, including King’s Dock at Keppel Harbour and Empire Dock at Tanjong Pagar. Neither of these structures remains today.

The total cost of construction – about 17 million Straits dollars – was borne jointly by the governments of the FMS, Johor and Straits Settlements. Here’s how the original Causeway looked in 1924.

The original Causeway was 1.056km long and 18.3m wide. It was made with more than 1.15 million cubic m of rubble, quarried in Bukit Timah and Pulau Ubin.

There was a single motorway track, a footway and a railway track.

At the Johor end of the Causeway were a lock channel and lifting bridge.

The lifting bridge was 51.8m long and 9.8m broad. It was built to allow small vessels to pass through the Johor Strait.

The lifting bridge and lock channel no longer exist. They were destroyed by British explosives during World War II to prevent Japanese troops from advancing.

Building the Causeway was considered a huge engineering feat.

The Causeway was first opened to railway goods traffic on Sept 17, 1923, and the wagon ferry service between Johor Bahru and Woodlands was withdrawn. Construction was officially completed on June 11, 1924 – three months ahead of time. It was then the largest engineering project undertaken in Malaya.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (4)
Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (5)
Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (6)
Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (7)

An opening ceremony was held on June 28, 1924, by Sir Laurence Guillemard, the governor of the Straits Settlements and high commissioner of the FMS from 1920 to 1927. He was accompanied by the Sultan of Johor. Invitations were extended to the Malay rulers and “prominent government officials and gentlemen in the banking and commercial worlds”, according to historical archives.

“The full and impressive ceremonial with which the event was invested was carried through smoothly, and emphasised in fitting manner the historic nature of the event, and the magnitude of the engineering work which it celebrated,” said a Straits Times report on the ceremony.

The lock channel and lifting bridge were a key solution to a problem: the differences in water levels.

Tidal studies carried out in 1917 showed that the construction of the Causeway would divide the Johor Strait into two separate tidal compartments and give rise to differences in water levels on either side of the Causeway when it was completed.

It would also block the Johor Strait and prevent vessels from passing through.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (8)

The limited technological capabilities at that time meant that it was not easy to build a causeway across the Johor Strait, says Prof Xu.

A causeway is different from a bridge. Once completed, it would greatly affect the hydrological environment of the strait.

Thus, the consultant engineers designed the lock channel with a double set of floodgates, which are adjustable gates used to control water flow in waterways. This system would solve the problem of tidal asymmetry.

During World War II, parts of the Causeway were blown up to prevent Japanese troops from advancing.

Reports indicate there were two great explosions – one wrecked “the steelwork lock system” and the second blew a 21m-wide gap in the Causeway itself. The second demolition also severed the pipeline carrying water from Malaysia into Singapore.

Plans to reconstruct the Causeway’s lock channel and lifting bridge were considered in the late 1940s, according to Prof Xu, but these were shelved because the demand for restoration of the water passage was not substantial enough to justify the cost.

Advances in shipbuilding and changes in shipping routes also meant that many vessels no longer sailed through the Johor Strait, which was never a popular route for marine traffic except for smaller vessels because of its shallow waters, he says.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (9)

1964-1988Widening the Causeway

After Singapore separated from Malaysia, the two countries became responsible for managing their respective sides of the border.

To meet the new immigration control requirements at the Causeway, a checkpoint was constructed in Woodlands and completed in June 1967.

From 1967, travellers crossing the border from either side were required to carry passports and have them stamped on their entry and exit. To coincide with the launch of immigration control, special 64-page passports were issued to Singaporeans and were valid for travel only between Singapore and West Malaysia.

Talks on widening the Causeway began as early as 1951.

As traffic flow between the two countries increased, congestion became a key issue. In an article published by Singapore Tiger Standard, an English newspaper established in 1950 that ceased publication in 1959, it was reported that a scheme for widening the Causeway to ease traffic congestion would be discussed at a meeting of the Causeway Committee held in Singapore in 1951.

The scheme was prepared by the Johore Public Works Department, and included recommendations to add a separate track for pedestrians and trishaws.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (11)

However, it was not until 1964 that work to widen the Causeway began. Between 1964 and 1988, the Causeway was widened three times to cope with the increased volume of trade and human traffic. It was further widened between 1989 and 1991.

But the most significant move was between 1974 and 1976, when the Causeway was expanded from three to six lanes. Let’s take a look.

Between 1974 and 1976, the vehicular lanes on the Causeway were widened from 9.1m to 25.3m.

Another three lanes were built and the dual carriageway had three lanes each for those travelling from both sides of the Causeway.

It was expected to handle 40,000 people a day by 1982, as the then Public Works Department (PWD) reported.

It was the biggest construction project on the Causeway after Singapore and Malaysia became two separate nations.

Singapore spent a total of S$9 million widening its side of the Causeway. Malaysia spent approximately S$5 million.

Malaysia started expanding its side of the Causeway first, in July 1973. Works on the Singapore side – which spans approximately 608m of the 1.056km Causeway – started in June 1974.

“They started on the project in July 1973 whereas we started only recently and since then, the price of almost everything has gone up,” said Mr Robert Lim, a PWD engineer in charge of the project, in 1974.

The jams eased slightly but the days of crawling traffic were not over. Apart from widening, more had to be done.

One development was the special lane for lorries carrying perishable goods from Malaysia to Singapore. There were 50 to 60 such lorries plying the route every day. The special lane was implemented in 1985, allowing lorries to use it between 6am and 8am. Today, there are dedicated lanes for heavy vehicles such as lorries and buses.

Heavy congestion, especially in the direction of Johor, persisted throughout the 1970s…

... and the 1990s despite expansion works such as new lanes towards the old Malaysian CIQ, or Customs, Immigration and Quarantine.

In 1998, the Second Link was built, becoming the second vehicular link between the two countries. The Second Link – a 1.9km-long bridge linking Tuas in north-west Singapore to Tanjung Kupang in Gelang Patah, located in south-west Johor – opened without much fanfare. Reports showed that it failed to divert a significant volume of traffic away from the Causeway in Woodlands, as motorists using the Second Link had to make a big detour to get to the city of Johor Bahru.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (12)

1996-2006The bridge option

In July 1996, then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced Malaysia’s plans to demolish the Causeway and replace it with a full straight bridge that would allow ships to navigate the Johor Strait.

In 2000, Singapore agreed to the proposed bridge as part of a package of bilateral items being negotiated together with new water agreements. The list included the relocation of Malaysia’s CIQ from Tanjong Pagar.

An agreement on these issues was not reached in subsequent meetings.

In March 2002, Dr Mahathir wrote to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew proposing a full bridge, with each party bearing the cost for its half. Under the proposal, the Causeway would be demolished. If Singapore did not agree, Malaysia would build a half-bridge on its side to join the Causeway at the boundary. A new railway bridge and new water pipes would reconnect to the existing amenities on Singapore’s side of the Causeway.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (13)

In April that year, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong responded to the proposal, saying: “Between a new bridge to replace the entire Causeway, and one to replace just the Malaysian side of the Causeway, I like the former better. Once the new bridge is completed, the Causeway can be knocked down, which I prefer to be done after 2007.”

He added: “But if you wish to proceed immediately to replace just your side of the Causeway with a bridge, I shall accept it, though I think this is not ideal.”

However, an agreement was not reached in subsequent meetings.

In 2003, Malaysia went ahead to award the contract to build a half-bridge on its side, which was dubbed the “crooked bridge” by the media.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (14)
Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (15)

In October 2003, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi succeeded Dr Mahathir as prime minister. Then PM Abdullah visited Singapore in January 2004 and paved the way for a resolution of the issue. Work on the half-bridge was suspended in February 2004.

While both sides subsequently agreed to revisit the full straight bridge option, no consensus was reached. In 2006, then PM Abdullah announced the scrapping of the plans for the bridge.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (16)

2020-2024Present-day Causeway

June 28, 2024, marks the centenary of the Causeway.

Today, an estimated 300,000 people cross between Malaysia and Singapore via the Causeway every day, making it one of the busiest border crossings in the world.

This is how the Causeway looks today.

It has six lanes. Three are for entering Singapore and the other three for entering Johor.

There is a footpath for pedestrians walking towards Johor. Crossing the Causeway on foot was banned in 2008, but that rule was abolished in 2018.

The midpoint of the Causeway is marked by a domed structure.

The road is slightly curved at the Johor end, linking it to the Malaysian CIQ that was built in 2004.

This was to prevent the CIQ from becoming a “white elephant” when the plan to replace the Malaysian side of the Causeway with a bridge was abandoned in 2006.

The lock channel, which was in the original Causeway, no longer exists. This has impacted water flow in the Johor Strait.

Opening up the Johor Strait would improve water quality around the Causeway and the conditions for marine species and fisheries nearby, says Dr Serina Rahman from the Department of South-east Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. This would also mean better conditions for marine species and fisheries nearby, she adds.

One solution could be to reopen or add culverts, which are tunnels under the Causeway. They were in the original design of the Causeway, according to blueprints, but have been closed over the decades due to construction works.

“This is an easy stopgap solution to improving environmental conditions – that will not require the demolishing or rebuilding of a bridge,” says Dr Rahman, whose research focuses on marine and environmental conservation.

Traffic jams persist, but so have efforts to make improvements.

In a bid to ease congestion and reduce waiting time, a QR code system was implemented on March 19, 2024. Travellers in cars passing through Singapore’s Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints can clear immigration using QR codes – instead of their passports. The overall waiting time can be reduced by more than 30 per cent if most car travellers use QR codes for immigration clearance, said the Singapore authorities.

Malaysia is also looking into a QR code system.

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (17)
Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (18)
Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (19)
Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (20)

Covid-19 highlighted the significance of the Causeway.

In 2020, borders were forced to close to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Only vehicles carrying essential goods were allowed to pass through the Causeway. Borders were fully reopened only two years later, on April 1, 2022.

It highlighted how vital the Causeway is, says Dr Lin of NUS College. “We were just 1km apart, but back then it probably felt like 10,000km.”

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (21)

Will the Causeway stand for another 100 years?

It is less about the integrity of the structure and more about whether people will continue to need the Causeway, says Prof Xu. With advancements in technology, the ways in which people can cross the Johor Strait will become more diverse. But there will still be a need for connection in the next 100 years, he adds.

The Johor Bahru-Singapore RTS Link, which is slated to be completed in 2026, will facilitate the flow of people using public transport. However, those travelling in motor vehicles, as well as trucks carrying food supplies and goods, will still have to use the Causeway.

Even with the Tuas Second Link, the Causeway remains a popular option. Says Dr Lin: “The role of the Causeway might change in the future, but it will still be significant.”

Here’s how the Johor-Singapore Causeway evolved over 100 years (2024)


What is the history of the Causeway in Singapore? ›

Officially opened on June 28, 1924, the Causeway is now one of the busiest border crossings in the world, with an estimated 300,000 people using this connection daily. In 1976, it was widened from three lanes to six.

Why was the Causeway built? ›

Driving around the Lake was a time consuming effort. During this time period, a renewed interest developed to provide a direct connection across the center of the Lake to the north shore. As a result, the Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission was formed to build the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge.

How long is the Johor to Singapore Bridge? ›

Johor–Singapore Causeway
Total length1 km (0.62 mi) (Causeway) 2.4 km (1.5 mi) (Distance between both checkpoints)
Rail characteristics
19 more rows

What is the purpose of a Causeway? ›

Causeways are most often used to connect the barrier islands with the mainland.

When was the Causeway blown up? ›

The last Allied troops crossed the Causeway and withdrew to Singapore on 31 January 1942. Allied engineers subsequently blew a 70-ft (approximately 21 m) gap in the structure in a bid to slow down the Japanese advance into Singapore.

For what purpose were causeways built? ›

Causeways are early types of human-made roads which have practical and ritual functions. The oldest causeways are about 5,500 years old, built to cross ditches and provide access to peat bogs. The Maya people created causeways up to 65 miles in length, crossing miles of forests in a nearly straight line.

What is the difference between a bridge and a causeway? ›

A causeway is a raised path, railway or road across an expanse of low ground, wetlands or water. It is different from a bridge in that it has little or no opening underneath. Instead, it consists of a crest with embankments on either side. It is typically made of compacted earth, sand and rocks.

What is the meaning of the causeway symbol? ›

The symbols which are used in the geographical map for interpretation depicting different types of landforms and other geographical features are called as conventional symbols. In geography, causeway refers to the following: Area in which the river and the road intersect with each other. River floods. Unmotorable road.

Why do Singaporeans go to Johor? ›

In addition, seven in 10 Singaporeans stated that they would travel to Johor Bahru monthly for lifestyle and entertainment, shopping and dining if more convenient travel measures such as RTS Link and passport-free travel were implemented. Meanwhile, one in three say that they would buy a home and retire in Johor Bahru.

Can you walk across the Johor causeway? ›

Technically you can but you have to be very careful while walking on the causeway during the peak periods, it used to be that there was a dedicated lane just for people who are walking and I have walked on it several times in the past but due to the ever growing motor vehicle traffic they had needed to widen the ...

What separates Johor and Singapore? ›

The 50-kilometre-long Strait of Johor sits between Singapore and Johor at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. There are two bridges crossing the strait.

What is the deepest causeway in the world? ›

The foundation of this massive stone structure rests 66 metres below the Strait of Canso, creating the world's deepest causeway. More than 9 million tonnes of rock fill were dumped into the strait between 1952 and 1955 using innovative construction techniques to overcome strong tidal currents and severe ice conditions.

Who built causeways? ›

To connect the city to the surrounding mainland, the Aztecs constructed causeways, or raised roads, across the lake. These causeways allowed people to travel to and from the capital city without having to use boats. The causeways were made by stacking stones, mud, and other materials on top of reed mats.

What is the history of the Woodlands checkpoint? ›

Due to new immigration laws, a checkpoint was established at Woodlands to check on all foreigners, except those who held Malaysian identity cards or having special visa arrangements entering Singapore effective 2 August 1966.

What is an ancient causeway? ›

Causeways are early types of human-made roads which have practical and ritual functions. The oldest causeways are about 5,500 years old, built to cross ditches and provide access to peat bogs. The Maya people created causeways up to 65 miles in length, crossing miles of forests in a nearly straight line.


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