Train Travel Malaysia
Wikitravel Long-distance trains in Malaysia can rarely match road transport in terms of speed, but state operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB)  provides relatively inexpensive and generally reliable services around Peninsular Malaysia (but not Sabah/Sarawak in Borneo). The main western line connects Butterworth (near Penang), Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, while the eastern line runs through Gua Musang and the Taman Negara National Parkto Kota Bharu, near the Thai border and the Perhentian Islands.
The pride of KTMB’s fleet is the ETS (Electric Train Service) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, running modern air-conditioned trains 10x/daily at 140 km/h with a travel time of just over 2 hours. The rest of the network, though, is mostly single-track, with slow diesel locos and all too frequent breakdowns and delays. First and second class are air-con, third class has fans instead. For sleeper trains, KTMB’s epitome of luxury is Premier Night Deluxe (ADNFD – between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur only) featuring individual cabins containing two berths and a private shower/toilet unit. More economical are the Superior Night (ADNS) sleeper cars, which have upper and lower berths along each side, each bunk having a solid partition at each end and a side curtain for privacy. The carriages shake and rattle quite a bit but are comfortable and clean.
The Jungle Railway is the apt description for the eastern line between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut (for Taman Negara National Park) and Wakaf Bahru (forKota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands). The original “Jungle Train” is the slow daytime service which stops at every station (every 15-20 min or so). It’s 3rd class only, meaning no air-con and no reservations, and some stops may be lengthy as it’s a single line and all other trains have priority – hence the “Jungle Train” waits in side loops along the way so that oncoming or overtaking trains can pass. Tourists may use this service to travel to Some find it to be a fascinating and stunningly scenic ride; others feel there’s not much to see when you’re in the jungle. Eastern line night trains (for which reservations are possible and recommended) also have 2nd class berths and seats, and some have 1st class sleepers too.
Although not an epic train journey like the Trans-Siberian Railway, it nevertheless offers an insight to the life of the hinterland of the more rural East Coast states. Until a programme of road building in approximately the 1980s, most of the towns and villages along the line had no other means of accessing the larger world. While the name evokes a journey through thick rainforest, the reality is that the forests of Peninsular Malaysia are disappearing to be replaced with oil palm and rubber plantations. In particular south of Jerantut the influence of man on what was once rainforest is obvious. However the terrain, rivers and patches of remaining jungle are impressive.
Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia’s oldest national park, lies near the railway and is most often accessed from Jerantut. Other attractions include the Kenong Rimba Park in Pahang, Stong waterfalls and limestone caves in Gua Musang.
For train buffs, the Jungle Railway used to offer the excitement of old-style train travel, although the trains are now quite new. The entire line is a single line, hence the numerous delays when the mail train is moved to a loop to allow express trains to pass. Key tokens are still used and are passed to drivers by station masters without the train stopping by using pouches. Stations are also not interlocked. While the trains are diesel and coaches modern (although a bit short on maintenance), journeys on these trains are still full of atmosphere.
The Jungle Railway may go through thick rainforest, at least in parts, but you will be hardly far away from civilization and the best preparation is:
- Arrive early – schedules are more for inspiration than for rigorous following and trains may leave early, though late is more likely
- Bring something warm – you may be in the tropics but the A/C carriages can be close to refrigerated
- Take a picnic – express trains have restaurant cars selling drinks, basic meals and snacks, everything is overpriced and not particularly exciting; local trains do not have an official food service but there may be enterprising locals hawking snacks and you’ll probably be held at some stations long enough to jump out and get something
- Take a blindfold – unless you’re in a first class compartment, you won’t be able to control the lighting on the overnight trains, lights are left on in the second class sleepers
Toilets are generally tolerable (seat and paper are the norm!), and are cleaned almost after each station.
On busier parts of the line (mainly from Singapore to a few station after Johor Bahru and the last few stations before Kota Bharu), you might end up next to piles of merchandise, agriculture products (like smelly durian and the odd chicken) and crying babies. However, the trains are rarely full.
Tickets can be booked and even printed online at KTMB’s site. Enquiries and reservations can be made by phone at KTMB’s call centres, ☎ +60 3 2267-1200 (Malaysia) or , ☎ +65 6222-5165 (Singapore).
In East Malaysia, the only railway line is run by Jabatan Kereta Api Negeri Sabah (JKNS) , running from Tanjung Aru near Kota Kinabalu to the town of Tenom.
The railway services from Kuala Lumpur now runs from the KLsentral station- a spanking new yet strangely laid out transportation hub not too far away from our historical train station. The KTM Intercity counters and platforms are on the 2nd floor of the building. DO NOT BE CONFUSED WITH THE KTM komuter which are commuter trains running within the city to the suburbs.
Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railways, abbreviated KTM) tickets can be bought online, but you must book at least 48 hours in advance.
- To/from Thailand: Direct sleeper train services operated by the State Railway of Thailand connect Bangkok (Thailand) and Butterworth near Penang (Malaysia), while KTM  runs trains between Hat Yai (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Both trains cross the border at Padang Besar where Thai and Malaysia immigration formalities are all conveniently done in the station. There is also a less used eastern route from Hat Yai to Thai border town Sungai Kolok, but there are no through trains to the nearby Malaysian station at Wakaf Bahru (near Kota Bharu).
Singapore to Bangkok by train: The whole train journey from Singapore to Bangkok is 1,920 km or 1,233 miles and involves two or three trains, depending on where you want to stop off. Look at the timetable below and create a journey that suits you. For a fast journey with just an afternoon at leisure in KL and a morning to explore Penang, you’d take train 2 from Singapore to KL in the morning, train 20 overnight from KL to Butterworth (Penang) then train 36 from Butterworth overnight to Bangkok. However, I’d recommend stopping at Kuala Lumpur and Penang for a bit longer as they are both fascinating cities. So take any train you like from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, either one of the daytime trains (train 2 or 12) or the overnight sleeper train (train 24). Stop over for a day or two, then take any train you like from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth (the station for the ferry shuttle to Penang), there’s a choice of a daytime train (train 2) or an overnight sleeper (train 20). Finally, take a comfy sleeper on train 36, the International Expressleaving Butterworth at lunchtime and arriving in Bangkok next morning. It’s entirely up to you whether you travel from Singapore to Bangkok all in one go in 48 hours or stop off and see places on the way, as each train is booked & ticketed separately. All 3 trains can be booked at any railway station in Malaysia or Singapore or by email with Malaysian Railways.
- To/from Singapore: Singapore is the southern terminus of the KTM network. Comfortable overnight sleeper and somewhat misnamed daytime “express” trains (“express” means the train skips smaller stations) connect Singapore with Kuala Lumpur and Tumpat, near Kota Bharu. Since 1 July 2011, the KTM Singapore station is located in Woodlands, at the northern tip of island right next to the causeway. Buses connect the station with the Singapore MRT network. For passengers departing Singapore, both Malaysian and Singaporean immigration formalities are done in the station; for passengers leaving Malaysia, Malaysian immigration carries out checks on board the train in Johor Bahru station, while Singaporean customs and immigration process passengers at the Singapore station.
- Note that tickets for journeys starting at the Singapore station are priced in Singapore dollars, making them twice as expensive as those purchased in Malaysia; you can save quite a bit by taking the train from Johor Bahru instead. Alternatively if buying online, you can buy a cheap ticket (in Singapore dollars) from Singapore to Johor, then buy another ticket (in Malaysia ringgits) from Johor to your destination. The Singapore to Johor ticket is rarely available online however.
Ticket sales open 30 days prior to departure. N.B. Trains into Thailand can only be booked by phone, email or in person.
Key to classes
source and text seat 61
L = Deluxe sleeper (Premier Night Deluxe), 1 or 2-bed compartments with private shower & toilet, air-conditioned. Update: As at March 2014, this 1st class sleeping-car is temporarily out of service for overhaul, that’s still the case in October, but it’s not known for how long. Check the online booking system and if it doesn’t appear, simply use 2nd class sleepers instead, they are fine.
F = 1st class sleepers (Premier Night Standard), 2-bed compartments with washbasin, air-conditioned.
S = 2nd class sleepers (Superior Night), upper & lower berths with curtains for privacy, air-conditioned.
1 = 1st class seats (Premier). Reasonably luxurious if faded, reclining, air-conditioned.
2 = 2nd class seats (Superior). Comfortable, air-conditioned.
3 = 3rd class seats (Economy). Modern & fairly comfortable, but basic.
There are two Day Express trains namely Ekspres Sinaran and Ekspres Rakyat and four Night Express trains namely Senandung Malam, Senandung Langkawi, Ekspres Wau and Ekspres Timuran.
The Malaysia KTM intercity train network consists of two main lines:
WEST COAST LINE / NORTH SOUTH LINE
- The West Coast line runs from Padang Besar on the Malaysia-Thailand Border in Perlis (where it connects with the State Railway of Thailand’s network) to Singapore via Butterworth, Penang (for connections to Penang) and Kuala Lumpur. It is called the West Coast line because it serves the West Coast states of Peninsular Malaysia or the North South line because it connects all the way from Singapore to Padang Besar.
EAST COAST LINE / JUNGLE RAILWAY
- The East Coast line runs between Gemas in Negeri Sembilan and Tumpat in Kelantan. Gemas is the rail junction between the West Coast and East Coast lines. Like the West Coast line, it is called the East Coast line because it serves two of Peninsular Malaysia’s East Coast states, namely Pahang and Kelantan. In fact, it does not run along the coast at all and only meets the South China Sea when it terminates in Tumpat. It runs through the interior, often through deep jungle, thus earning the nickname “Jungle Railway”. Terengganu is the only state in Peninsular Malaysia not served by the railway network.
There are also several branch lines – between Kuala Lumpur and Port Klang, Batu Junction and Batu Caves, Bukit Mertajam and Butterworth, Tapah Road and Teluk Intan, Kempas and Tanjung Pelepas, Kempas and Pasir Gudang, and between Pasir Mas and Rantau Panjang.
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