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From Kota Kinabalu to Tenom: What a train ride for tourists, residents

By Olivia Miwil June 7, 2019

The train passing through traffic along the Putatan-Kepayan Road before making its final stop in Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu. PIX BY EDMUND SAMUNTING

BEAUFORT, Sabah, Malaysia : PASSENGERS make their way to the train station depot as the diesel locomotive comes to a halt here.

It is 7.30am on a Sunday, and the passengers are mostly church-goers, Tenom market-
goers and tourists who are booked for the popular white-water rafting activity up Sungai Padas.

The weather is gloomy but young children racing their way up the train, are not, as they jostle to get the best window seats.

There is a 20-minute wait before the diesel locomotive starts its 48km journey to Tenom. For some, there is excitement building on the metal tracks; for others, it is their way of life.

Passengers boarding the train at the Halogilat station, one of the 11 minor railway stations on the Western Sabah railway line.

The Sabah Railway Department runs the daily railway service along a 134km route from Kota Kinabalu, in the west coast of the state, to Tenom, in the interior.

The route starts from the Tanjung Aru station and cuts along the scenic coastal districts of Papar and Beaufort before entering the meandering ride to Tenom along the tail end of the Crocker Range National Park.

There are 15 stations along the route and the train service runs on a fleet of diesel locomotives under the department and on a schedule that is devised based on passenger demand.

There is a steam train service using a single locomotive owned by the department but it is shelved for now.

On this Sunday, tour guide Jack Stephen leads a group of tourists, a staple for him and his peers, as they depend on people who pay good money to paddle their way down Sungai Padas, which has a Grade 3 to Grade 4 rating that is enough to pump up the tourists’ adrenaline.

From Beaufort station, the rafters and their guide head to the Pangie station for the start of the 9km rafting journey towards the Rayoh station for their thrill.

On a busy day, the number of tourists can swell up to 100.

Stephen, 28, says the train journey itself is an excitement for most of his guests, although there are those who prefer better train rides.


The morning train ride uses simple carriages that are not air-conditioned and have non-adjustable cushioned seats.

“It’s not comfortable for some but the train is the only way to access the rafting area as there are no roads going there.

“Guests are mostly thrilled to experience the old train service, which is only available in Sabah.

“Most of them enjoy the scenery along their journey as they can see the forests and the lives of the community living along the rail track,” he says.

Along the Beaufort-Tenom track, passengers get to see the Saliwangan Baru, Halogilat, Rayoh and Pangie stations before reaching Tenom.

Australian Melissa Peters, 30, who is there for the rafting package, cannot agree more about the train service experience.

“It is not as comfortable as I had imagined but it is okay when the window is open. This experience is one of a kind,” says Peters.

A railway conductor says the passenger load on Sundays is normally low but there are times when the number of tourists is high.

“But on Sundays, we get those going to the church and market regularly.”

The railway service serves as a lifeline for people who work in Kota Kinabalu, especially those in the civil service.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital employee Noraini Badar, 38, says it’s the cheapest transportation for her to travel to work from Papar daily at 6am.

She takes the daily train service, which starts from Beaufort at 5am, and the trip back home in the evening. It costs her RM1.85 for the 50km journey from Papar one way. By bus, it costs RM10 for a return fare.

“The last train-stop, which is in Sembulan, is located near the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. I just have to walk for about 10 minutes from the station to the hospital.

“The train schedule matches my working time, which starts at 8am and finishes at 5pm.”

Regular commuter Izwan Junaidi, 24, who normally takes the train from Beaufort as early as 5am, says the train service is faster than driving during peak hours in the city.

“There is no traffic jam on the railway, therefore the train can just go straight to its destinations.

“Furthermore, I can catch some sleep while waiting for the train to reach the Putatan station.”


The priorities for passengers differ at the stations along the route but the railway service provides for their needs where necessary.

The Beaufort-Tenom route, for instance, provides for tourists keen on the white-water rafting activity and those involved, while the line to the state capital helps many reach their workplace on time.

The service also helps children in remote locations attend schools, such as Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) St John and Sekolah Menengah St John, SK Biah, and SK Batu 60.

The freight services provided by the railway has also allowed the agricultural industry to stay vibrant in the Tenom area popular for its coffee, fruit and palm oil.

Some passengers prefer the last coach, which offers limited seating.

The railway was first opened by the British in 1896 to reach the fertile hinterland that was producing agricultural products such as tobacco and eventually fruit as well as other products, such as rubber.

Statistics released by the department showed that in 2014 and 2015, passenger numbers stood at more than half a million annually.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal had said the government was looking into upgrading its train transportation system and expanding railway tracks.

“The railway is part and parcel of the government’s roadmap to ensure the state’s transportation system enables goods and services to reach the market.

“The train, although costly, doesn’t have to be a sophisticated one. We are looking into this and I’ve asked the Public Works Ministry and the Economic Planning Unit to draft a programme and map out a plan to ensure the transportation system in Sabah does not only depend on the Pan-Borneo highway,” he said previously.

Already in the works is a 175km railway track to Kudat from Kota Kinabalu, as well as an extension of the rail track to Melalap in Tenom.

From:  NEW STRAITS TIMES (Malaysia) Friday June 7, 2019


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