The last time I rode a KTM train on the KL-Butterworth sector was about 25 years ago. In the early days, the journey took something like 9 gruelling hours with the train making umpteen stops along the way.
But as a kid, every trip was an adventure. The most eagerly anticipated events were the encounters with the 4 tunnels of Bukit Berapit. Two long and two short ones. (The British were clever not have made it Three Long and Two Short, 三长两短). If I remember correctly, the second tunnel south of Taiping was the longest of the four.
With the opening of the new twin-tunnel in conjunction with double tracking and electrification, these tunnels (and tracks) would probably fade into history or else be reclaimed by the jungle. There are some proposals to preserve them…will there be new light at the ends of these tunnels ?
The North Borneo Railways photo here shows the only surviving specimen of an operational steam-engined train in Malaysia. Brings back fond memories of the days of travelling on KTM trains between Butterworth (from Prai, initially) and Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s.
Those were the days when every trip was filled with great expectations. I was always peering out of the windows to catch glimpses of the locomotive in front, with black plumes belching from the top, and steam hissing from the sides. Not forgetting the frequent whistling (I believe was also steam-operated).
KTM has come a long way. Now as more sections of the rail network switch to electric trains, raw steamy love affairs have evolved into more refined electrifying experience (hopefully). (Well, the intermediate diesel-electric locos were totally boring).
Before the mid-1960s, the KTM trains were hauled by steam locomotives — huge metallic beasts puffing thick plumes of black smoke from their stacks, and hissing steam from both sides. The coaches came in three classes, with 3rd Class ones nearest the loco, and 1st Class ones farthest away.
Back then, there was no aircon – hence windows would be down. We, the poor folks always went for 3rd Class of course. At the end of a trip from Prai (at that time, the tracks had not been extended to Butterworth yet) to Kuala Lumpur, our faces would look like as though we had a tour of an underground coal mine. A dig with a handkerchief – those days, no one heard of tissues – into the nostrils produced some mighty good carbon black. Also needed some eye-drops to clear soot from the eyes.
But it was really fun. Tooot ! Tooot !