Sunday, 2 January 2011

Modern Railways in Malaysia

The famous Moorish architecture of the original British-built Kuala Lumpur station survives.

At the end of March, 2010, I spent a few days days in Kuala Lumpur, giving me an opportunity to have a look at the current railway operations. Of course, the British introduced railways into Malaya (as it then was) in the days of steam but the operation is diesel and electric now.

Each day I made time for a ride on the Rapid Transit, the Monorail or the suburban system operated by KTM Berhad. The itineraries are detailed in my travel reports:- 30th March, 31st March and 1st April.

There are two Rapid Transit (or Light Rail) lines in Kuala Lumpur - the Kelana Jaya line featuring driverless trains and the Ampang line. I didn't get to travel on the Ampang Line but it uses fairly conventional North American style multi-coach trains with drivers. I didn't have enough time to try out the High Speed Line - a standard gauge line which links KL Sentral to the Airport.

The state-owned KTM operates the extensive metre-gauge main lines. The KTM suburban system radiating from Kuala Lumpur was electrified at 25 kV a.c. some years ago. My company tendered for some of the telecommunications equipment forming part of that project, but we didn't get any of the business.

Of course, I wanted to see the fantastic Moorish-architecture of the original Kuala Lumpur station. It survives (as the heading photograph shows) but a little down-at-heel. Until my visit, I didn't know that the railway headquarters, next to Kuala Lumpur old station, was also in the Moorish style, as the picture below shows.

I understand that there are plans to move the railway staff to a modern building and convert the old building into a luxury hotel.

The original station has lost its importance since a new main station, KL Sentral, has been built a little further south, so as to provide improved transfer facilities to other lines and motor coaches. The new station has all the appeal of the present Birmingham New Street Station, with narrow, dark platforms buried underground.

The British origins of the railway mean that left-hand running is in use. In the Kuala Lumpur suburban area, there is overhead electrification, power operation of points and route signalling using colour lights. There appeared to be some form of automatic train control - the track transponders I spotted appeared to be of the type I'd seen in Japan (there's a brief report on Japanese 'Automatic Train Stops' here, with a link to pictures).

I took a short trip north to Sentul and back from KL Sentral, passing through the original station. Most of the trains were 3-car EMUs. When a diesel electric passed dragging a 3-car EMU, I first supposed that the diesel had been pressed into service to recover a failure. But then I saw a loaded flat car attached to the rear of the EMU and I was perplexed. Later observations clarified the situation. It appears that some of the fleet of EMUs have become unrepairable through funding difficulties. The service is being maintained using the dead EMUs simply as coaches, dragged around by a diesel-electric locomotive. The flat car carries a packaged generator and a fuel tank. The generator output is then connected to the EMU to provide lighting and air conditioning. One set I saw was 'top-and-tailed' with a locomotive at each end. The picture below shows the rear of this set, with the generator flat car and trailing locomotive, on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Klang.

I discovered that Kuala Lumpur old station houses an old-fashioned (and badly-lit) museum of smaller artefacts which I found fascinating.

On my last day in Kuala Lumpur I made a journey by EMU down the Klang Valley Line to Port Klang (originally called Port Swettenham after the Englishman who promoted its suitability for development as a major port). The EMU was well-patronised and the ride was similar to the British Class 323. We passed the La Farge cement works where all the cement tankers and a couple of locomotives were in the white La Farge livery. We passed a maintenance depot for diesel electrics. Freight container traffic on the line was quite heavy. At Port Klang I spoke briefly to the jolly driver who was being relieved. He spoke quite good English and was happy for me to take photographs of the cab.

Heavy investment in railways is planned for the future. According to 'The Star', in August 2010 new electric trains were introduced on the route north from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh. The picture below (at Kuala Lumpur old station) was taken for 'The Star' by Azhar Mahfof.

There are a number of picture collections:-

KTM Suburban.
By EMU to Port Klang.
KTM Museum, Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur Light Rail, Mass Transit, Rapid Transit.
Kuala Lumpur Monorail.

For more information, checkout the Wikipedia entry.