Malaysia, like Cambodia, has a relatively small railway network with approximately 1,830 km of track, which is far less than neighbouring Thailand which has over 4,000 km of passenger rail lines. Malaysia’s railway operation is, however, much more efficient and on the whole more modern than Cambodia’s current service.
Train Services in Malaysia
Most of Malaysia’s train services are electric, with the exception of part of the West Coast Line and all of the East Coast Line in peninsular Malaysia, and the Sabah State Railway on the island of Borneo. The main passenger rail line in Malaysia is the West Coast Line which runs from Padang Besar on the border with Thailand all the way down to Johor Bahru visa Kuala Lumpur. Most of the West Coast Line, between Padang Besar and Gemas (located to the South East of Kuala Lumpur), is electrified. Train services on this portion of the West Coast Line are very efficient and the trains are clean and modern.
Travel by train between Padang Besar and stations on route to Gemas is faster than travel by road which is notable because across the rest of South East Asia travel by road is almost always faster than travel by train. The pricing of the tickets on electric trains on the West Coast line reflects the speed and efficiency of the train services, with train tickets generally costing up to to twice as much as bus tickets for the same journey.
The service levels on the parts of Malaysia’s railway network which are not electrified are much lower. The diesel trains used on the East Coast Line, the lower portion of the West Coast Line and the Sabah State Railway are slower and the interior of the passenger carriages are noticeably less modern. Malaysia has one sleeper train service which run on the East Coast Line with 2nd Class Air Conditioned Sleeper Berths arranged bunk bed style on either side of the aisle. Tickets on this service are very cheap and largely purchased by leisure travellers and local people on lower incomes. The area through which the train travels is sparsely populated.
By way of contrast the slowness of the service between Gemas and Johor Bahru on the lower portion of the West Coast Line is a major deficiency in Malaysia’s transport infrastructure The lack of a fast through train from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru means that passengers cannot travel quickly and efficiently by rail between the important regional economic hubs of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Fully developed plans to build a fast train line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have existed for a number of years but actually construction work on this proposed line have been delayed due to political instability in Malaysia and concerns over funding.
Popular Train Journeys in Malaysia
The railway network covers only a small portion of Malaysia, although travel by train is a very popular option for visitors to the major cities of peninsular Malaysia.
Three of the most popular train routes for foreign visitors to Malaysia are:
- Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth: A journey of just over 4 hours connecting Malaysia’s largest city to commuter ferry services to the popular tourist destination of George Town on Penang Island.
- Wakaf Bharu to Gemas: A 12 hour journey on Malaysia’s only sleeper train service. Wakaf Bharu is the closest passenger train station to Kota Bharu, which the closest major Malaysian town to Sungai Kolok in Thailand.
- Ipoh to Padang Besar: A 3 hour journey connecting Malaysia’s fourth largest city to the border with Thailand. Passengers can transfer to Thailand train services at Padang Besar for onward travel to Hat Yai, Bangkok and stations in between including Surat Thani, which is where passenger can transfer to ferry services to the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.