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Folks familiar with Malaysian railways will know about the great strides the country has taken to modernise the railway from Padang Besar by the Thai border all the way down to the peninsula’s Southern tip at Johor Baru, opposite Singapore. What was a slow, antiquated, colonial-era, single track railway mostly under the control of Victorian semaphore signalling has been upgraded (stage by stage) into a double-track electrified railway with modern bi-directional colour-light signalling capable of speeds of up to 160kph.

The final stage – the 197km section from Gemas (Junction with the East Coast railway to Kuala Lipis) to Johor Baru is well underway, albeit late. The US $2.26bn contact to rebuild the route was won by the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and work began in January 2018 with an original completion target of 2021, this has now been officially extended until this year, but the delay shouldn’t detract from what’s an impressive piece of civil engineering.

This isn’t just a case of slapping down an extra set of tracks next to the originals. In many cases the new line runs on a brand new alignment that not only takes the kinks out but also flattens gradients and crosses through towns on long viaducts. Then there’s the unseen work, the thousands of concrete piles driven into the ground to stablise the formation, the pinning and shotcreting of cuttings, plus the extensive drainage work. For those of you unfamiliar with the line, here’s a picture I took from the back of a train heading North from Johor Baru near Chemak in February 2017. A 160kph line? I think not…

There’s also 11 brand new and substantial stations (Kempas Baru, Kulai, Leyang – Leyang, Rengam, Menkibol, Kluang, Paloh, Bekok, Labis, Genuang and Segamat, plus 3 entirely new ones at Senai, Chamek and Tenang. Some of these are very substantial four-platform stops with associated freight yards and/or depots.

The completion of this section of line will see the demise of loco-hauled passenger trains on most of the West coast line. Currently, locomotives work the trains between JB and Gemas where passengers transfer to/from electric trains for Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth or Padang Besar. The only one likely to remain is the sleeper train between Tumpat on the East Coast line and Johor Baru.

Here’s a look at progress, seen from a loco hauled train from Johor Baru to Gemas on the 5th January 2023. Johor Baru station was rebuilt back in the early 2010s, the new line work starts a short way North, before the freight lines from docks at Pasir Gudnag and Tanjung Pelapas join the route. I’ve loads of pictures and can’t add them all to this blog, but you can find the rest of them in this gallery on my Zenfolio website.

25103 named ‘Pulau Bedong’ prepares to leave Johor Baru with the 8-car (7 passenger coaches and a generator car), 08:30 to Gemas. 25103 is a 1500hp loco built by General Motors, Ontario, Canada. 12 were supplied in 1990 followed by another 5 (25201-205) in 2002.
Our train leaves the outskirts of Johor Baru. The scale of the work involved can be seen, from embankment stabilisation to rebuilt bridges.
The new (straighter and flatter) route passes over the old at the junction with the freight line out to the East of Johor Barus which serves a container terminal and a shipyard.
Major civils work just North of Kempas Barou station. A new concrete box (presumably for the new line) is being built whilst a lot of piling work is going on between it and the new loco depot which is just out of shot to the right.
The rebuilt connection with the line to the container terminal at the port of Tanjung Pelapas trails in from the left.
Double tracking and fhe installation of concrete OLE masts South of Kulai.
The refurbished interior of the Hyundai coaches which made up part of our train.
The substantial new station at Kulai takes shape. This will have four platforms.
Double tracking preperations South of the new station at Layang-Layang which can be seen in the distance.
The new stations are substantial with all modern facilities, including being fully accessible and with level boarding with the new trains.
The modern take on railway cottages. Each station is being provided with staff housing. This is Layang – Layang.
Here’s a real contrast that shows the substantial difference between old and new at Renggam. The new station’s been build on a viaduct. The roof to the right is that of the original station building on the original rail level.
A new electricity substation at Mengkibol which will feed power to the 25kv overhead wires.
Our train arrives at Mengkibol. The scale of the rebuilding becomes obvious in views like this.
Mengkibol has been laid out with extensive sidings. At the moment it’s used as a base for a lot of construction trains, including this one,top and tailed by two ex-Indian Railways YDM4 locomotives.
The sleeper train from Kuala Lipis on the ‘jungle railway’ as the East coast line is still sometimes called passes us at Mengkibol on it’s way to Johor Baru. It’s hauled by 24102 ‘Mat Kilau’, one of 26 such 2,400hp locos supplied by Hitacahi in 1987.
Another greatly elevated station, this time at Kluang. The blue tin roof to the right leads down to the temporary station building from the makeshift platform on the other side of my train.

Another temporary station building, this time further North at Paloh.
More substantial cutting stablisation. This time at Bekok.
All the old railway level crossings have been abolished (and all the lineside fenced to stop two or four legged creatures straying onto the tracks) in order to raise line speeds and prevent the risk of a derailment. This bridge is between Bekok and Labis.
Another ex-Indian railways Class YDM4 on ballast duties. This time at Labis.
The ‘knitting’ (the actual overhead wires) start to appear from milepost 605, South of Genuang.
Here’s progress on the rebuilding South of Genuang. Moat of the infrastructure’s complete, including the fencing protecting the line. All that remains is to complete wiring the OLE.
I found this modern British built locomotive from Clayton in this new three-road shed at Genuang. It’s branded ‘Pestech’ (I’m assuming there’s a clue in the name there) but I’ve no idea what the purpose of the new shed will be.
High above the streets, the new elevated railway passes through Segamat. It’s such a contrast to the original line.
A variety of vintage traction used on construction trains stabled or dumped at Batu Anam near Gemas, Furthest left and right are two ex-Indian Railways YDM4s but I haven’t a clue what the origins of the two centre locos are.
A closer look at the other two old locomotives at Batu Anam. Any help in identifying them is appreciated.
Journey’s end at Gemas, junction with the East coast railway. Here’s the old station which survives intact with the massive new station behind and to the right. There were plans to turn the old station into a museum, hence the presence of various items of old rolling stock. There was also going to be an exhibition inside the buildings but everything is closed up and empty. The main building used to be home to an excellent restaurant but this has vanished. I’m assuming it was a victim of Covid. A little cafe remains but that only sells hot and cold drinks – and boiled eggs.
The main exhibit which has recently been repainted is 22131. 40 Co-Co Class 22s were designed by English Electric and built by Metro-Cammell between 1970-71. For many years they appeared all over the Network but were retired from the 1990s onwards. Three (22109, 22115 and 22127) were sold on to be used on contractors trains, rebuilding the lines North of Gemas, but none appear to remain in service. 22131 is one of four (the others being 22121 (renumbered as 22110), 22125 and 22134 which has been preserved.
Here’s what the future looks like. A Class 93 waits to operate the 15:20 service from Gemas to Butterworth via Kuala Lumpur. These 6-car EMUs are built by CRRC Zhuzhou, China. 19 of these trains arrived between 2013-2018 with another 10 on order. Powered by Siemens traction equipment, the trains normal maximum operating speed is 140kph. They’re clean, quick and comfortable, but not as much fun as the old trains!

As you can see, it’s not going to be long before the rebuilding of the line’s finished and loco-hauled trains become rare beasts on Malaysian railways, so – if you want to sample them I’d do so this year. If you’re interested in other photographs of Malaysian railways I have a collection from 2011-2012 which you can find here. They certainly show how much things have changed!

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