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.
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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