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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I had planned to be working from home today, then two things happened. The sun shone and (after many trials and tribulations) electric trains did finally start running to Bolton in normal service – so how could I resist?
I’ll do a separate blog on the story of Bolton electrification as I have many archive shots of the work underway. This rolling blog will simply describe today’s foray. Right now I’m on the slightly late-running 11:22 from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester Victoria which is being worked by a Class 153/156 combo. As it’s post Peak it’s actually quite a quiet train, for now anyway…
Today’s going to be a busy one. Right now there’s a major conference underway which is discussing the future of transport in the North, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and Hs2. There’s no doubt that the vast majority of Northern politicians. businesses and business groups are determined to push for expansion and investment in transport for the North, but at the same time a small bunch of Londoncentric Tory right-wingers are launching their latest attempt to influence Government policy by attempting another hatchet job on Hs2, a project they hate as it doesn’t fit in with their political world view. Tonight Channel 4 will screen a Dispatches programme fronted by one of the band of right-wingers. It has the entirely neutral title of “Hs2, the great train robbery?” I’ll be blogging about it in detail after it’s been aired and I’ve had a chance to see it, so watch this space…
A quick hop across platforms at Victoria has enabled me to catch the 12:08 to Blackburn which worked by ex-GWR units. I’m in another 153, which allows a direct comparison of interior. The first shot is Northern’s 153363, the second is ex-GWR 153380.
Whilst in Bolton I had time for a wander and noticed this statue to one of Bolton’s more famous residents.
With the sun sinking I’m making my way back from Horwich Parkway, which was my last port of call. Today’s been another cat and mouse contest with the sun but I’ve managed to get a few reasonable shots. Here’s 319361 working a Buckshaw Parkway – Manchester Victoria service at Bolton.
A number of different diesel diagrams went over to electric on this first day. 319s worked a Manchester Victoria – Buckshaw Parkway service and also Manchester Airport – Blackpool North and Airport-Preston. A pair of 156s shared the Buckshaw Parkway services, so the introduction of electric services is obviously phased. No doubt more will go over to 319s soon. Here’s another shot from Bolton.
If you want to see a few more shots I’ve added them to this gallery on my Zenfolio website.
I’m currently bouncing my way back to Yorkshire by Pacer (The 16:37 Victoria-Leeds. Today’s electric launch must be the beginning of the end for these units now. They were already living on borrowed time – half the fleet should have gone by May 2019 yet all remain in service at the moment. Soon, sights like this will be a thing of the past.
To add to the fun of the journey, this car has a wheelflat, so there’s ‘thud, thud, thud’ to complement the usual Pacer noises!
I’ve a favour to ask…
If you enjoy reading these blogs, please consider clicking on an advert – or two! You don’t have to buy anything, honest! The clicks just help me cover the cost of running this blog. Many thanks, Paul
After the madness of the last 7-10 days this week looks positively relaxed by comparison! Most of my time will be spent working from home, writing several articles and editing the enormous collection of pictures I’ve taken recently. My commute to work is a lot easier too – all I have to do is make my way from the front bedroom to the back office, with occasional forays to the kitchen!
First up in the editing list are pictures I took in the Manchester and Bolton areas when I went to have a look at progress on electrification of the line from Manchester to Preston. Here’s a sample.
Masts have appeared around Bolton West Junction and the line to Blackburn. The route isn’t being electrified but the station area is in order to allow operational flexibility during engineering work or emergencies when trains may need to be turned round.
The bay platforms (1 and 2) at Manchester Victoria also have masts in place now.
Once I’ve all the NW pictures done later the morning I’ll be sorting out the ‘3 peaks by Rail’ pictures, so expect a few links to galleries later. After that, I’ve pictures to add from the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders conference in Leeds, plus a large amount of pictures from the press trip to see Siemens in Germany. Expect lots of pictures of brand new trains (like this one)!
A pair of brand new Siemens Desiro HC 4-car EMUs, No’s 462004 and 462007 on the test track at Wildenrath, Germany on the 14th June.