Malaysia’s Jungle Line – (Malacca to) Gemas to Kota Baru by train – AKA Circling Malaysia by rail (mostly) 3/4 – mid-2014 update

24/06/2014 UPDATE

Yesterday I noted an interesting article in the Star newspaper concerning this line. If you are planning a trip, you should check to see if this service is running before committing to travel plans.

However, in case the link disappears, here is the text copied from the Star site above:

 

East coast line to undergo repairs

KUALA LIPIS: Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) is expected to close down its 321km Gemas-Gua Musang stretch along the east coast railway to conduct major track repair works soon.

Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar said that despite its earlier notice to KTMB ordering its closure on Thursday, he expected KTMB to appeal the decision.

“We have noticed that KTMB has continued to operate despite such risky conditions,” he said.

It was important to stop as the Government had approved RM400mil to im­­prove the current railway track, he said after conducting a joint inspection with KTMB president Datuk Elias Kadir and KTMB chairman Datuk Nawawi Ahmad, senior SPAD officials and KTMB staff along the stretch yesterday.

The major track repair works involving 11 affected areas are expected to take up to two years to complete.

Among the affected parts along the stretch are railway bridges along Kuala Krai and Gua Musang in Kelantan, which face the problem of rotten wooden slippers, as well as soil subsidence and erosion affecting the tracks along Kuala Lipis and Jerantut in Pahang.

It is learnt that 13 minor derailments have occurred on the railway line since 2012.

Syed Hamid said while the notice issued was made in the interest of public safety, a final decision would not be made until KTMB had formally made their appeal.

“We understand KTMB’s situation and their services are a real need. Therefore, their position must be improved from time to time,” he said.

When asked whether the changes in the notice could affect those travelling during the upcoming Hari Raya season, he said the safety of the public remained the biggest priority.

“We have suggested KTMB to provide alternatives as we do not want to risk a big tragedy during the balik kampung rush,” he said.

Admitting their financial shortcomings, Nawawi thanked the Government for approving the allocation, but hoped that SPAD would delay the closure notice.

“We will discuss our appeal during the KTMB board of directors meeting on Thursday and will hand it over to SPAD soon.

“While we are very concerned about the safety aspects of our passengers, we would also need time to adjust to the possible closure,” he said.

—————

Malaysian rail network

Planning:

The plan was to catch a taxi from Malacca to Gemas, have breakfast if time, and then board the train for Wakaf Baru, the station near Kota Baru, where we would spend the night.  There is only one day time train a day, and so if you wish to see the scenery you have no choice but to take it. It only has second class carriages. They are in worse condition than the west coast trains.

Malacca to Gemas.

As there is no train line to Malacca, the branch line having been destroyed during World War 2, and having had no desire to spend the night in Gemas, we found ourselves having to catch a taxi early in the morning to Gemas Station.  There may be a bus, but I wouldn’t reply on being able to get to Gemas on time for the train. And as the train comes from Singapore there is no good train connection from Kuala Lumpur to meet this train.

Google Maps showed the following about the route by road from Malacca to Gemas:

  • Route 1 91.4 km, 1 hour 32 mins
  • Lebuh Amj and Route 1 89.2 km, 1 hour 36 mins N15

The taxi stand in Melaka Sentral quoted us RM140 to Gemas, and a driving time of up to two hours.

The Jungle Line – Gemas to Kota Baru:

Train 14 to Kota Baru [Wakaf Baru] (EKSPRES SINARAN TIMUR  17-Sep-2012 09:38 17-Sep-2012 18:52) is scheduled to depart at 9.38 from Gemas.

The other question is where to alight the train. There is no actual station at Kota Baru. This is what The man in Seat 61 says:

“Which station for Khota Bharu?  The closest station to Khota Bahru is Wakaf Bharu, about 5 km (3 miles) away.  A taxi from Wakaf Bharu to Khota Bharu costs around 12 Ringgits.  However, if you want to travel more cheaply by bus, there’s a better and more frequent bus service from Pasir Mas, 19km from Khota Bharu.  Buses run from Pasir Mas to Khota Bahru every 15-20 minutes from 06:45 to 19:00 from a bus station just 100 metres from Pasir Mas railway station.  If you want to complete the whole train journey to Tumpat, no problem, buses also link Tumpat with Khota Bharu every 45 minutes 06:45-19:30.  Bus information for all these routes is at www.cityliner.com.my, select ‘Kelantan’ then ‘Khota Bharu’ as your location.
Heading into Thailand?  Bus 29 runs every half hour from Khota Bahru bus station near the central market via Pasir Mas to the Thai/Malay border point at Rantau Panjang, fare 5 ringgits (£1), distance 45 km, journey time about 1 hour.  A taxi will cost about 17 ringgits.  Walk across the border from Rantau Panjang (Malay side) to Sungai Kolok (Thai side) and keep walking straight on for 800m to Sungai Kolok Railway station for trains to Hat Yai, Surat Thani & Bangkok. “
As most Malaysian trains do not have a dining car or even trolley service, we brought some food and water which we’d bought in Malacca the night before.
We booked a hotel in Kota Baru in advance as the train was scheduled to arrive around 7PM, which was a little late to be hunting around for a hotel.

The Trip:

We had  a taxi booked for 7AM, as we were told it could take up to two hours.  We were told the going rate was RM140, but were charged RM120 as the hotel managed a discount for us. As the traffic was light, it being a holiday, it took only one hour 20 minutes.

So we had over an hour to explore Gemas and the station, and to breakfast.  Most of Gemas was still closed at 8.20, and there did not appear to be so much to see anyway, but The Curry Point was open, and busy.

a great place for breakfast

We asked for Dosa,and a cup of coffee each, and the dosa was delicious. Cost for both of us, RM5.80.

dosa

Gemas station also has a cafe, but we were too full to even properly look in. It was open by 9AM, though.

Gemas station has a new platform, but all prospective passengers waited on the old platform until the train was shunted in to the new one, and then the way was opened for us to enter the new platform and board the train.

old platform

The main rail line is electrified, but the Jungle line uses diesel locomotives, so changing locomotives took time.  The train was only three carriages long, and they were all second class. Not long after boarding the train it departed, at about 9.45AM.

new platform and train

The point of this trip is to see the wonderful scenery. There is a report by a traveller on the The man in Seat 61 web page, which is what enticed me to make the trip in the first place. But as we continued to travel along the line, what we saw was mainly palm oil plantations, or land that was cleared, presumably for more palm oil plantations.

By 15.00 this had not changed, and we were still passing by the palm oil plantations or the devastated cleared land. This was disappointing.

There was a trolley on the train with snacks and sweet drinks, but no actual food.  It was wheeled through the train a couple of times, but was kept in the last carriage. We were happy we’d brought our own supplies.

At around 15.15 we arrived at Chegar Perah, little suspecting that we would spend the next 2 1/2 hours there. Of course, it was not announced, and even if you ask the conductor you don’t get much of an answer.  Apparently there was some breakdown somewhere up the line, and we were kept in a siding until other trains had passed. It is only a single line, with some sidings along the way for passing.

We amused ourselves watching the cows, goats and hens with their chicks wander past the train. The goats could actually walk on the rails without falling off.

goats walking along the rails at Chegar Perah

We walked around the train. Looked at the cows.

cows crossing the lines to where the grass is greener

There was a shop we found, by watching other people go there, but it wasn’t selling any food or drinks we were interested in.

the siding on the left, and the main line on the right

We got too hot outside and sat in our seats, as the air conditioning was still on.  A couple of trains went past in the opposite direction. We tried to sleep. Eventually around 17.40 the train moved off.

we finally move off

And from now the scenery improved.

At 18.45 we arrived in Gua Musang, and the train shunted into a siding again, and we waited for perhaps 30 minutes while trains passed by going  in the other direction.

It seemed to us that the train controllers had decided our train’s punctuality was a total lost cause, so they might as well make us even later, and keep the trains going south on time. Of course, there was still absolutely no information from the conductor, the driver, or the train company as to what was happening. By now it was almost dark, so we knew we were not going to see the scenery we had ridden the train to see.

Once we finally moved off it was dark and we couldn’t see anything. We stopped at Bukit Abu around 21.04 for about 10 minutes, and then at Kuala Krai at about 22.00, where we shunted again and went backwards and waited for a while. At last, around 23.50 we pulled into Wakaf Baru, five hours late, and with no apology or explanation from any of the train staff.

The locals get picked up by their friends, but there were quite a lot of foreigners, who no doubt wanted taxis, and not many taxis, so we had to hurriedly agree to a fare of RM35 (which probably should have been RM20), for the 10 minute ride to our hotel, or wait perhaps half an hour until the taxis returned and try for a cheaper fare. It was the only time we were cheated on our trip.

Hotels:

Malacca: River Song Residence, 100 Lorong Hang Jebat, Jonkers Street. This hotel/residence is inexpensive, new, clean, and has terraces right on the river, but the best thing is how friendly and helpful the management/staff are. We made a couple of requests, and they were 100% reliable.  In the past I have usually stayed in the Equatorial, which is exponentially more expensive, and a totally different atmosphere, but nice.

view from rear terrace of Melaka River

Kota Baru: Tune Hotel. I wanted to stay in one to see how it was. The staff were very friendly and helpful, and the rooms were surprisingly large for the image of the hotel.

Tune Hotel room is quite spacey

Conclusion:

It appears the best scenery is probably from Chegar Perah to about Kuala Krai.  As I missed seeing this due to it being dark I am thinking of taking the day train from Kota Baru next time, and then turning around and catching the train back to Kota Baru once I have seen the best part, or perhaps catching the 17.16 evening Intercity train and seeing most of it before it gets dark. There are other possibilities, too.

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