Sabah State Railway
|Sabah State Railway (SSR)|
Train at Beaufort station.
|Owner||State Government of Sabah
Ministry of Infrastructure Development
|Operator(s)||Sabah State Railway|
|Line length||134 km (83 mi)|
|Track gauge||1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in)|
|Operating speed||80 km/h (50 mph)|
Sabah State Railway (SSR) is a railway system and operator in the state of Sabah in Malaysia. It is the only rail transport system operating on the island of Borneo. The railway consists of a single 134 km line from Tanjung Aru, near Kota Kinabalu, to the town of Tenom, in the Interior Division. It was formerly known as North Borneo Railway.
Construction of the then North Borneo Railway began in 1896 under the command of engineer Arthur J. West with his assistant Gounon, a member of the Murut people from Keningau. The railway was built by workers who were brought in from Japan, led by Akira. It was originally intended primarily for the transport of tobacco from the interior to the coast for export. The first line built was a 32 km track from Bukau River, north to Beaufort, and south to the port of Weston. This was then extended with a further 48 km route in 1903 to Tenom, the works for which was completed in 1905. The line was extended again in 1906 with a further 16 km from Tenom to Melalap.
At the same time as this, work began on another line from Beaufort to Jesselton (now known as Kota Kinabalu), which was completed in 1903, running mostly near or beside the coast. With the completion of these works the network routes covered some 193 km. However, the network was almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War. In 1945, 24 Australian Infantry Brigade Group members operated the railway. Motive power was mostly converted jeeps.
In 1949, the North Borneo Railway embarked on an ambitious programme to rehabilitate the network and improve service, and they did so again in 1960. However, in 1963 the decision was made to close the Weston branch line, and in 1970 the Melalap extension from Tenom was also closed to traffic. The high costs of operation of the lesser used routes and the competition from the many newly built roads made their situation increasingly untenable. In 1974 the main part of the line was also cut from Kota Kinabalu back to Tanjung Aru.
The line was closed in 2007 for maintenance and repair. As part of the works undertaken during 2006 and 2007, about 52,530 and 76,600 concrete sleepers were introduced for Sector 2 and 1 of the Tanjung Aru-Tenom section, for better train operation. This replacement mirrors the trend of changing from wooden sleepers as earlier carried out by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad two decades earlier at Kerdau-Jerantut and Sungai Yu-Tumpat lines. These sleepers were manufactured in Peninsular Malaysia by the same local manufacturer. The section Tanjung Aru-Beaufort reopened on 21 February 2011, and the trip now takes 2 hours and 15 minutes as the coaches can run at a speed of up to 80 km/h compared to 50 km/h previously. However, in 2016 the section from Beaufort to Tenom was still in a state of upgrading.
There will be a total of 14 stations between Sembulan and Tenom, namely: Secretariat-Tanjung Aru-Putatan-Kinarut-Kawang-Papar-Kimanis-Bongawan-Membakut-Beaufort-Saliwangan Baru-Halogilat-Rayoh-Pangi-Tenom
The current operational railway is used for its entire length to carry both passengers and freight. The rail system can be characterised as a regional rail connecting Kota Kinabalu with the town of Beaufort. The route consists of a single track metre gauge non-electrified line.
Passenger services are run using two-car DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) sets from 1970. These have a single-class seating structure and are non-air-conditioned. SSR also has standard passenger cars which can be coupled with freight trains. These too are single-class non-air-conditioned. At present there are three passenger-carrying trains operating daily in each direction running the full length of the route. There is reduced service on Sundays. One of the trains running the full length of the route is a mix of freight and passenger service.
Freight trains are hauled by Hitachi or Kawasaki diesel locomotives, which were introduced in the early 1970s to replace earlier steam units. These units are less powerful than those used by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) in Peninsular Malaysia, with the various models being rated between 320 hp and 580 hp.
Operating speeds on the line are low, due to the nature of the terrain and the use of relatively low-powered equipment. Passenger services take 4 hours to complete the 134 km journey from Tanjung Aru to Tenom, allowing for stops on the way. Also, the line can be hazardous, with mudslides in rainy weather a real threat that can lead to the service being disrupted or suspended for brief periods.
Recently, the federal government charged KTM to work alongside SSR to undertake short- and medium-term work on the railway to enhance its safety. This included rehabilitating the track and signalling and also overhauling the rolling stock to ensure continuation of service.
As already stated, at present the railway is currently undergoing rehabilitation. This is both a short-term measure to ensure continued operation, and a medium-term one to improve operational safety and to somewhat modernise the system. A possible reinstatement of the Tanjung Aru to Kota Kinabalu part of the route has been considered, although it is not yet known whether or not this will be given approval.
Main stations are indicated in bold.
- Tanjung Aru
The railway is now operated by Sabah State Railway Department, which is an arm of the Sabah state administration.
Current rehabilitation work on the railway is however being handled jointly by SSR along with Keretapi Tanah Melayu, the corporatised (but wholly federal government owned) railway operator for the railway network in Peninsular Malaysia. Despite this, SSR is still operationally and administratively completely separate from KTM, and uses different operational equipment.
Leisure and tourism
The future of the railway has also been brightened by the increasing use of it by tourists. The Beaufort - Tenom stretch of track runs through the Padas River gorge and is regarded as incredibly scenic. In addition the railway itself is something of an attraction to some, and a historic North Borneo Railway tourist train is operated by Sutera Harbour Resort especially to capture this market. With the growth of Sabah as a "light adventure" destination, the use of the railway by tourist traffic is quite likely to increase.
- On 9 April 2008, a Sabah State Railway train plunges 10 metres into Padas River after derailment caused by a landslide near Tenom killing 2 passengers.
- On 31 October 2011, a Sabah State Railway train carrying 200 passengers from Tanjung Aru Station heading towards Papar collided into a fuel tanker allegedly making an illegal railway crossing in Kepayan, Kota Kinabalu. The collision resulted in an explosion resulting in 12 serious injuries but no fatalities.
- Jim Harvey. The 24 Brigade Railway – The AIF in North Borneo: 1945. Published by Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin. November 2000, pp. 403–427
- "Sabah train plungest 10m into river". The Star (Malaysia). 9 April 2008. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
- "12 seriously hurt as train slams into fuel tanker". The Star. 1 November 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2011.