KTM Train Service between Singapore – Kuala Lumpur (and back)
A train ride up Peninsular Malaysia hardly fits anyone’s idea of the start to an exciting journey, but for the two of us on the trip, this simple yet memorable ride will be remembered for years to come – for several reasons. Firstly, this was a new experience for both of us. Although between the two of us we are veterans of rail transport in five continents, and despite the fact that we both live ‘practically next door’ to Malaysia (we hail from Indonesia and Singapore respectively), this was our first ride on KTM – Malaysia’s state railway company – trains.
Secondly, the train that we took departed from Singapore’s Tanjung Pagar railway station, a grand old dame from an age gone by (more about the station here), which at the time was scheduled to close down in the next few days. This ride was our last chance to get a feel of the historic station and its grandeur – as passengers, of course.
Inside the 2nd class train car
KTM maintains only a small operation in Singapore, and their website is not exactly user friendly. Unfamiliar with the system, we initially had plenty of questions regarding the ride: ticket bookings, conditions aboard the train, staff service, immigration procedures, and other similar questions; the answer to these would probably be of interest to some readers.
After a brief search for information online, we decided to book the tickets thru KTM website. The reason for this was that although we could have gone down and buy the tickets at the station, there was a price differentiation (discrimination, if you may) policy in place. All tickets bought from Singapore will be charged in Singapore Dollars (e.g. If a KL – Singapore ticket costs RM 50, the corresponding Singapore – KL ticket will cost SGD 50, effectively making tickets from Malaysia cost less than half the Singapore counterpart due to the Dollar to Ringgit exchange rate). Worst of all, for tickets booked in Singapore, the return trip will also be charged in Singapore Dollar. Booking the return ticket as a separate journey online, however, will save you some cash as the return ticket will be charged in Ringgit instead.
At Woodlands Station
The online booking process was pretty straightforward, but did not go trouble free. Our first attempt to book the ticket unexpectedly ended with a connection error at the payment page, and we had no notification whether the purchase went through. It was only after we attempted to re-book the tickets that we realise that the first transaction was indeed successful, and we had double-booked ourselves for the ride out. We had to go down to the station and talk to an officer at the ticketing counter, who had us fill up a refund form. We thought he looked somewhat unsympathetic to our plight, and with the station closing for good real soon, it won’t come as a big surprise if the refund form would end up missing. We were delighted to hear that the promised refund did arrive about 5-6 weeks later, the amount credited straight to the credit card we used for payment.
View from Singapore Malaysia bridge
On the day of departure, we arrived an hour earlier at the station, hoping to spend some time taking pictures and having a light meal at the station’s cafeteria. From our experience, the departure gate and the accompanying immigration service open only about 30 minutes before departure, unlike the two hour rule for international air travel. There was one quirky detail about the immigration process at Tanjung Pagar station, which would have changed by now. Because the station technically sat on Malaysian land, and that immigration exit from Singapore can only be done at Woodlands station (the first stop of the journey, at the north most end of Singapore), passengers technically get to enter Malaysia first, before exiting Singapore. To solve this, our passports were not stamped at the station, and instead were only inspected and the entry ‘white’ card was filled to indicate that we departed from Tanjung Pagar (hence explaining the lack of an entry stamp). After we crossed the bridge to Malaysia, immigration officials boarded the train for a final check. We were rather worried of losing the entry cards, for that would likely mean having a load of trouble on the way out of Malaysia.
The train we rode on was clean and reasonably well maintained. The first half of seats in the carriage was arranged facing forward, while the other half was facing backward. Space between rows of seats was approximately of the same distance as that of your regular airline’s economy seating. Everything was pretty much what we expected.
Inside the train’s dining car
The space between carriages, however, was a different story. This was where the true age of the train became obvious. Exposed to daily grinding and wear and tear, the metal plates covering the gangway between carriages have became so worn off at the sides, and the gaping hole on the floor so big, that the tracks running under the train are fully visible from inside. This made each trip to the toilet feel like an Indiana Jones adventure.
Oil palm plantation in the distance
Back to the ride, our train left the Tanjung Pagar station promptly at 1pm, and after a short journey of approximately 40 minutes reached the Woodlands station. This new station will be the starting and ending point for all future train journeys in Singapore. All passengers were requested to get off the train for immigration checks, leaving all their belongings on board. The station was built with a functional design in mind, but it looked a little Spartan. The immigration clearance process was efficient and without hassle, and in no time we were back on board the train, ready to continue the journey.
Smaller Malaysian settlements along the way
The train ran along its tracks on a leisurely pace, allowing us to absorb the vista outside. The landscape is dominated by forested areas and palm oil plantations, with smattering of villages here and there.
We arrived at KL Sentral on schedule at approximately 8 pm. The trusty KTM train transported us safely to our holiday destination, and several days later back to Singapore. The only difference was that we took the sleeper coach for our overnight ride back. Our experience says that the quality of train ride between these two cities is pretty consistent, and given the cost (our two way ride – one of which is on the 1st class sleeper cabin, costed less than SGD 100 in total), KTM train is a good choice for travellers with budget in mind.
1st Class sleeper bunk, attached bathroom below
KTM official website http://www.ktmb.com.my/
Note: We stumbled upon the following site while gathering info for our trip to Malaysia, which proved very useful to us. We would recommend you to visit the site, seat61, before you book your KTM ride.