Fun ride on North Borneo steam train

In my childhood, one of the most exciting Christmas gifts I wanted was “choo-choo” steam train toy. Now I was even happier to have a fun ride on a real steam train on the oldest railway (established since 1896) of Borneo last week. Big toy man.. FYI, “North Borneo” is the name of Sabah during British colony time.


Above: the office of North Borneo Railway in Tanjung Aru Train Station

Actually it’s a tour product for tourists to experience the nostalgic romance of riding on a 57-year-old antique steam train. Even though it’s a train, it’s not a public transportation so you MUST book a seat in advance. You may sign up a tour with the company, North Borneo Railway. The fee is MYR290 (≈USD$97) for adult, MYR185 (≈USD$62) for child (3-12 years old). The rates are as of 22 Mar 2013. The steam train runs on every Wednesday and Saturday.


Above: entrance of North Borneo Railway
The North Borneo Railway is in Tanjung Aru Train Station, which is about 5 KM away from Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah.


Passengers will be given a “Train Passport” before boarding at 9.30am. It’s only for fun and have some brief introduction about the towns we see along the railway. The train steward will stamp the passport whenever we approach a town. At the end I have 5 stamps on the book.


Above is the route map I copy from the Train Passport. Our steam train departs at 10am from Tanjung Aru and head to Papar town about 40 Kilometers away. Our train passes through the countryside and we see villages, rivers, mangrove, paddy fields, rainforests and plantations on the way. The part our train passing through a 450-Meter Pengalat Tunnel (built by British in early 1900) is also fun. The whole tour takes less than 5 hours.

You may watch the following 3-min video about the train ride:

Click Here for wider video


Above: this steam train is made by Vulcan Foundry Ltd in Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire, United Kingdom in 1955 for North Borneo Railway.


Our steam train is one of the few functional locomotive powered by burning wood. They don’t use coal that produces very fine ash powder which would cause black stains on your shirt. Anyway, you better don’t wear anything white on the train.


The railway service of Borneo is first started by William Clarke Cowie, Managing Director of the British North Borneo Chartered Company in 1896.


The exterior of the steam train is in deep green and cream colors, the original colors used in old days. The windows are open all the time for a more enjoyable experience. However, it’s still a bit warm inside, so I advise you to wear thin T-shirt.


The interior is natural wooded seat and there are cooling by fans. This train has 5 Japanese-designed carriages that have been meticulously restored and renovated to reflect the era of the classical steam train. Very nice ambiance indeed.


The first landmark that we pass by is Petagas War Memorial.


Breakfast (Danish pastries, croissant and tea/coffee) is served onboard.


Passing by water village of Putatan.


We stop at Kinarut town for 20 minutes and visit the Tien Nam Shi Buddhist Temple (镇南寺).


Burning incense sponsored by individual who makes wishes (written on red paper)


Doing tourist stuff…


Back to train and cool ourselves with cold towel.


Above: brick factory in Kawang. Our train travels at a speed of 50 to 60 Kilometer per hour.


Btw, there is a unisex toilet in each carriage for your call of nature.


If you reach Kawang, you should check out the nice view of mangrove forest.


Some souvenir is available for sale on the train. I bought a bookmark.


The train has 5 colonial-period carriages and each can accommodate 16 passengers, with a total train capacity of 80 passengers.


Reaching the steel trestle bridge of Papar.


We stop at Papar town for a 30 minutes of free and easy sightseeing around town. You can check out the old wooden post-war shoplots here.


Old building with air-conditioning, haha, interesting contrast..

Papar is our last stop. Now our steam train needs to turn around so it can head back to Tanjung Aru. Some of us stick around to see how the Pullman carriage detaches and connects to the rear (now rear become front). You may watch the 1-min video below:

Click Here for wider video


Enjoying our lunch on the way back… Guess what we had?


Above: strawberry ice-cream as dessert


We arrived Tanjung Aru Station at 1:40pm. Overall, everything is great. The experience is really fun, the food is nice, the train steward is friendly and the ambiance is excellent. The only thing I can complain is the high price. That’s probably why I didn’t see many faces of locals.

More Photos

You may check out my photo album if you want to see more nice pictures:

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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