Posted: 28 Feb 2013 08:00 AM PST
I'm a huge fan of train travel. Trains fascinate me. I still remember my first train ride - a full 9 hours journey from Penang to Kuala Lumpur way back in the 70's. My late father was a railway man so taking a train ride to anywhere was the norm in the family.
Tho' it's been a long time, I still savour the good old train rides especially the clanking sounds of the dieseled fueled locomotives back then. The trains looked like a raged monster with a thunderous blow-horn for a "voice". With the noisy gigantic engines and the screeching of the steel wheels, every journey was heavenly. The swaying and bouncing of the coaches cutting thru' the endless country-side was ever-so-breathtaking. Each scene was a postcard viewed fast-forward. Crazy it may sound, each train ride is always new and never could get me bored..
Train crossing Bukit Merah Lake.
And when it rains, sipping a hot brew and watching rain streak down the glass panes of the windows is something you need to relish. As the chugging train criss-crosses lakes and swollen rivers, race through paddy fields and oil palm plantations bellowing thick black smoke and pass through our 'kampungs', one would want to forget its rendezvous. And when the golden hour beckons, that is if you're lucky, you get to watch the evening sun burst through the clouds and cast its warmth on the mirrored Bukit Merah lake. Imagine you in the middle of the lake and the whole blue world looking down on you from above. That one partucular scene from the train will take your breath away. This is something many Malaysians have never experienced. To me this is one postcard from Heaven.
Apart from all that, you meet people from various colours and walks of life sharing the same enthusiasm with you. These are the golden moments when I travel by train. It may be slow, noisy and somewhat irritating, but the journey getting there is, I say again, postcard perfect.
If you're living on the fast lane, sorry to say soon all that will be gone. The better part of the country is giving way to robust development. When modernization creeps in, nothing is going to bring back the glory days of retro train travel. I know many hate train travel. I don't blame you. Our trains are somewhat slow. You may have your reasons for the hate. I don't. Sometimes the rendezvous is well worth the slow journey.
The whole reason for this write-up is on a personal concern with regards to the train journey between Bukit Merah and Kuala Kangsar in particular.... (if you're still with me, do read on)
Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) is embarking on the double track project from Ipoh to Butterworth and onwards to the North - Padang Besar (Malaysia / Thai border). This project has been on going for some time now. Fifty percent construction of this huge undertaking is almost complete. Work is still on going with the construction of building bridges, stations and crossings. Onwards to the North, land is being acquired and tracks are being laid.
Recently, I took a train trip home to Penang. The trail from Kuala Kangsar to Bukit Merah craned me up in somewhat to a nostalgic sadness. This part of the journey North has always caught my attention as I consider it the most loveliest pristine green train ride one can endeavour in Malaysia. This is the part of the trail where hills, forest, rivers and tunnels all come together in one trail. As you travel along, you get to reach out your hand and touch the greenery as the train winds and pulls its weight up and down the hill on occasion blowing its horns struggling thru'
Due to the uphill trail, trains need to slow down gradually towards Kuala Kangsar. It'll meander through wild thick foliage with its winding and twisting trail whilst passing through long forgotten scary British built tunnels. The sounds of critters, water sipping down from the hills and into the tunnels, the echoing sounds of the chugging locomotive reverberating is one "must-see-feel" Malaysian adventure.
THIS TRAIL WILL NO LONGER BE USED AFTER THE INTRODUCTION OF THE NEW ELECTRIFIED TRACKS.
I do remember my late father telling me one day while reading his morning papers that the Bukit Merah - Kuala Kangsar part of the rail was the most enduring railway ever built. Many workers got bitten by snakes, wasps and prolly insects from hell. Many contracted Malaria as well. Some died. It was almost similar to the Malaysian version of the Death Railway in Thailand.
I really don't know what's going to happen to this unique part of train travel in Malaysia. I hope this trail be given reckoning and included into the Rail trail itinerary. It could make a good tourist attraction. Even locals could enjoy the trail rides. The present generation of Malaysians are going to loose dearly a Golden heritage rail travel. I hope the relevant authorities preserve this piece of rail engineering and not let it be eaten up by greedy and wealthy entrepreneurs or leave it to rot and be forgotten by time.
If you're a keen rail enthusiast, there isn't much time left to savour this one amazing rail journey. By this time next year, even this piece of write-up will be irrelevant too.
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