Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Train Rides to the Northern Sector

It's been a while since I last rode a train to the Northern sector, particularly the Ipoh-Butterworth mainline via the passenger express. Lately, I have only taken the Kuala Lumpur-Ipoh route, in which I usually embarked and disembarked at the Batu Gajah and KL Sentral stations. My travel to the Southern sector has stopped sometime in 2010, whereby my travel to the East Coast line is until today never materialized. 

Two of my most memorable train journeys to the Northern sector are the ones where I went to Alor Setar in 2007 and to Butterworth in 2010 (which was also my last journey via train there). I personally prefer the journey to the Northern sector where the train passes the states of Perak, Kedah, Pulau Pinang and Perlis at the northernmost side before the mainline enter the territory of Thailand. The reasons why I took these train rides were my passions for train and photography. 

For some certain reasons, trains make me happy. 

The best thing about the Northern sector mainline is that there were a lot of spectacular sights and outstanding scenery along the way. I enjoyed looking at the vast, green paddy fields in the territory of Kedah, and as well as when the train passed at Bukit Merah where it traveled across in the middle of the Bukit Merah lake itself. The railway romance intensified as the train passed major stations like, in this order, Sungai Siput, Kuala Kangsar, Padang Rengas, Taiping, Bukit Mertajam and Butterworth. 

During the first trip where I headed to Alor Setar on the then midnight express Senandung Langkawi or better known as the 12-UP, where 12 is the train number and UP means that the train is northbound, which is commonly is at the uppermost section of any map you can see anywhere. I came back with an 11-DN, short for 11 Down, which I think you can pretty much guess what it means by now. 

During that trip I didn't have the privilege to take photographs along the way since the train departed late after midnight, which was around 2.30am in the morning. I reached Butterworth at around 6.30am in the morning, in which after then only I could make use of my camera. Unluckily enough, I didn't have the pictures anymore since I uploaded them in my Friendster the last time, a few months before the hard drive that stored the pictures died after 3 or 4 years in service. Only a few pictures were available from the trip:

This picture taken at Butterworth train station just a few minutes after my arrival via the same train featured in the picture. The far lights were from the nearby container yard ran by the port authority. I took the air-conditioned day night sleeper coach. Had for myself a pretty decent bed. 

One of the (illegal) things I usually did on board was to stand real close to the door with the door panel opened. This photograph was taken en route from Butterworth to Sungai Petani. The train was pulled by the Indian YDM locomotive being leased to KTMB. It was running full speed to catch up with loss time at Butterworth, and there I was, taking pictures.

The view from my bed in the ADNS coach. I had the upper berth so the window was kind of small (hence why I spent most of my time at the door). This was taken when the train reached Sungai Petani. I had a sudden urge to snap this right away. As a result, I am now in a relationship with a lady from Sungai Petani. Completely unrelated, I know, but it won't hurt for such a trivial fact. 

Reached Alor Setar at around 10.00 am in the morning. First thing I did was to explore the abandoned wagons and a warehouse located nearby. Not sure for how long these wagons had been here but from their state, it had been a really long time indeed. Most of them were locked, and those that were not, were empty. 

The pathway between the wagons and the warehouse. This place looked pretty standard for wedding/fashion photography session, don't you think? 

I had the opportunity to take a look into the warehouse. It was filled with junks, mostly. I had to do it. What's the point of traveling so far if I didn't check the place out, no? I was expecting some hobos but none turned up. This was the last photo I could retrieved, and all the photos after this one are lost forever. Sad. 

I came back with an 11DN as depicted above. Arrived at Ipoh at around midnight. The photo above was taken after I disembarked, and the train was making its journey down (I mean southbound but I kinda get used to this term already) to Kuala Lumpur. 

* * *

My last ride to Butterworth with two more train enthusiasts from Perak, Janggut and Shamsul, was more fun. I had the opportunity to depart to Butterworth an hour after afternoon, and the weather was fine enough for us to hang at the door to take some photographs, which in my opinion 'some' here means quite a lot. I shared a few here for you guys:

Sungai Siput station. One of the few surviving old-school stations along the Northern sector route. You can see a pair of wheels there, resting on a piece of track and track slippers. It kinda gave some homely and inviting feelings looking at this station, compared to the urban stations we have along the Kuala Lumpur-Ipoh mainline.

One of the series of tunnel that we have to travel through in order to get to the other side of Bukit Berapit. It was really dark inside there. It was not surprising to see that the structure is still strong until today, proving the quality of its maker and the wonder of British engineering. 

The abandoned station of Bukit Berapit. Tales have it where this station is so haunted that no one wanted to stay here at any given time of the day. The station is uniquely-located; in between two hills that gave Bukit Berapit its name. In an easier way to put it, this station is located in between two hills. No longer servicing the mainline, the station remained empty until today. Nearby are some looplines for trains to rest while waiting for other trains to pass. Train drivers who were told to enter the loopline here at night must be very nervous.

The old school semaphore signal tower. Before the days of LED lighting, this signal served train drivers with information of the line ahead. This signal tower says "Line ahead is clear, proceed with caution" - the red flag was lowered and the green signal of the flag was lit indicating 'line clear' while the lower yellow flag was raised and its yellow signal was lit, meaning 'caution ahead'.

The signboard at Pondok Tanjung station. This signboard is older than most of us. It could trace back to the days when the British were busy mining our lands and tapping our rubber trees. 

It was a slow day at Pondok Tanjung Station (as if it was ever busy anyway). Our train was halted in a loopline next to the mainline at this station in order to give way for an incoming train - a usual event in a single track system. As seen at the bottom of the pic is the empty mainline.

That was the incoming train from North that we were waiting for. The station master in blue waited for the token exchange - an old system where the tokens (a leather bag with a key inside) are exchanged in between station master and locomotive driver. The locomotive driver will give the station master a token that is retrieved from the last station he departs from, while the station master, in exchange, will give the driver a new token from his station. The station master will use the key in the token bag to 'unlock' the track ahead for the train. Without the key, the track ahead will not open for travel in which the train is required to stop. This system made railway system safer to travel with by avoiding collision.

The stretch of paddy field along the way. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Bagan Serai station was the second last station before the train entered Kedah. The last station would be the Parit Buntar station. A lot of people can be seen here, embarking and disembarking the station.

The famous British-made solid steel overhead bridge at Bukit Mertajam station. This dated back to  the early 1900s if I was not mistaken. In order to make way to the electrified train, this bridge was to be removed. I never knew what happened to it since then. It's a real authentic piece of historical effect right there.

The dismantled old track slippers at Bukit Tengah halt before entering Butterworth. You can see the trace of railway tracks on the ballast rocks. The removal of this line was for the installation of new track with concrete slippers instead of wooden ones.

Kilometer 0, Butterworth. Pretty neat eh? This is where the track mile is counted from. Ipoh station is located at KM 180, which means that the station is 180 kilometers away from Butterworth by track. 

The end of line. This track leads to nowhere, signifying the end of the railway track, which is why Butterworth is known as an end station. Tanjong Pagar, Singapore, was another station like this, but the station no longer serves the KTMB nor any train after its closing last year. I didn't have the chance to board the last train from Tanjong Pagar, and that is just sad. In the above picture you can see the bump-pad or the shock absorber material at the end of the line right on the caution wall.  The tracks here still used wooden slippers as you can see.

 We reached Butterworth at 6.00 pm. This signboard is located at the specialized platform for the E&O (the Eastern and Oriental express) that is visible at the lower portion of the photo.

The prestigious Eastern and Oriental Express (E&O). It costs up to USD 10,000 per pax per head. Not bad huh? But it's really stylish in there. Back in the days, it covered Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-Butterworth-Bangkok journey. But now that the Tanjong Pagar station is closed, I'm not sure from where the train departs from today. 

We took a tour around the station and then took a ferry to the island where we ate like starving soldiers and pump our bodies with so much nicotine and coffee just so that we won't fall asleep because our return train departs at 2.00 am the following day. Which means we had around 8 hours to spend, and we did spend it real well.

12 am in the morning. Caught this PETRONAS fertilizer wagons at Butterworth. The set was empty and bound for Gurun for refilling. The set was driven by a 25-class locomotive with 202 as its ID number. Seasoned railway enthusiasts can name any train by its class and identification number. For instance, this one is 'Delima'. Every locomotive in KTMB service line except for the YDM have their own name to add some spice to their otherwise boring mathematical insignia.

2.15 am and there was our train approaching the platform. This was the last photo ever taken in this trip, because right when we sat at our respective seats, we fell dead asleep and to only wake up just minutes before we reached the Ipoh station.

It was one of the best railway journey I have ever had.

* * *

Taken by surprise at Butterworth, picture by Janggut.

I think I am getting back those train-vibes again. I suddenly feel the miss for the trains and the stations, the smell of oil on hot tracks and the ever poisoning sounds of clanking metals and whatnot. I have no interest whatsoever in electric trains but more on diesel-electrics and steam (not that we have a working one around). I miss the sight of Padang Rengas station and that haunted Bukit Berapit station. The transforming Taiping station. The paddy fields. The thick tropical jungle along Kuala Kangsar - Taiping pass. All of that.

I have been feeling quite stressful from works and other things lately that I am finding my interests in train suddenly peaking. Maybe I am up for another long journey, to the east coast of the peninsular perhaps. 

Wanna come along?

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