With the completion of the electrification and double tracking projects between Gemas and Padang Besar in peninsular Malaysia, the Malaysian Railway (KTM) has been running services between Kuala Lumpur or Gemas and Butterworth / Padang Besar for some time now using train sets from Korea. We recently used this service to travel to Butterworth, catching the overnight train back to Kuala Lumpur.
The new train sets from China went into service in September so we decided to take a day trip up to Ipoh for some food and a look at what’s to offer in this city built originally on tin mining. Leaving Kuala Lumpur at 9.30am and arriving back just before 10pm, with just over 2 hours each way on the train was definitely do-able.
Getting the tickets
This was the main problem. Because this service using the new trains runs all the way to either Butterworth (for Penang) or Padang Besar (to connect with the Thai trains), Ipoh is considered a short distance trip and tickets can only be purchased less than 24 hours before you make the journey. As a result, you can only book a ticket to the stations beyond Ipoh earlier and the system is programmed so that whether you try to book online or over the counter, it won’t be available. An Adult ticket will cost you RM44 one way.
We booked our Kuala Lumpur – Ipoh tickets the afternoon before and managed to purchase the return tickets in the morning, before we left from Kuala Lumpur. The Ipoh/KL return leaves Ipoh at 19:39 (7.39pm).
Catching the train
Don’t drive to KL Sentral! The parking facilities are scarce and are very expensive. Park or have someone drop you at one of the outlying stations on any of the other lines that connect to this station, the main train hub in Kuala Lumpur. The LRT Ampang/Kelang Jaya line, KL Monorail and KTM Kommuter services all stop here. After exiting into the main Concourse, head for the northern end of the hall and up the stairs / escalator. There is also a lift tucked round the back. At the top of the stairs, turn right and the entrance to the Intercity Trains platform is easy to see.
You can take food and drinks with you, there are plenty of food and drink outlets at the Concourse level. There’s a cafe in Ipoh station, but it had closed before we returned to the station around 6.30pm. So it you want to take food for the train with you, get it beforehand as the small snack bar at the station only has bread and packet snacks and a limited range of drinks.
You don’t generally have the option of selecting your seats, but it’s useful to know that not all seats have a view. The first row in some carriages (there are different configurations) miss out in at least seats A1 & 2 in those carriages with a driver’s compartment and have no footrest.
Otherwise, the contoured seats are comfortable and clean, fabric covered with a padded headrest and a fold down tray table. There is plenty of legroom, even for long legged passengers. Unless of course you cover yourself and the seat next to you with your bags and fill the legroom as well! Half the seats in the carriage face forward, the other half backwards, depending on the direction of travel. We found the ride to be smooth and quiet as long as the glass doors at the end of the carriage were closed.
Each carriage has a reasonably spacious luggage rack at one end. In those carriages with toilets, this is at the opposite end, as is the rack in the Bistro car.
Clear overhead racks can take reasonable sized smaller pieces of luggage, backpacks etc and there is space under the seats where you could fit an airline carry-on sized bag.
Seating is arranged in a four seat configuration, two either side of a central aisle. The front seats in cars with a driver’s cabin have a fixed table with recessed cup holder but there are no footrests. They are located beside the luggage rack or in cars with a toilet, beside the glass doors. The two final rows of seats in both types of cars are arranged with two rows facing, with a centre table.
The reclining seats are fitted with lift up armrests.
Food on Board
Car C is equipped with a bistro at one end where you can purchase pre-prepared food like sandwiches or rice and noodle packs which can be re-heated in their microwave oven. Pre-mix drinks are also available.
Every second carriage is equipped with a wheelchair accessible washroom. We found them to be clean but the paper ran out, so if you have some, take it along. The soap supply also ran out before we reached our destination. There is plenty of space outside the washroom for waiting and you can watch the scenery go by as there is a window.
Each pair of seats is equipped with coat hooks which fold out from the wall and pull down sunshades. There is a 220v three pin plug socket (not USB), but it’s not easy to access though, you’ll need to reach under the middle of the seats and open the cover to find it.
Each end of the carriage is fitted with an LCD screen displaying destination, next station and speed in kph. They play ‘safe’ movies in a loop with cartoons, so if you’re a Tom & Jerry or ‘chick flick’ fan, you’re all set. There are another two screens catering for passengers in the middle rows of seats. As the sound is turned down, there are English subtitles.
Speed and on-time result
Apart from the few stops, we moved along at speeds between about 120 and 148kph, making good time, although we reached Ipoh station a few minutes after the scheduled time. Our return journey that evening was on time when we rolled in to KL Sentral just before 10pm.
The station is well equipped with ramps and quite good signage and easy to get around. The toilet will cost you 30sen (don’t forget to take your toilet paper from the attendant). There is a hotel in the station (The Majestic Hotel), which was originally built as a hospital in the early part of the 20th Century, becoming the railway station in 1935.