‘The temptation of Tumpat’
March 10th 1984, for the very first time I boarded a train in the Far East and entered the Tanjong Pagar Station in Singapore for a ride to Kota Bharu in a night sleeper and daily joy seeing some of the landscape (partly rainforest) towards the East Coast and South China Sea.
Train B 62 to Kuala Lumpur with through coaches for the inland line, number NFS 66, an old fashion charming first class compartment with the wear and tear visible a touch of luxury it once must have been. The pre aircon area, only a fan and immediately I feel home. The mahogany wainscoting resembles the famous wagon-lit as they run on the Oriental Express between London and Istanbul, this wagon makes up for the lost I never encountered those were the railway days before I was born.
Diesel electric locomotive 22.102 hauls the train over the causeway into Malaysia; all the custom clearance took place on the platform before departing. At Gemas the wagon will be coupled on train M 82 coming from Kuala Lumpur. A nightly shifting after a long and sole waiting on a side track. This is no time for sleeping; the whole procedure will be watched and painstakingly stored in my memory. In later years I would repeat the trip and enjoying the nightly shifting at Gemas but not in a horizontal position.
The realm of the KTM – Keretapi Tanah Melayu (since 1962) the Malaysian railway system former known as FMSR – Federated Malay State Railways or MRA – Malayan Railway Administration. In 1992 corporatized but still owned by the Malayan government. By all means build by the British, in 1963 Malaysia together with Singapore became independent.
Train M 82 is running late and the conductor advised to leave the train at Kuala Krai and from there take a (shared) taxi in order to reach Kota Bharu by daylight. A stupid advise after all but as an apprentice in Asian railway matters and other forms of public transportation there were no arguments against it. On the other hand I had to disembark the train anyway at Pasir Mas sixty kilometres further north and from there by bus, it could have been that latter stopped servicing after sunset.
At Pasir Mas the line towards the Thai boarder begins (Rantau Panjang – Sungai Golok) 19 km and only in use for goods. My bed for the night that day rolled for another twenty five kilometres along the Kelantan River with Tumpat as destination. Pronounce that name and it arouses a certain curiosity, looking at the map; a stranger terminus is not thinkable. Bridging the river and ending at Kota itself would have make sense but the decisions were made different for what ever reason.
Anyway, on April 16th 1987 again I boarded the train in Singapore with the first class coach – NFS 73 this time and locomotive 22.104 – for me alone to satisfy the inquisitiveness of Tumpat. A most remarkable trip with a lot of unexpected things like braking down of the locomotive in the middle of nowhere, it happened twice. The first time (21.109) at Kema Yan (km 75 measured from Gemas) locomotive 20.106 brought help and both were changed at Kuala Lipis (km 277) for 21.105 and this one on her turn would brake down at Temangan (km 463). Locomotive 21.201 together with train B 312 in the end brought us to Tumpat (km 527). According the timetable arriving at 15.35 we did at 21.00 sharp.
In the pitch darkness it turned out to be the end of the world without any comfort for a more or less lost traveller battered by rail. The staff offered me a room, spartan comfort but a bed on the right spot and not wrong after all because I had in mind to go by train (Nº B 311) early next morning to Tanah Merah (51 km) and have a look at the track upgrading works done by the Australian Company John Holland (what’s in a name?) and returning to Thailand afterwards going up and down again to Tumpat to make sure have seen a railway line in one of the remote places on earth.
Like a ghostly apparition the train entered the station shakes and comes to a halt. Almost no one disembark, the platform deprived of hurried feet nor longing eyes of someone looking for a lost beloved one, family member or friend who in the end took the plunge to see how the relationship disappeared from the world. The meekness of Tumpat, the end of the line; a yard ending near the sea with a concrete partition. A lacklustre settlement and like many others submissive under the burning sun, a postcard with greetings from nowhere.
Locomotives; in those years the following classes were in service:
Class 20 Diesel Electric Co-Co made by English Electric in 1957 (201.01-26)
Class 21 Diesel Hydraulic Bo-Bo made by Kisha Seizo Kaisha in 1965 (211.01-15 / 212.01-10)
Class 22 Diesel Electric Co-Co made by English Electric in 1971 (222.01-40)
Class 23 Diesel Electric Co-Co made by Hitachi in 1983 (231.01-15)
Picture on top: A classic signal jungle at Tapah Road on April 13th 1987, photo Rail Asia.