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Sayang Sabah - The voice of Sabahans

A train journey back in time

The North Borneo Railway - an old locomotive steam train. - Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah
The North Borneo Railway – an old locomotive steam train. – Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah

KOTA KINABALU – In the days of yore, it was always a thrill to go for a train ride, so much so that it was a treat for children by parents to go for this adventure.

Locomotives as it was then is no longer utilised but thanks to Sutera Harbour Resort in collaboration with North Borneo Railway, they still ply the route to Papar, twice a week.

Guests can enjoy a nostalgic passage from the bygone era into the countryside of the West Coast Sabah.

To reenact the past, the colonial-styled passenger train chug off from the Tanjung Aru Station to Papar Station which is 37 kilometres ride to the south.

Blast from the past - a historical passage into the countryside of West Coast Sabah. - Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah
Blast from the past – a historical passage into the countryside of West Coast Sabah. – Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah

In the past, it was used as a mean of transportation and indeed an important vehicle to access the interior. Now, a century-old or 119-year old to be exact, the steam locomotive is mainly for tourists and local alike who wish to have a brief glimpse of the past.

One wonders at how this engine start. It starts early obviously, as at 4am, the driver throws logs into the fire which is the heart of the steam engines. Setting target of 180 degree Celsius to build up enough pressure for the steam train to run. Once everything is set, the driver toots the whistle to signal that the train is ready to go.

Passengers are greeted by staff with warm smiles and historical pose and outfits wearing khakis outfit with pith helmets at the Tanjung Aru station. The staff are friendly and will inform passengers about the journey and the history of this engine.

One of the train driver putting logs into the fire. - Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah
One of the train driver putting logs into the fire. – Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah

On the call of ‘All Aboard!” and incessant ring of the bell, passengers step into the carrier. It is hard for one not to notice the colonial features and fittings which arguably ‘teleports’ one back to the past. The sound of clanking rod wheels and steamy chugging noises, with classic tunes playing at the background set the tune for departure.

The old North Borneo Railway can accommodate more than 90 passengers. There are five carriages and a kitchen with a washroom for each of the carriage.

At 10 am, the guard waves his flag and the train powered by a Vulcan engine built in 1954 at the Vulcan Foundry in Lancashire, England will move off south.

Guests greeted by the warm and friendly Sutera Harbour Resort staffs at the main gate of the Tanjung Aru Station. - Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah
Guests greeted by the warm and friendly Sutera Harbour Resort staffs at the main gate of the Tanjung Aru Station. – Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah

The rail line runs from Tanjung Aru through the small towns of Putatan, Kinarut, Kawang and Papar during a four-hour return trip. Passengers can opt for countryside view that provide a distant mountains of the Crocker Range background or the city view with a glimpse of amazing blue ocean sight.

Passengers are served with the local delicacies for their breakfast and lunch using tiffin as a touch of the past.

In Kinarut, passengers will be given 20 minutes stop to roam around at the small town with old shophouses; a throwback of the past and a temple with a 20-foot-tall smiling Buddha.

The historical design inside the carriage. - Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah
The historical design inside the carriage. – Photo by Ille Tugimin/SayangSabah

The journey continues steaming through rice fields , orchards and mangroves before passing the 450-metre Pengalat tunnel and over a river on a bridge and into Papar.

Upon arriving in Papar, passengers can meander around at the so-called modern town and explore the local market or ‘Tamu’ or they can choose to stay on the platform and watch the steam locomotive make a turn.

For a blast from the past, guests can acquire more information from Sutera Harbour Resort. – By Fizah Yusof/SayangSabah

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