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MikeOxon

North Borneo (Sabah) Railway

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I have recently returned from a trip to Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo).  My visit was not connected with railways and, in fact, I was unaware of the existence of any railways in Borneo until I spotted the line running alongside the main road leading into Kota Kinabalu from the airport!

 

Apparently, construction of the North Borneo Railway began in 1896 as a metre-gauge line for the transport of tobacco from the interior to the coast, for export.

 

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Opening of the North Borneo Railway on 3 February 1898.

 

The line was almost completely destroyed during WW2  and was closed again for several years at the beginning of this century.  Chinese investment led to the line being re-built with continuous welded track and concrete sleepers, with the entire Tanjung Aru to Tenom section being re-opened in 2011. 

 

It is now operated as a regional rail link between Kota Kinabalu and Beaufort, using DMU sets for passengers and diesel locomotives for freight.  There is also a steam-hauled 'historic' train, operated by the Sutera Harbour Resort, as a tourist attraction.  A good description of recent operations on the railway can be found on the web at http://www.internationalsteam.co.uk/trains/borneo03.htm

 

I took a few photos from the adjacent road, which may be of interest to modellers seeking to build something 'different'.

 

 

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Vulcan 2-6-2 locomotives near Kota Kinabalu

 

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Vulcan 2-6-2 locomotives near Kota Kinabalu

 

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Metre-gauge Track

 

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Typical Station Building

 

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Putatan Railway Station

 

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Typical Level Crossing

 

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Crossing Keepers Hut

 

Mike

 

[Edited to take account of comments by EddieB, below]

Edited by MikeOxon
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Not so - the line was quickly restored to operation soon after WWII when North Borneo was liberated from the Japanese (mainly by Australian forces).  A shortage of motive power was relieved by the conversion of army jeeps as temporary "locomotives".  These were joined in 1948 by tractors from Malcolm Moore (Aus), followed by Fowler and Hunslet shunters ordered by the Crown Agents, along with the Vulcan 2-6-2s (based on an Indian standard 2-8-2 design) which were, IIRC, the last steam locos from that builder.  Happily all three Vulcans still survive, two being active for the regular tourist service (which it would appear now keeps the locos near the track department "shelter", rather than in the running sheds).  Returning to 1948, that year saw the first delivery of railcars and inspection saloons from Wickham.

 

Ironically perhaps Japan supplied a fleet of diesel locomotives (Nippon Sharyo, Kawasaki, Hitachi) which pre-dominated until a short closure in the "naughties".  Since re-opening China has been the new supplier of choice.  Recent developments include reinstating part of the line into Kota Kinabalu from Tanjung Aru (near the airport, where the railway's main depot and station are located).

 

The line has featured in quite a few magazine articles (spanning over a century) and appeared on stamps, but the definitive history has still to be written.

Edited by EddieB
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Thank you for the additional information, EddieB.  My aim was simply to show a few photos of the infrastructure, as it exists today.

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Very nice Mike. That opening photo has all the magic of a colonial logging railway (which of course in reality wasn't at all magical for anyone involved!).

 

What a model it would make. You'd need a truck-load of foliage though  :)

 

all the best

Mikkel

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Here's a link to IRS article on railways in North Borneo.

 

It includes the Peckett 4-4-0T locos of the Sarawak Govt Railway, same design as the Schull & Skibereen locos, I came across the photo 40 years ago & always liked them. Different system from the OP I think but interesting reading.

http://www.irsociety.co.uk/Archives/14/Borneo.htm

 

Dava

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Here's a link to IRS article on railways in North Borneo.

 

It includes the Peckett 4-4-0T locos of the Sarawak Govt Railway, same design as the Schull & Skibereen locos, I came across the photo 40 years ago & always liked them. Different system from the OP I think but interesting reading.

http://www.irsociety.co.uk/Archives/14/Borneo.htm

 

Dava

Sarawak was and is a separate state (although now part of "East" Malaysia together with Sabah).  The article always intrigues me as to whether the anbandoned locos of the Cowie Harbour Coal Company are still in existence.  In dealing with the larger concerns, what the article doesn't mention are the numerous logging concession lines (usually of 2ft gauge), many worked by Motor Rail "Simplex" locomotives (as represented by a locomotive preserved at the Sabah Museum in Kota Kinabalu (along with three steam locos from the North Borneo State Railway).

 

The author of that piece wrote a further article that appeared in a later issue of the Industrial Railway Record (IRR 30).  Although it isn't one of the scanned issues on the website, it is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the North Borneo State Railway and is worth tracking down a copy.  (I sent one to a contact on the railway a couple of years ago).

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That IRS article is fascinating, not just for the information about the railways and locos, but for the stories of colonial life. Thanks Dava!

 

Cheers,

 

Mark.

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I can provide a few updates and more information on this railway as I have been involved in Asian Railway research for many years and also visited the system.

The old depot at Tanjung Aru no longer exists, having been replaced by a new facility at Kinarut last year. It has mostly been demolished already and new buildings are going up. All that remains (as of last month) is two short lengths of track containing one Vulcan locomotive 6-014, a 4-wheel coach and a wagon. 

The PW depot is now the steam depot where 6-015 and 6-016 reside. The latter is serviceable and in regular use but the former was withdrawn for overhaul in 2012. It is currently awaiting new superheater tubes which are being manufactured in Japan. The foreman is hoping to have another siding installed to take 6-014 which will otherwise be cut up on site by the developers!

During my visit last month only one diesel was available for the Tanjung Aru to Beaufort service so many trains are cancelled. Only the Beaufort to Tenom service is running normally as that section used lightweight stock of which there is still plenty apparently. The New locomotives are out of service with worn out wheels.

I also have full details of the Sarawak railway and a lot of information on the industrial railways. As far as the forestry systems go that subject is to be covered in a book due any time soon, in fact it may already be out. The author supplied me with a lot of information and pictures but asked me not to publish anything until his book has been published so that information has to stay under wraps for the time being.

I have written my own history of the North Borneo Railway which also has links to the full details of the Australian invasion of Borneo and a lot of old pictures from that campaign. It also has links to lists of much of the motive power and a lot of pictures which are already in the public domain. http://searail.malayanrailways.com/Borneo/NBR2013.htm

Any more questions please feel free to ask.

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Super website - thank you! Best source on these rail systems I have seen. Excellent information, maps & photos. Please do post details of book/publisher when known.

 

Dava

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I have heard back from Ross. He is on the final chapter now and hopes to hand over the manuscript (to the publishers) in July. The remaining process can take anything from a few weeks to a few years, depending on how much work has been done beforehand. 

Interesting article on why it might take so long; http://www.barbaradoyen.com/book-publishing/how-long-does-it-take-to-publish-my-book

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Another update, Ross Ibbotson's book has now been published and is available now, details on my Searail web site, above. 

I have recently received copies of the Peter Hodge collection along with permission to use them. They include photographs of very good quality of the North Borneo Railway between 1967 and 1971 and I hope to be able to add these to my site in the not too distant future.

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