A Tale of Two Stations

Text and photos by Lau Sook Mei

Kuala Kangsar Railway Station.

The KL-Ipoh double-tracking and electric rail project began in 2000 and new electric trains came into service in 2010. For this modernization, most century-old railway stations along the way were demolished and replaced by new ones. Left stranded, the old stations in Tanjung Malim and Batu Gajah managed to survive as small eateries and for other trades.

Started in 2008, the extension from Ipoh northward to Padang Besar, Perlis is in smooth progress, with its completion scheduled for the end of this year. The initial budget of RM9-billion has climbed. The project was awarded to MMC-Gamuda in 2008 for RM12.48-billion. Currently, that has been revised to RM16.5-billion, citing increase in prices of oil and steel. One wonders about the final cost. Whatever it is, this time, no old stations will be spared, least of all those over one hundred years old.

Two of the more aesthetic ones, the stations at Chemor and Kuala Kangsar will soon be gone. I have heard station employees reminiscing with a heavy heart. They have spent most of their lives working in these old KTM stations. These railway relics are landmarks to each town and they are an important Malaysian heritage.

Chemor Railway Station.

Chemor Railway Station
Canopies of tropical foliage shade the drive to the charming Chemor Railway Station. The station was built during the rise of the humble little village when tin mining activities were abuzz. Opened on 27 Nov 1896, the Chemor station also served as a post office until a new one was built across the road in the 1920s.

Another view of the same station.

Even the cat is enjoying the breeze.

Despite its age, this single-storey timber structure has remained in excellent condition. It is the last best-kept railway station from the nineteenth century. Take a breather, sit down on the old wooden bench, and you will enjoy the natural flow of cool air even in the heat of the day. On my last visit, I noted that the elevated new tracks rose higher than the eave of the old station itself. The new station will be built 1 km north.

Note the elevated new tracks on the right.

It is incomprehensible, while the Ipoh Local Draft Plan 2020 earmarks the preservation of Chemor station, KTM decides to go ahead with demolishing it. Are the authorities working in tandem or are they competing for notoriety in asserting their power in a game of one-upmanship?

Quaint ticketing window.

It is time for the local community to show interest in its very own hometown heritage. The station can be a gift from KTM to the town. It can become the tourist visitation centre for Chemor. But the local communities need to get organized and Ipoh City Council has to make its stand, to convince KTM of its corporate responsibility to the history and heritage of the nation.

An abandoned lovely railway quarters that could be adapted into something useful...a homestay, perhaps.

Kuala Kangsar Railway Station

Kuala Kangsar Railway Station.

Interesting cast iron details below the porch. You will not see this in new stations.

Further north, the railway station in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar at Jalan Sultan Idris came into use circa 1899, during the reign of Sultan Idris, 28th Sultan of Perak (1887-1916). It is probably the only country train station in Perak with a front porch. At the height of its glory, it has seen the arrival and departure of many a Sultan. One could imagine the pomp and revelry that once accompanied the Sultan and his entourage at the Station.

An interesting idea: yellow-coloured boards with letters that make up "KUALA KANGSAR".

This indicates that you have arrived at the town.

In July 2008 it was announced that a new station would be built at Kampung Talang Simpang Tiga nearby, and the old station retained as a railway museum. Heritage die-hards breathed a sigh of relief. But the happiness was short-lived; the old station will make way for the new, after all. The decision was reverted in October, 2008 ostensibly to spare affected villagers from relocation while there arose land acquisition problems. The Malay press, Utusan Malaysia , 13 Oct 2008, quoted Sultan Azlan Shah: the station was too old to be retained as a heritage building. Can that be true?

Signboard showing the way to the station master's room.

This station even has a special waiting room for the Sultan.

The Railway Stations Are Our History
Often cited as reason for demolition is their dilapidated condition, which is due entirely to a lack of maintenance. In fact, most of these stations are structurally sound, and only minor repairs will see them safe and adequate for continued use. Why can’t they be incorporated into the new station instead of being replaced by a new type alien to the country landscape of Malaysian rail?

Single line tokens, an old British system that effectively prevents collisions on single-track lines. When the passing train collects the key it is an indication that the line is clear. This will be a thing of the past.

This is the bag where the key token is placed.

The bag with the key is sometimes slung over the arm to be collected by the driver of the passing train.

Old railway stations exemplify our industrial heritage. It is no wonder that KTM never put money into proper building maintenance. It has been operating at a loss for far too long. Railway stations over one hundred years old are antiquities, protected by law. These old stations are strategically located in town, and they can be commercially viable, adapted into visitors’ centre, local history gallery, reading room, eatery, or some other happening place for community-linked activities. It could be the place to promote 1Malaysia because anybody, regardless of colour and creed, could use the train to work, to visit their family and to holiday. In this day and age, rail travel is most environmental-friendly and has a higher safety record. Try it, if you have not traveled by train. You will enjoy it.

A mechanical lever frame housed in a signal box. These levers are used to change the positions of points and signals. Points are movable rails that guide the wheels to the straight or diverging track. This too will soon be history.

For all the effort that KTM has put into saving the paraphernalia of railway, it has missed out on the most important edifice of its services, the original, charming, well-constructed historic railway stations of the FMS Railway.

It is our fervent hope that decision makers at KTM rethink the demolition of these historic transportation buildings in Perak, which had the first railway line in Malaysia.  Let us not deprive the future generations of this heritage in the name of “upgrading” and development.

As concerned readers, do your bit. Write a letter to the newspapers about the dire situation and save these old stations before you regret.

(You may also like to read more about trains here.)


14 Responses to “A Tale of Two Stations”

  1. 1 Papan Jones February 18, 2011 at 3:14 am

    I really hope PHS and friends can make some effort to harness local support to campaign for saving the stations for communal and sustainable economic uses through suitable tenancies. What about engaging local manufacturing companies through corporate social responsibility?

    It was sad to see so many railway bridges dismantled. Fortunately, the Victoria Bridge in Karai remains. It links these two stations. It was the grandest of its kind in all South-east Asia. This industrial heritage is being maintained for pedestrian and light motor and bicycle traffic. I have seen commando training there. I wonder what else can be done to make its heritage appeal a tourist attraction to benefit the town and its folks.

  2. 2 Raja Mahariz Muzaffar February 19, 2011 at 2:21 am

    I would like to share with you a photo taken at the porch of the Kuala Kangsar railway station, showing Almarhum Sultan Iskandar accompanying the King of Siam, Rama VI, during his visit of the state. The photo can be viewed here:


    • 3 perakheritage February 19, 2011 at 11:19 pm

      Thank you, Raja Mahariz for sharing this million-dollar photo and the interesting information accompanying it. The arrival of the King of Siam had marked a great historic moment of this station. With all the famous dignitaries and personalities the station has seen since the first day of its operation makes it all the more worthwhile to be preserved. Besides this great photo we’re sure there must be many more as great as this. Perhaps this station could be turned into a gallery for these meaningful and historical photos…

  3. 4 YAM Raja Shahruzzaman ibni Sultan Idris Shah February 19, 2011 at 4:05 am

    Salams et al…

    Have we no pride and a sense of nostalgia to preserve our historical heritage… In England, these landmarks will be preserved for historical and tourism value… Doesn’t anyone care anymore…???

    • 5 perakheritage February 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm

      Salam to you, YAM. That’s the pathetic scenario here. People should learn to appreciate and show pride in what is left of their historical heritage instead of destroying it. Some old train stations overseas have been successfully preserved and converted into cafes and many other uses and they bring in tourists by the droves. If they can do it, with proper advice from conservationists and experts, why can’t we?

  4. 6 HeriHong February 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Today’s Sin Chew Daily Perak Edition reports that demolition of the KK Railway Station will begin in March.

    Four interviews with local Chinese residents have been included in this thin piece of news. All of them welcome having new modern station befitting the royal town, citiing local pride; only one of them who lived in the area expresses ‘sayang’.

    The coming weekend is your last chance to take your own photos of this very special station. See you there?

    I wonder when Chemor’s turn will come.

  5. 7 adzwan June 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Try new route to Bangi and Melaka new ETS which will completed somehere in 2013

  6. 9 Sakinah Budiman December 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Hy. I’m 22 and was in Kuala Kangsar for several years during my childhood days. Still remember cycling from bridge in sayong, mckk and stop at Kuala kangsar railway Station. Beautiful scenery in Kuala Kangsar.. Such a wonderfull feeling!!! Please keep on writing about Perak’s heritage. Will be my pride to shares with my future grandson about this… all the best!! (^_^)

  7. 10 Fern March 23, 2013 at 10:30 am

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  1. 1 Raya In Chemor « Perak Heritage Society Trackback on September 25, 2011 at 5:36 pm

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