Jul 05 2011
June 30, 2011 marked a sad day for rail travel in Southeast Asia, with the last Malaysian train rolling into Singapore’s historic Tanjong Pagar station. Such is the charm of the art deco station that starting or finishing a journey there was one of the main reasons for travelling by rail. Neither Singapore nor Malaysia though has a habit of allowing a beautiful building to stand in the way of the march of progress. Services from Malaysia now stop instead at the romantically named Woodlands Train Checkpoint (WTCP), close to the border between the two countries.
One of the oddities of Singapore’s split from Malaysia in 1965 was that the latter’s national rail operator, KTMB, continued to own railway land and stations within Singapore. Nearly half a century of wrangling later, and Malaysia has finally given up its claim to the railway property in return for part ownership of some choice commercial plots.
Up until 1998, both Singaporean and Malaysian immigration clearance was carried out at Tanjong Pagar. But from then onwards, travellers had the odd experience of officially entering Malaysia before boarding their train, many miles before being stamped out of Singapore. Malaysian immigration has now relocated to the WTCP as part of the land swap deal.
Despite the closure of Tanjong Pagar, getting a train to Singapore is still a pleasant alternative to flying or getting the bus, so long as you are not too pressed for time. Three services a day head from KL Sentral to the Lion City: 09:00 (arriving 16:00), 14:00 (arriving 20:25) and 23:00 (arriving 06:35). Seats cost between 34 and 68 ringgit, with sleepers between 43 and 180 ringgit. Tickets can be booked 30 days in advance in person at KL Sentral. An online system does exist, but fails to work more often than not.
From Woodlands, trains leave at 08:45 (arriving 14:46), 13:45 (arriving 20:25) and 23:30 (arriving 06:30). Despite moving stations, a deeply irritating quirk remains in the system: tickets bought in Singapore cost more than twice as much as those bought in Malaysia. One way round this is to book a return ticket from Malaysia. But if you only want a single from Singapore, this will not work. The only way to pay the ringgit price is to start your journey in Malaysia, the closest station being just across the border at Johor Bahru Central. Now that Tanjong Pagar has closed, no good reason exists to pay so much more for the privilege of starting your rail journey in Singapore.
Level 2, KL Sentral, Kuala Lumpur
T: (1300) 88 5862 (Malaysia) (03) 2267 1200 (overseas)
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