Do you remember your first train ride?

I took my first train ride while I was in pre-school and despite not having a clear memory of what transpired back then, I remember posing with an A&W bear mascot in front of a Komuter train, in the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Back then, my pre-school was involved in an event promoted by KTMB (Kertapi Tanah Melayu Berhad) and my classmates and I were lucky enough to be one of the first few to ride the KTM Komuter when it was first launched in August 1995. I vaguely remember the ride being short, sweet and fulfilling, with the added excitement of free curly fries and root beer.

The KTM Komuter train leaving Kuala Lumpur station, built in 1886.

Fast forward seventeen years, I find myself walking towards a common sight at all train stations. A group of taxi drivers are gathered, chattering away while waiting patiently for potential customers to arrive at the Kajang Railway Station. These days, talk often turns to the government’s decision to allow KTMB to be privatised by MMC Corporation Berhad. This decision was made in order to prevent our nation’s railway company from folding entirely due to the high cost of maintenance and its losses from the intercity services. Cabbies, as well as full time station staff, speculate on the changes that will take place when the KTMB changes from a government-owned organisation to a privatised company.

Kajang Railway Station is about to undergo further major changes in the next few years, as it will become a proposed final hub for the new Klang Valley Mass Rail Transit (MRT) services. Competition for customers will surely be rife, as the new MRT has a better link to the suburbs that are booming rapidly. KTMB is hopeful, however, and has even spent billions to improve the quality of their services by ordering 36 new 6-coach Class 92 KTM Komuter trains.

My train was scheduled to arrive at 0956 Hours but it did not show up til half an hour later, naturally.

Through my school days and teenage years, I was ultimately let down by the services provided by KTM Komuter. So much so that I (along with many others) resorted to other modes of transport and eventually acquired a car. The lack of punctual services – not to mention a proper air-flow in the train – was too much for me. Then there was the mysterious fact that during rush hour, everyone crowds around the area by the doors, leaving the middle sections empty. (Would it be too much to ask for everyone to move up a bit?) As much as I am fond of vintage train models, I am glad KTMB has decided to retire some of their older trains and bring in new blood. As many as eighteen new trains are now running within KTM’s service lines with the final batch of trains (a further twenty) scheduled to arrive from China within this month.

I was lucky enough to board one of the new trains one day, while making my way towards KL Sentral. The bright, shiny interiors along with integrated dynamic route maps complete with CCTV prove to be a stark improvement against the older train models, with their cracked windows and lingering smells. I am happy to report that it was a fun, pleasant and fulfilling train ride – similar to my very first.

The KTM will always be my first train experience – and as with all first loves, I’ll remain overly fond of it despite the frustration, silence and years in between.