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Heritage: Traveling along the North Borneo Railway

TRANSIT also took note of this wonderful article about the North Borneo Railway(now Sabah State Railways), and the famous North Borneo Railway tour train pulled by an authentic Vulcan 6-016 steam engine!

Vulcan chugs on (NST, 5 August 2011)

The recently-revived North Borneo Railway steam train evokes the romanticism of a rail journey during the colonial days, writes ROY GOH

AT RM250 per person, the cost of a seat on board the newly-revived North Borneo Railway steam train in Sabah may be hefty but do consider the privilege of being aboard the last of a dying breed of iron horses, the Vulcan Steam Engine 6-016 train.

This Vulcan 6-016 engine is maintained with spare parts salvaged from another similar engine owned by the Sabah Railway Department plus other parts bought from elsewhere. — NST pictures by Roy Goh.

The leisurely ride is set in classic colonial-style setting, with first-class treatment. Coffee is served using colourful made-in-China flasks, with rice and dishes in tiffin containers being its signature style.

Tiffin containers are used to serve a selection of dishes to passengers on board the train. Image courtesy of NST.

The popular steam train service with a whistle, a joint venture between the Sabah Railway Department and the Sutera Harbour Resort, came back on track on July 1.

Revived in 2000 after it was decommissioned in the 1970s, the service ceased about five years ago when the Railway Department closed the railway tracks for an upgrading project which was finally completed last year.

The 50km journey from Tanjung Aru, here, to Papar and back, takes about four hours and is scheduled every Wednesday and Saturday.

The Vulcan Steam Engine 6-016 train at the turntable in Papar for the return trip to Tanjung Aru. Image courtesy of NST.

As for the majestic 1954 engine which was manufactured by the Vulcan Foundry Ltd at Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire, United Kingdom, it is the last of a fleet of locomotives which plied Sabah from the late 1880s. It is also among a handful left in the world.

The existing Vulcan 6-016 engine is maintained with spare parts salvaged from another similar engine owned by the department plus other parts bought from elsewhere.

The classic ride takes passengers past five stations — Tanjung Aru, Putatan, Kinarut, Kawang and Papar — as well as a 450m-long tunnel, with panoramic scenery and endless waves from children who wait in anticipation of the train on its journey at villages or in schools.

The North Borneo Railway steams out. Image courtesy of NST.

Waiter Jual Hussin, 42, who wears an eye-catching all-white ensemble of knee-length shorts and shirt paired with long socks and a hat, spoke passionately of serving over 10 years aboard the five 16-seater carriages.

“This is one of the few steam powered locomotives left in the world and for anyone, who gets a seat on board, it is a rare privilege.

“I am from Tanjung Aru and I grew up within sight and sound of this train. I take working on board the Vulcan with pride because it is like preserving a legacy of our past. The big plus is we get to share it,” said Jual.

It’s tea time on board the Vulcan Steam Engine 6-016 train. Image courtesy of NST.

A spokesman for Sutera Harbour Resort said the railway service was one of its most popular products before it was stopped for upgrading works in 2007.

“Since we restarted the service, the response has been overwhelming and we even have charters or block bookings for the schedule runs,” she said, adding that the Vulcan still had a lot of good years of service ahead of it.


We think this is a wonderful article and we are glad to be able to share this with you.

For more information on Sabah State Railways, visit their website at (English: You can also see the Wikipedia page on the Sabah State Railway.

For updated information & more wonderful photos of the North Borneo Railway and the Sabah State Railways service, see the Sabah State Railway Development News forum on

Now … when will the Sabah Government restore the rails between Tg. Aru & Kota Kinabalu and offer a combined Airport Railway and Commuter railway service?

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