The first railway in what was then Malaya opened in 1885 between Taiping and Port Weld, a distance of just 12km. It was contructed to metre gauge, which formed the basis for development of all subsequent lines in the country.
An extensive network now serves most parts of mainland Malaysia. A line operated by KTM runs across the border into Singapore. There is also an international connection with Thailand.
In 2017, work commenced on a new standard (1435mm) gauge railway, which will run from Port Klang across the peninsula to Kuantan, then north to Pengkalan Kubor on the border with Thailand. The main line will be 530km in length with 66km of branches.
The first railway in what was then British North Borneo was a metre gauge line between Beaufort and Weston, a distance of 32 km, opened in 1896. The primary traffic was tobacco leaf for export from the plantations. By 1903, there was a network of 193 km, consisting of a main line from Jesselton (present day Kota Kinabalu) to Melalap via Beaufort, where the original line branched off towards Weston.
The system was badly damaged during World War II and was largely rehabilitated; this was the system that existed at the time when Sabah became part of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963. The railway administration was not integrated with that of Malaya, and continued to operate as a separate entity. However, traffic and economic conditions meant that ongoing maintanance was less viable and by 1974 the system had been reduced to a single main line of 134 km between Tanjung Aru and Tenom.
Further depradations meant that the line closed in 2007, but reopened in 2011 following extensive rehabilitation and modernisation. It now carries regular high quality passenger and freight services, as well as a tourist passenger service. Extensions are proposed.
The first railway in Sarawak was a metre gauge line opened in 1915 between Kuching and a quarry some 16 km distant. It was planned to extend it a further 27 km, but the extension was never built. The line was financially unsuccessful and closed for public service in 1931. It continued in occasional use for stone haulage until World War II.
In 2008, a government minister announced that a new 320 km railway would form part of the development initiative known as SCORE (the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy). Following a feasibility study, design work is under way for a 200 km initial phase.
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