The International Steam Pages

Going Back, Penang 2009, Part 1

For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:

After our visit to Burma and transit in Thailand, we had an extended visit to Penang - click here for the main index page.

It seemed that the Gods did not totally approve of our plans to visit Penang. Our stay in Burma was plagued by the failure of the monsoon rains to clear and lasted longer than expected. While we had originally intended to travel down the east side of Peninsular Malaysia and then through Sumatra en route that never happened owing to domestic problems in Beijing. And, when we arrived in Bangkok, we were told that the international train would terminate in Hatyai owing to industrial action.

However, making a last minute check at the station on arrival revealed that the dispute had been resolved and that we still had just enough time to buy a ticket and rush down the platform to join what is these days a very sad and diminished version of what was once a glorious institution. It was perfectly comfortable of course and extremely good value still, but I guess there were barely 20 passengers, most people these days prefer to fly. Our alternative would have been a bus but that is always second best to us. At the border, Yuehong's multi-entry visa completely threw the staff and the supervisor had to phone her own boss to ask for instructions, but it was soon sorted and there was a long wait for departure time - this is the train waiting to depart Padang Besar with an Indian YDM4 on the front:

In the good old days, traffic on the 'Kedah branch' was best described as 'light', but now there is significant container traffic and we passed four long trains of them, being shunted into the loop each time so they could have the easier passage. Alongside, a brand new railway is being built, it will also be metre gauge, but will be double track and most likely electrified. In the strange way of the world, there is no sign of any upgrading on the Thai side so if traffic continues to grow, I guess much of it will have to go north by road. Anyway, in the meantime the original signalling arrangements are still in place (as, I am told, they are on the main line between Prai and Ipoh, Butterworth having always been colour light as it only dates from when the swing bridge was added).

It is an absolute delight, these pictures being taken at Arau:

"W. B. and S." is, of course, "Westinghouse Brake and Signal" of London and Chippenham and the patent date is 1924 so I guess the installation is about 80 years old. Inside the token apparatus was immaculate, note the old pictures of steam locomotives on the wall:

The bell seems to be a feature of the stations here, much loved and still used to announce departures, I am not sure whether the safe is still used:

It was almost a disappointment when the northbound train lumbered through and we had to continue south:

With the crossings we were a little late into Butterworth where we were greeted by two old friends. The Pacific is 564.25, 'Kuala Lumour', one of three of the class confirmed extant. The British built diesel shunter will also date from just after World War 2:

Of course we ignored the usual bunch of lying taxi drivers who wanted us to use the bridge and took the ferry and, as always, Yuehong complained that I had understated the panorama...:

To be honest the above picture is what Photoshop threw at me when I applied 'Autolevels' but it's a pretty fair artist's impression! Here was my first sign that not everything in Penang would have changed:

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson