The International Steam Pages

Steam in West Malaysia 1996

Fergus Moffat has provided the following account of the locomotive and railway background to the short-lived Peninsular Line luxury train project between Singapore and Tampin (steam hauled from Gemas) on the Malayan Railway. Click here for some more pictures of the short-lived Peninsular Line luxury train project.


The first line of railway in Malaya was opened in 1885. A brief 7 miles in length, and built to the metre gauge that would become the national standard, it conveyed tin ore from mines near Taiping in the northern state of Perak to Port Weld. The main line between Perai (near Butterworth) in the north of the county and Johore Bahru in the extreme south was eventually completed-by the joining of the last of several isolated sections-in 1909. In 1918 the Thai border at Padang Besar was reached and in 1923 the island of Singapore was linked by the strategic causeway, thus rendering the Federated Malay States Railway a national system. The so-called East Coast Line extending from Gemas up the centre of the West Malaysian peninsular to the coastal town of Tumpat adjacent to Kota Bahru would not be completed until 1931.

Between 1885 and 1919 around 223 locomotives of varying classes were supplied to FMSR, however financial constraints during the 1920's resulted in a lull in motive power acquisition with only 68 locomotives being supplied during this period. Improvements, though, continued to be made to the West Coast Main Line (Singapore-Gemas-Perai) and construction was progressing on the aforementioned East Coast Line from Gemas to Tumpat, thus increasing the demand for motive power.


Constructed to reasonably light engineering standards (eg 60-801b rail, with some curves as severe as 7 chains' radius), FMSR was a typical British colonial medium-gauge railway system for which steam locomotives of the 4-6-2 wheel arrangement were ideal. Pioneered by the New Zealand Government Railways with their Q Class, built by Baldwin in the USA in 1901, this new wheel arrangement came to be known as "Pacific" due to its first use being by the railway of a Pacific nation-and of course the fact that the locomotives had been shipped across the Pacific Ocean.

The 4-6-2 classification refers to the locomotive having four lead wheels (2 axles carried on a swivelling bogie or pony truck), six main driving wheels (coupled by side-rods and comprising the rigid wheelbase of the locomotive), and two trailing wheels (carried as a single-axle trailing truck). The four-wheeled leading bogie provides lateral stability and leads the locomotive safely into curves, the six coupled driving wheels transfer the thrust from the cylinders into motive force or tractive effort at the rail, and the two trailing wheels support the weight of the large firebox which hangs behind the rearmost set of driving wheels rather than between them.

This wheel arrangement provided a short wheelbase for easy negotiation of sharp curves, enabled use of a wide firebox (important in a country whose coal reserves were generally of a low calorific value), had a forgiving axle-weight for use on lighter track, and was well-balanced for free-running. It was also ideal for a mixed-traffic locomotive (ie one hauling both freight and passenger trains) and was thus an obvious choice for FMSR.

In 1907 the railway began receiving the first in a long line of Pacific locomotives - the Class H1 (later to be renamed Class 501) - from Kitson and Co. in England.


The Class H1 proved very successful and FMSR continued to order locomotives of the 4-6-2 wheel arrangement, albeit with significant design improvements being incorporated into each successive batch. Each major design upgrade resulted in a completely new class of locomotive until finally - in 1938 - Malaya's ultimate steam locomotive type, the Class O appeared.

Designed by Mr. H. M, Le Fleming, FMSR Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer, in collaboration with the North British Locomotive Co. Ltd. of Glasgow, Scotland, the design of the Class O (this first batch of 11 being designated O1) was probably influenced by the increase at the time in the loading of the premier Mail trains on the West Coast Main Line, up to 10 coaches. In designing these new locomotives a decision had also been made to provide a locomotive with a wider route availability than the heavier Class S which were restricted to the West Coast line.

The Class O1 (later to become Class 561) evolved - in 1939 - into the Class O2 (6 locomotives, later to be Class 562), then in 1940 into the O3 (another 11 locomotives, to become Class 563), and eventually - in 1946 - to the 40 locomotives of Class O4 (Class 564). FMSR now had 68 locomotives of Class O, making a total of 167 Pacific types to be delivered between 1907 and 1947.

All of these Class 56 locomotives were of 3-cylinder design, as had been the final batch of the preceding Class S (later Class 55). This arrangement permitted the two outside cylinders to be of more modest proportion, thus decreasing the overall width of the locomotive, as well as better utilising the capacity of the boiler and minimising the hammer-blow effect to the track of the engine's reciprocating parts.

The three piston and connecting rod assemblies drive the middle axle at 120 degree crank angles-the centre assembly operating between the frames. From the middle or intermediate axle the drive is transmitted to the leading and trailing driving axles by conventional side-rods. A 3-cylinder drive helps to provide more torque to the driving wheels and reduces the tendency of the locomotive to slip in conditions of poor adhesion.

Being designed for operation on a main route having a maximum permitted axle-load of 12 tons, great care was taken to reduce weight wherever possible. A bar frame design was utilised for the chassis, and the boiler shell was constructed of nickel steel. The inner firebox was also of steel.

Modern steam locomotive technology was incorporated on the Class 56 in the form of Rotary Cam poppet valve gear, thermic syphons, and roller bearings.

Having been introduced to Malayan railways in 1930 on a batch of 4-6-4 tank locomotives and applied in 1932 to the final batch of Class 55 locomotives, RC valve gear utilised poppet valves instead of slide or piston valves to control the admission and exhaust of steam to-and-from the engine cylinders. Benefits included reduced maintenance and finer control of "cut-off" (the event during the power stroke at which the admission of steam into the cylinders of a steam engine is stopped or 'cut off' by the valves as set by the driver through use of the reverse control).

Thermic syphons are large-diameter pipes that connect the lower front sheet (or throat plate) of the firebox to the crown sheet forming the top of the firebox. At least two are usually installed, and their position and shape are designed to provide additional heating surface exposed to firebox gases and to encourage the circulation of boiler water from the base to the crown of the firebox. This permits the locomotive to operate with a lower design boiler water level, which provides a greater steam space. A fortuitous side effect is that the dynamic circulatory water flow promoted by thermic syphons can save the day (and possible the lives of crew) in the unhappy event of a low-water emergency. In 1962, locomotives 564.36 and 564.40 had their thermic syphons removed. Although without her brick arch today (as a result of her conversion to oil-firing) 564.36 retains the supporting arch tubes and does not appear to have demonstrably suffered from the modification.

The Class 56 locomotives were provided with smoke deflector wings on each side of the smoke box. This appears to have been because of characteristics noted in the UK of locomotives fitted with RC valve gear seemingly exhibiting a less-than-sharp exhaust and thus poor draught on the fire, resulting in the exhaust stack emissions drifting down over the boiler and obscuring the drivers' forward vision. This tendency is not apparent when operating Temerloh today - the smoke deflectors seeming to be more an ornament than a requirement.

With a well-designed layout of heating surfaces, the Class 56 boiler is a most efficient steam generator and can produce quantities of superheated steam generous enough to enable sustained high speed running. By 1955 the prestigious Mail trains were the exclusive preserve of the Class 56 which were easily able to maintain 80km/hr (50 mph) on the roller coaster profile between Singapore and Gemas. Tests have proven these locomotives capable of 112km/hr (70 mph).

The class were all named after Malaysian towns or cities, and the locomotive that has been refurbished by Peninsular Line Services Pte. Ltd, and that remains owned by KTMB (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad, or Malayan National Railways Ltd.), as the original FMSR is now called, is No 564.36 Temerloh, named after a major regional centre on the East Coast line. Following usual practice, cast nameplates are carried on the boiler-one side in English, the other in the local Jawi Arabic script, representing the predominantly Muslim ethnicity of Malaysia.

Between 1949 and 1954 the Class 56 fleet were converted at Kuala Lumpur's Sentul Railway Workshops to burn oil, and No 564.36 nowadays burns the same diesel fuel as do the railways' diesel-electric locomotives.

With the exception of one locomotive destroyed by Japanese bombing, all of the class survived the Second World War and the hazards of the subsequent Communist emergency. At the end of regular steam operation in 1974 there were around 40 of the class still in service. By 1984 the number was down to one - No 564.36, Temerloh. Two others are rusting quietly away, serving sadly as railway station decorations, poignant reminders of the glory days of steam, and hardly noticed by passengers passing through on the modern, air-conditioned express trains.

Click the picture for a large size diagram.


For some years during the 1980's and early 90's, Temerloh was maintained in minimal operating condition for infrequent specials. Then in 1995 the creators of the Peninsular Line train were looking for a suitable steam locomotive to promote their nostalgic luxury tourist rail service. Agreement was reached with KTMB for Peninsular Line Services Pte. Ltd. to refurbish and use the locomotive, and early in 1996 a Western Australian engineering firm with experience in steam locomotive restoration and operation began work at Sentul workshops on an intensive 4-month project to restore Temerloh to reliable operating condition.

The task in hand

Temerloh's cosmetic face-lift belies her true condition as she poses at Sentul
Railway Workshops in Kuala Lumpur in 1995, prior to refurbishment.

This project was duly accomplished and the locomotive-resplendent in the major Peninsular Line colour of Royal Blue-was relocated to Gemas and commenced to operate the train between there and Tampin, the station for Malacca, destination for the trains' passengers. In so-doing, No 564.36 regularly recreated the hey-day of Malaysian railways steam operation when it backed onto Peninsular Line train No 30 (ex Singapore as No 58 Up Mail) at Gemas and departed westward for Tampin as it would have done so often in years gone by.

In deference to her age and boiler certification requirements, Temerloh's operating boiler pressure has been reduced from 250 to 225psi. Other concessions to her modern-day environment include the provision of a driver's A-6 automatic air brake valve, a separate emergency air brake valve, and appropriate air brake piping with attendant angle cocks and hoses on each headstock. Temerloh, of course, was a vacuum-braked locomotive and operated only on vacuum-braked trains throughout her previous life. The locomotive itself is still vacuum-braked but the aforementioned air brake equipment enables the driver to control the air-braked rollingstock she now hauls.

Coupled to the locomotive tender is an adaptor wagon fitted with an automatic coupler, which facilitates connection with the modern KTMB and Peninsular Line coaches. Profiled to match the tender, this wagon includes a large auxiliary water tank to extend the locomotive's operating range, plus a diesel compressor to supply air for braking and other on-train uses,

As the last operating steam locomotive in Malaysia, Temerloh is a valuable historical asset for the country, and all who were involved with the Peninsular Line operation are proud of her restoration and to have been associated with KTMB in her operation,

Sadly, the Peninsular Line service has not survived but Temerloh herself remains with KTMB as a fitting reminder of a formative era in the development of SE Asian rail transport.

Haji Shamsuddin, MALAYAN RAILWAY 1885-1985 LOCOMOTIVE CENTENNIAL (Penerbit Hidayah)
M.A. Fawzi Basri SEJARAH KERETAPI Dl MALAYSIA (A History of the Railway in Malaysia) In Bahasa Malaysia (KTM)
J.A. Stannistreet, KERETAPI TANAH MELAYU, The Malayan Railway (The Oakwood Press)
Ron Ziel and Mike Eagleson. THE TWILIGHT OF WORLD STEAM (Hamlyn)
Brian Hollingsworth , RAILWAYS OF THE WORLD (Bison Books/W.H. Smith & Son Ltd.)
O.S. Nock. THE BRITISH STEAM RAILWAY LOCOMOTIVE 1925-1965 (lan Allen Ltd. 1966)

The Malayan railway forms part of a metre-gauge system running from Singapore up through Thailand, (temporarily into Burma during the second World War), and Cambodia. Laos is almost reached via a railhead on the south bank of the Menam Khong (Mekong) River opposite Viangchan (Vientiane). Trackage is expected to be eventually laid across a new bridge provided by Australian aid funds, thus directly accessing this Laotian city.

Running east from Thailand into Cambodia, the system is truncated at Phnom Penh leaving a gap across the Mekong delta of some 230km before the metre-gauge continues via the railways of Vietnam to two northern interchanges with China, There is constant speculation about extending the Cambodian connection into Ho Chi Minh City. There have also been proposals for a landbridge connection across the narrowest part of the Thai/Malaysian Peninsula. This has no doubt been quietly shelved due to pressure from powerful Singaporean shipping interests.

The permanent way across the island of Singapore and the causeway is Malaysian territory. The rail connection to Singapore's dockland areas in Tanjong Pagar and around the southern perimeter of the island has been discontinued and freight is now trucked to-and-from the wharves, however, numerous container and oil tank trains are still marshalled at KTMB's inner-city Keppel Rd freight yards and despatched north each day. The venerable railway station building and land have been sold to Singaporean developers and international passenger trains now arrive at and depart from a new facility in Woodlands in the northern part of the island.

Tim Light added the following comment (15th Spetember 2001): "This is not entirely true, at least it wasn't last month. On arival at Woodlands from KL we had to detrain with all our luggage and enter an airport-style immigration lounge where we passed through immigration and customs. We then had to wait for a further 40 minutes while the train was searched for contraband, before being allowed on board for the final 15 minute ride into the old Singapore station. This is a totally ludicrous situation, especially after a seven hour journey from KL, and seems designed to emphasise the fact that Singapore and Malaysia are different countries which don't like each other very much, rather than for any practical reason. There is a similar carry-on when leaving Singapore. At Singapore station, the northbound platform is technically Malaysian territory, and you have to pass through immigration before you can enter the platform. Then at Woodlands you get off the train, and "officially" leave Singapore through the same immigration lounge where you entered, before reboarding the train and crossing the causeway. So technically you enter Malaysia before you leave Singapore!!!!"

Planning for double-tracking and 140km/hr electrification between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have been on hold since the Asian financial crisis. Since the withdrawal of steam operations from Malaysian railways, most locomotives have been scrapped, with many boilers going to stationary duties on rubber and palm-oil plantations. The locomotive that is the subject of this treatise had been maintained for some years in a rather indifferent condition by KTMB for infrequent special trips - usually to Batu Caves on the northern outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

This maintenance had been managed by a local entrepreneur with railway administration as well as plantation business connections. Many spare parts had been squirrelled away by this worthy individual and it took a determined effort by the author and his retired steam fitter to locate useful parts still extant around the system, Eventually, with senior KTMB assistance, the keys to the treasure chest were literally obtained and certain doors at the lpoh Railway Workshops eventually unlocked. Retired fitter Mr. Nadarajah's expertise was also invaluable in identifying and cataloguing all items specific to the 564 Class. A container load of parts was eventually assembled and despatched to Gemas, the operational base for the Peninsular Line steam service. The Malaysian community generally is much less interested in restored steam operation than we in many western countries are used to. The crewing of Temerloh proved to be a problematic issue as there were few enginemen with either the recency of experience or the inclination to be involved. Most preferred the relative comfort of their diesel cabs and some perceived that being rostered to operate the steam locomotive would result in a reduction in their income. This concern was not completely without foundation, and although Peninsular Line attempted to get KTMB to accept payment of an allowance to steam crews, we were unsuccessful.

malay02.jpg (40142 bytes)

Train 30 Up from Gemas has arrived in Tampin. KTMB Senior Driver Wahid Karim
and Peninsular Line steam fitter S. Nadarajah seek relief from the sultry heat.

With a sense of desperation borne of a fast-approaching deadline for the inaugural journey, Peninsular Line were able to secure permission for qualified staff from the Australian contractor tasked with the locomotive's restoration to operate the first trips and supervise the training of enginemen returning to steam operations on behalf of our service. Despite this, the Peninsular Line service eventually operated with one full-time (and enthusiastic) crew backed up by a second when required. Early operations between Gemas and Tampin were limited to steam haulage in one direction only, due to delays in getting the turntable-removed from the old Kuala Lumpur roundhouse at Brickfields - installed at a new location at Tampin. This necessitated diesel haulage in one direction with the steam locomotive attached at the rear of the train, and trailing under light steam. Although limited to 60km/hr, this operation lasted longer than originally envisioned and had a deleterious effect on the locomotive's motion and running gear.

malay01.jpg (45487 bytes)

Temerloh and her attendant auxiliary wagon wait in the dock spur line at Gemas
railway station, before hauling another Peninsular Line service to Tampin and return.

This then, is a brief history of the 564 Class Malaysian standard Pacific, the ultimate in Malayan steam power and arguably "one of the neatest and most handsome little machines, both in their looks and in their design".

Firebox interior

Prior to refurbishment. Firebox interior showing the water tubes once used to support the brick arch during the locomotive's coal-burning days. Note also the larger openings in the tube plate. These are the superheater flues, and visible within a number of them are the burnt and abraded return bends of several superheater elements. The generous combustion chamber in front of the tube plate is evident, as are the effects of several water leaks. Worn and burnt refractory can be seen in the lower front corners of the firebox. The thermic syphons originally installed were removed from Temerloh and sister locomotive No. 564.40 in 1962, however the arch tubes shown here have a similar - though much less dynamic - effect.

Poetry in (a) motion

Rotary Cam Motion The eccentric crank on the main crankpin (both sides) drives a worm gear within the return crank gearbox that is suspended from the motion bracket via an anchor link. The worm gear imparts rotation to a cardan shaft that extends forward through the motion plate (where a universal joint accommodates vertical and lateral suspension movement) into the cam box located in the steam chest. The cardan shaft, in turn, drives a lateral camshaft by which variable-profile cams actuate the poppet valves as required by the degree of cut-off set by the locomotive driver. To their eternal credit - and unlike any other railway that had experimented with RC poppet valve Gear-the FMSR made enough of a success of this sophisticated system for it to become their standard.

This table compares the Malaysian National Railways standard Class 04 (1000mm gauge), New Zealand Government Railways Class AB (1067mm gauge}, and the Western Australian Government Railways Class PM/PMR (1067mm gauge) Pacific-type 4-6-2 locomotives, and graphically highlights some similarities.

Built by the North British Locomotive Co. Ltd. of Glasgow, Scotland, for light-weight, medium-gauge, "colonial" railway systems, this trio of locomotives shows how a builder can apply tried and proven design features and standard dimensions to good effect. The designs differ according to the client railways' loading gauge, standard of permanent way, design and disposition of infrastructure, expected general use, and personal preferences of the respective Chief Mechanical Engineers.

Note that the metre-gauge O4 is the highest and widest of the three. The old FMSR was obviously built to a relatively generous loading gauge. Like the WAGR, the Malaysian railway is generally unhindered by tunnels and extreme curvature - two features uniquely characteristic of New Zealand's mountainous railway system.

Likewise, consider the engine units. The O4 has 3 cylinders - they being the smallest of this group of locomotives - whereas the other types each boast 2 significantly larger cylinders. Despite this, the O4 has a total of 934in3 of cylinder capacity, the NZGR AB has 884in3, and the WAGR PM/PMR just 768in3. This relatively generous cylinder capacity plus a higher operating boiler pressure help to overcome its smaller total heating surface and grate area, and provide the O4 with a very respectable Tractive Effort of almost 24.000 lbs.

Year Built 1946 1921-3 &1925 1949-50

North British Locomotive Company

Number built 40 83 35
Height 12'9" 11'5" 12'6"
Width (outside cab) 9'0" 7'4" 8'10"
Length (engine and tender) 56'4" 62'5" 63'7"
Total Wheelbase (Engine and Tender) 51'6" 52'6" 55'3"
Driving Rigid Wheelbase 10'0"
Driving Wheel Diameter 4'6"
Weight in Working Order
(engine and tender)
100.5t 91.4t 109.05t
Tender Weight 44.3t 37.5t 45.75t
Maximum Axleload 12.75t 11.3t 13.9t
Cylinders (Diameter x Stroke) 13"x24" (3) 17"x26" (2) 19"x24"
Boiler Pressure 250psi (original) 180psi 175psi
Boiler Diameter 4'8" (front)
5'4" (rear)
4'6" (front)
4'6" (rear)
4'7" (front)
4'9" (rear)
Total Heating Surface 385 sq ft 204 sq ft 363 sq ft
Firegrate Area 27 sq ft (original) 33 sq ft 35 sq ft
Tractive Effort 23 940 lb 20 000 lb (80%)
21290 lb (85%)
25 855 lb
Tender Water Capacity 3 430 gal 3 700 gal 4 000 gal
Tender Fuel Capacity 10.0 t (coal/oil) 4.5 t (coal) 8.0 t (coal)

Rob Dickinson