Recently reopened in 2011 after a nearly five year closure, the North Borneo Railway is a historic bit of Malaysian transportation as well as the only rail line currently operating in the state of Sabah. Originally constructed in 1896 as a means of transporting tobacco from the lush interior of the island to the distant coast, the North Borneo railway now serves as a semi-practical means of moving passengers and cargo in the same fashion it once employed for nearly a century.
Unless you’re a train buff, it’s difficult to discern whether or not the North Borneo Railway can be considered a tourist attraction. Running from the town of Tanjung Aru near Kota Kinabalu to the town of Tenom in the lush interior, the entire journey takes a little over two hours and passes through landscapes which range from the Sabah coastline to open fields cleared by deforestation.
Surprisingly modern, the train is able to carry a passenger load of 180 people and offers same-day return trips from outside Kota Kinabalu to the interior town of Beaufort and back. Those wanting to travel by train from Beaufort to Tenom must first spend a night in Beaufort, a mild inconvenience which if timed to coincide with the Friday and Saturday town market can make for an agreeable stopover.
As the rail line can sometimes be susceptible to closures from heavy rains, mechanical maintenance, or even landslides, it’s highly recommended that those wanting to ride the North Borneo Railway check with the station manager by phone on Tanjung Aru prior to departure.