The North Borneo Railway features a British Vulcan steam locomotive, designed and built by the Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows, England in 1954 as part of the last order before the factory converted to diesel and electric locomotive construction. The Vulcan 6-015, a 2-6-2 carrying a green livery with polished boiler bands and red edging to the running plate and tender frame, was de-commissioned for general use in the early 1970’s by the Sabah State Railway Department. It was proudly re-launched on January 22nd, 2000, in honour of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s capital, achieving City-Status. Not only does this steam engine represent the last of a fleet of steam engines that have plied the tracks through northern Borneo since the late 1800’s, it is also one of the very few functional wood-burners left in the world.

The North Borneo Railway features six carriages that have been meticulously restored and renovated to reflect the era of the steam train. The exterior utilises the traditional deep green and cream of the original North Borneo Railway, with carved brass logos featuring the original British seal. The interior, highlighting the natural woods of Sabah, has comfortable seating and dining facilities. Every carriage provides the amenity of a modern washroom onboard. Seating accommodates 36 passengers per carriage, with a total train capacity of 180 passengers. An exotic bar car and observation deck accompanies the train, providing a comfortable lounge area to heighten the overall journey experience.

The ‘North Borneo Railway tourist train’ runs two weekly return departures from Kota Kinabalu / Papar, year round. Lasting approximately 4 hours, passengers experience the lush landscape of the coastal and rural regions of Sabah. A typical colonial lunch is served on board.


The other train services, namely the diesel powered ones are utilized by the public, it runs further past Beaufort towards Tenom. At present there are three passenger-carrying trains operating daily in each direction running the full length of the route. There is reduced service on Sundays. One of the trains running the full length route is a mix of freight and passenger service. The Beaufort – Tenom stretch of track runs through the Padas River gorge and is regarded as incredibly scenic which is not offered by the tourist train as the route is risky.

The railway is now operated by Sabah State Railway Department, which is an arm of the Sabah state administration. Current rehabilitation work on the railway is however being handled jointly by SSR along with Keretapi Tanah Melayu, the corporatised (but wholly federal government owned) railway operator for the railway network in Peninsular Malaysia. Despite this, SSR is still operationally and administratively completely separate from KTM, and uses different operational equipment. At present the railway is currently undergoing rehabilitation. This is both a short term measure to ensure continued operation, and a medium term one to improve operational safety and to somewhat modernise the system. A possible reinstatement of the Tanjung Aru to Kota Kinabalu part of the route has been considered, although it is not yet known whether or not this will be given approval.


  • The Only Train Service in Borneo
  • Nostalgic Scenery
  • Steam Powered Train

Image credit : Amazing Borneo