The KL – Ipoh KTM Intercity Shuttle: Precursor to the KTM ETS

KTM’s rapid intercity service, more popularly known as the Electric Train Service (ETS), began in earnest in 2010 with five EMUs designated the Class 91 ETS plying the route between KL Sentral and Ipoh, following the completion of the Rawang – Ipoh double tracking project (RIDT) three years earlier.

The service was a huge hit with passengers, as it enabled travel between the two cities in less than three hours. Compare this with the locomotive-hauled interim shuttle service that ran between the two, taking three hours. Even that was still better than in the days of yore before double tracking, where the same locomotive-hauled train would take three and a half hours. Express bus services plying KL – Ipoh via the PLUS highway were laughing to the bank, packed with passengers doing the trip in 2.5 hours. But was the roots of this shuttle service that came before the ETS?

In 2008, a year after RIDT was completed, the KL – Ipoh shuttle train service was introduced to fill the gap while waiting for arrival of the Class 91 ETS which would not reach Malaysian shores from Hyundai Rotem’s plant in South Korea in 2009. The service, worked with conventional locomotives (Class 23/24/25 and the ocassional 26 or 29), coaches (3 second class seaters – ASC – coaches, routinely increased to four or five once demand started picking up, and one economy class seater – the AEC) and a Power Generator Car (PGC) began to turn the tables on the buses, even though it was still slightly slower than buses at three hours. It was a huge hit from the start, with five daily services in each direction. They called at Sungai Buloh, Rawang, Tanjung Malim, Slim River, Sungkai, Tapah Road, Kampar and Batu Gajah. Even at this stage, prospective passengers were complaining because tickets for the services would quickly sell out. The shuttle trains could travel at up to 100km/h, owing to the limitation of the rolling stock used (KVDT tracks at certain stretches allow up to 110km/h; the then-new completed RIDT raised this up to 140km/h, especially North of Sungkai). At three hours and eight intermediate stops, the service managed to clock an average start-stop speed of 70km/h. This may not seem much but remember, prior to the double tracking of the RIDT it was even worse. The 207km was done in 3.5 hours, giving an average start-stop speed of 60km/h.

A KL-Ipoh intercity shuttle service worked by a Class 29 locomotive at Batu Gajah station. Note the single economy class (AEC) coach right after the PGC.

Following the arrival and launch of the ETS service using the Class 91 ETS EMUs from Hyundai Rotem, at first the shuttle services were maintained and run as complement to them. The ETS service managed to do the route in a good 40 minutes faster than the shuttles (average start-stop speed of 88km/h) owing to its better acceleration and higher maximum operational speed. Barely a year later, following a rationalisation exercise to strengthen the ETS brand and not run competing services within KTM, the shuttle service was finally withdrawn and the rolling stock reallocated for services elsewhere on the network.

Today, passengers have grown blase to the timing and speed of the ETS, to the point they probaby don’t even remember what it was like travelling with the conventional locomotive-hauled train. In fact, most probably don’t remember, never mind urge the return for, the KL – Ipoh Intercity shuttle. They were the last vestiges of the days when you travel behind a noisy locomotive, chugging along the countryside as you see road traffic overtake you. Nevertheless it was an important stopgap that introduced the public to the potential of a faster train service prior to the ETS.

Follow our installment on the ETS next!

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