Before cars were the thing, transportation in Sabah – formerly known as North Borneo – relied heavily on trains.
In recognition of the historical significance of the railway system in Sabah, the Sabah State Museum opened up a gallery in 2017 dedicated to its locomotive industry.
Located in Sabah’s capital of Kota Kinabalu, the Railway Gallery offers a glimpse of the past through photographs and machines.
The history of Sabah Railways
In 1896, the British North Borneo Chartered Company introduced the first railway service in Sabah.
The first part of the construction was to the north heading to Beaufort at the bank of Padas river. Then, the track was extended to the south to Weston, about 100km from Kota Kinabalu.
After the Beaufort-Weston railway was completed in 1900, the construction continued from Beaufort to Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu).
Around the same time, the construction of 48km Beaufort-Tenom railways started in 1903 and completed in 1905.
A year later, the Tenom-Melalap railway was completed.
Starting 1912, the railways worked as the main transportation for the country’s most important crop, rubber.
Due to high maintenance cost, the existence of road transportation and the failure of Weston town becoming a harbour, the Beaufort-Weston and Tenom-Melalap railways were forced to close in 1963 and 1970.
A few years later, the Tanjung Aru-Jesselton railway was also closed down.
A walk through Sabah Railway Gallery
Visitors who make their way to Sabah State Museum must drop by its Railway Gallery located right behind the museum.
The gallery gives not only the historical timeline of the locomotive industry but also technical information of the old railway technology.
Putting aside the tonnes of typos, it was still fascinating to read through the descriptions on each panel.
The display of black and white photographs of now long gone railway stations and tracks give visitors a glimpse of how important this mode of transportation was back then.
There are plenty of things to see as well such as the tickets they used at the time, a weighing scale they used for parcels and telephones for station to station communication.
Plus, visitors can also sit and pose inside the passenger car imagining it’s the 1920s all over again.
If history or locomotives is your thing, the Sabah Railway Gallery is definitely a must-visit place in Kota Kinabalu.
For a real-life adventure, you can also take the North Borneo Railway which takes you from Tanjung Aru to Papar. Meanwhile, the Sabah State Railway – formerly the North Borneo Railway – still operates from Tanjung Aru to Tenom.