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From Kota Kinabalu to Beaufort: Ride the train on the North Borneo Railway!

Instead of taking the usual bumpy road trip to Beaufort, you can opt to travel the scenic route by rail on the nostalgic North Borneo Railway.

Currently known as the Sabah State Railway, it is the only rail system operating in Borneo with a 134km stretch of tracks along the west coast of Sabah. Originally built for the transport of tobacco from the interior to the coast for export in the 1880s, the train has now become the mode of transport for locals to their weekly tamu visits in Tenom town and for white water rafting participants at Padas River. And also, it has become one of the unique attractions for curious travellers like me who just hop in for the train ride experience!

Train Route & Schedule

Along the rail line, there are several stops at smaller towns between Tanjung Aru and Beaufort. 

For Sabah State Rail, there are only 2 trains operating at different times from Tanjung Aru to Beaufort- 7.45 am & 5pm.

From Beaufort to Tanjung Aru, the train departs at 5 am or 11am, which means we have around one hour to explore Beaufort if we’re going on a day trip!

Train schedule from Sembulan to Tenom (source:

Train schedule from Tenom to Sembulan (source:

Otherwise, you may take the next train into the jungle heading towards Tenom to have a more traditional train ride experience on a diesel locomotive!

Unfortunately, the Beaufort-Tenom line was closed for maintenance during our visit last May. But I’m glad we still could make the most out of it.

How to Embark on the Train Ride?

There are several ways you can go about planning your train ride experience on the North Borneo Railway.

1. The No frills traditional train ride

Operated by Sabah State Railway, this is the most basic, low budget, and commonly used mode of transport among locals who travel between towns along the west coast of Sabah. You can simply get on a spontaneous train ride on the spot without any reservations needed. The train has a free-seating policy with no maximum passengers capped. Get to the ticketing counter early in order to secure a good spot on the train.

There was already a long queue when we arrived, and it wasn’t moving even though the train was about to leave soon! However, we were called to board the train first before paying as the train will depart right on time.


Fare: RM4.80 for adults, RM2.40 for children (From Tg Aru- Beaufort)

2. Book the North Borneo Railway tour

If you’re looking for comfort and colonial style train ride, you might as well book the North Borneo Railway Day tour. Privately owned by Sutera Harbour, there are five fully refurbished colonial-style passenger train carriages operating only two days a week (Wednesdays & Saturday Only).

Onboard meals are served as the steam train moves along the scenic countryside route. The North Borneo tour route only covers from Kota Kinabalu to Papar, and they will stop at two locations- Kinarut town and Papar for passengers to explore around and take some photographs.

 Reservation is needed

Fare: RM380/ pax for adults (price from Amazing Borneo)

3. Go on the white-water rafting experience

For an adventure-filled and action-packed day, sign up for the white water rafting at Padas River. The package excludes train fares; you need to purchase them on your own. Take a train to Beaufort and from there, purchase train ticket to Pangi station, and be ready for adrenaline rush at the end of your train ride.

 Booking is needed with minimum number of participants of 6 pax.

Fare: RM205/ pax including equipment and meals 

Attractions along the train ride

Due to the temporary closure of the railway from Beaufort to Tenom, our train ride journey is shortened. The train carriages from KK to Beaufort are newer and upgraded compared to the Tenom bound counterpart. There are many notable attractions along the route that make the journey even more interesting. 

The sea view somewhere near Lok Kawi

Kimanis powerplant and oil & gas terminal

Some old decommissioned trains near Beaufort station

 Our destination- Beaufort

Beaufort is a small quaint town that does not have much to offer other than the traditional rustic vibes coming from rows of old wooden shophouses. It does make an interesting pit stop for Beaufort mee and billiards (which seem to be the favourite past time for the middle-aged locals here.

We had a quick lunch at Nam Fong, located next to a billiard saloon in one of the wooden, traditional shop lots in Beaufort town. This local kopitiam is so famous for its soto and cakui that they were sold out even before lunch time. Thankfully, I managed to get the last bowl of soto. It was delicious and nicely paired with a glass of Teh C especially on a hot sunny day.

We took one last walk around Beaufort town before returning to the railway station. 

Important Tips

  • Be sure to check the latest updates from Jabatan Keretapi Sabah on the departure times or rail conditions- maintenance or closure updates, as the train or railway may sometimes experience unexpected breakdowns or disruptions due to unforeseen weather conditions.
  • Check the latest pricing for the tour/activities packages - maybe there's promo price, who knows?
  • Follow their Facebook page & join the telegram group for faster updates
  • Bring a book or snacks while enjoying the scenic train ride.
  • You may even bring your own portable chair if you’re subjected to standing and you have bad knees (I may not be kidding lol).


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