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History 101: Remembering Childhood Grand KTMB Diesel Locomotives

Class 93 China Locomotive Train KTMB Public Transport

KTMB operates a number of locomotives manufactured by different manufacturers & countries and one of the most modern ones would be the slick 19 units of Class 93, Electric Intercity and Komuter trains manufactured by CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive, China. It is capable of achieving speeds up to 180 kilometres per hour although my recent experience had the train running at a moderately slow speed. Image source: Wikipedia.

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Personal Experience

Ever since we had our own cars at home, taking the train is no longer an option for us to travel except occasionally for fun or when we find that we need to travel but find parking difficult or when we are just too lazy to drive into town.

So most of our most memorable experience travelling on a train comes from our childhood when there is no car at home and thus we often take the train when going to Taiping or Butterworth. It is a long journey but never once we had been bored with it. We were too young to take the steam-powered locomotives but were able to travel in the early diesel-powered locomotives starting with the Class 20.

In the years of 1950s to 1980s when highways were non-existence and when one want to travel across the country, taking the train is the preferred affordable & safest form of transport as compared to driving as not many had private cars or taking the stuffy, overloaded buses. Another is to hire private taxis which mostly are the rugged Mercedes Benz models but you may need to share them with others.

I recall taking trains with revolving fans on the ceilings which did not do much to reduce the heat inside the coach. Lights were often dim, especially on the sleeper train and once we had even taken a train where the seat is made from wood which was super uncomfortable. These days we have full airconditioned passenger coaches which provide ample comfort for long journeys. Each train will have one coach dedicated to the canteen where one can order hot drinks but it is usually expensive and the choice of food & drink is limited.

For food & drinks, my Dad often get it packed from home or when the train stops at small stations, you usually have the food vendors coming into the coaches to sell their wares – the food is often fresh & hot. Towards the end is the train guard coach where you will see the guard with his flags once the train is ready to depart. Also found towards the end is the special coach for postal & other small cargoes. We were not able to venture towards the end of the train as it is inaccessible to the passengers.

Understanding Co-Co, Bo-Bo & Tractive Effort

Interestingly there are 2 different types of wheel arrangements for locomotives mostly the Co-Co types which are primarily used in KTMB trains as well.

Co-Co is the wheel arrangement for diesel and electric locomotives with two six-wheeled bogies with all axles powered, with a separate traction motor per axle. Co-Cos are most suited to freight work as the extra wheels give them good traction. They are also popular because the greater number of axles results in a lower axle load to the track.

(Source: Wikipedia)


Bo-Bo is the UIC[citation needed] indication of a wheel arrangement for railway vehicles with four axles in two individual bogies, all driven by their own traction motors. It is a common wheel arrangement for modern electric and diesel-electric locomotives, as well as power cars in electric multiple units.

Most early electric locomotives shared commonalities with the steam engines of their time. These features included side rods and frame-mounted driving axles with leading and trailing axles. The long rigid wheelbase and the leading and trailing axles reduced cornering stability and increased weight.

The Bo-Bo configuration allowed for higher cornering speeds due to the smaller rigid wheelbase. Furthermore, it allowed better adhesion because all the wheels were now powered. Due to the absence of frame-mounted wheels no leading or trailing axles were necessary to aid cornering, reducing weight and maintenance requirements.

(Source: Wikipedia)


In railway engineering, the term tractive effort is often used synonymously with tractive force to describe the pulling or pushing capability of a locomotive.

In order to start a train and accelerate it to a given speed, the locomotive(s) must develop sufficient tractive force to overcome the train’s drag, which is a combination of axle bearing friction, the friction of the wheels on the rails (which is substantially greater on curved track than on tangent track), and the force of gravity if on a grade.

Once in motion, the train will develop additional drag as it accelerates due to aerodynamic forces, which increase with the square of the speed. Drag may also be produced at speed due to truck (bogie) hunting, which will increase the rolling friction between wheels and rails. If the acceleration continues, the train will eventually attain a speed at which the available tractive force of the locomotive(s) will exactly offset the total drag, causing acceleration to cease.

This top speed will be increased on a downgrade due to gravity assisting the motive power and will be decreased on an upgrade due to gravity opposing the motive power.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Class 20 England Locomotive Train KTMB Public Transport

Key features of a Class 20 locomotive is the huge light at the front, a small driver windscreen and a huge lump in the front known as the bulldog nose. Image source: Wikipedia/Chuanzheng1901

KTMB Class 20

The first diesel electric-powered train that was used by KTMB after Merdeka was the Class 20 which was manufactured in England by English Electric Co. Ltd. Associated and was put in service in 1957. About 26 units of Class 20 trains were put in service, and its American bulldog nose design was rather frightening. The Class 20 design is not limited to only KTMB trains but it is widely used in many other countries namely in ex-Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand. In active service, it is named after major flowers in Malaysia.

Whilst there is less information on the specifications of the Class 20, there is a similar model & design (DF 1501) is deployed in New Zealand by English Electric Co. Ltd. DF1501 is manufactured in 1954 in England and weighs about 107 tonnes. It has a fuel capacity of 2,500 litres, a power output of 1,500 horsepower and is capable of achieving a top speed of 97 kilometres per hour. It has a tractive effort of 54,000.

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KTMB Class 21

Then in 1965, KTMB decided on getting 25 units of diesel electric-powered locomotives manufactured by Kisha Seizo, Japan which had a more modern but more nimble design compared to the older, large Class 20. Kisha Seizo has been manufacturing locomotives since late 1800 until the 1970s when it merged with Kawasaki Heavy Industries. In active service, it is named after major rivers in Malaysia.

It is said that it uses a Mercedes Benz MB 820 diesel engine and weighs about 52 tonnes which is much lighter than the earlier Class 20. It has a power output of 1,060 horsepower and a tractive effort of 35,000. Not much information is available on its top speed or range.

Class 22 England Locomotive Train KTMB Public Transport

By the 1970s, English-sourced locomotives for KTMB showed a more modern design although the large light at the front remained. It looked more nimble which is similar to the modern Japanese design which one can be sure derived from the Class 21 design. Image source: Wikipedia/Chuanzheng1901

KTMB Class 22

In 1971, KTMB introduced another new class by buying 40 units of diesel-electric locomotives manufactured in the UK by the same English Electric who also provided the older Class 20 but surprisingly in a similar design as the Japanese-made Class 21. In active service, it is named after Malaysia towns & cities.

It weighs almost 83 tonnes, has a power output of 1,500 horsepower and has a fuel capacity of 3,600 litres. It has the same top speed as Class 20 which is 97 kilometres per hour and a tractive effort of 58,000. This class is still in service in limited tracks in the country.

Class 23 Japanese Locomotive Train KTMB Public Transport

KTMB continued to procure locomotives with similar nimble but clean designs and switched back to the Japanese for its next class of locomotives. Image source: Wikipedia/Chuanzheng1901

KTMB Class 23

Then in 1983, KTMB decided to switch back to locomotives from England & back to Japan with 15 units of diesel-electric locomotives bought from Hitachi Ltd. Japan. In its active service with KTMB, the locomotives were named after moral values in Bahasa Malaysia. It has a higher power output at 2,160 horsepower with a top speed of 110 kilometres per hour. Like Class 21, this Japanese class is also using a European-based diesel-electric engine.

The overall design looked very similar to Class 21 & Class 22 with its house-like roof at the front above the driver’s cabin and a tractive effort of 46,400.

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KTMB Class 24

The procurement of locomotives from Japan continued with 26 units of locomotives in 1987 from Toshiba Corporation Japan manufactured in association with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd. Japan. In active service, it is named after Malays folklore warriors & heroes. It has a reduced power output from 3,300 horsepower to 2,400 horsepower due to overheating problems and is equipped with a similar engine source as Class 23.

Class 24 has a top speed of 120 kilometres per hour and a tractive effort of 43,400.

Class 25 US Locomotive Train KTMB Public Transport

A very classic American locomotive design is well evident in KTMB’s Class 25 locomotives and this was initially used as a freight locomotive considering it has the largest tractive effort in the KTMB’s fleet. Image source: Wikipedia/Chuanzheng1901

Final Say

Interestingly KTMB also procured locomotives from Europe, India, the US and in recent years from China which are now spearheading the technology in urban railways & public transportation. A number of the older class locomotives are still in active service in some parts of the railway lines.

With modern locomotives, the journey names have become less romantic with names like the InterCity, ETS, etc when gone were the days we had fancy names like Sinaran Pagi. Senandung Malam, etc. Damn, I do miss the good old days when travelling on trains was a good memorable experience.

Travelling on trains these days has no longer the norm considering that it is cheaper and faster to drive to any destination. Highways and even state roads have greatly improved and the toll is indeed cheaper than the train ticket prices. However, if one has not travelled on the trains, one should do so for the experience alone.

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