The Definitive 2017 Guide to Train Travel in Penang

Learn how to navigate Northern Malaysia's train system with confidence and know where, when and how you can travel on rails in 2017 from Penang and Butterworth.

Train Travel in Penang
The waiting area of Butterworth KTM train station (picture by Kit Yeng Chan)

Penang Train travel? We love it: besides Uber and Grab, with the introduction of the ETS train system in Malaysia, taking trains has become one of the most comfortable ways to travel overland in the Peninsula. Penang was not immune to this transformation; on the contrary, with the refurbishment of Penang Sentral — which is set to become the hub of Northern Malaysia’s land transportation — there’s plenty that’s changed already. This is a guide to make sense of train travel from Penang.

Most train schedules have been re-adjusted and confirmed in February 2017. This guide is intended to clearly explain when, where and how you can go by train from Butterworth KTM station — situated on the mainland right opposite George Town’s ferry terminal, this is Penang’s main rail link.

PenangTrainTravelGuide
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Together with other important first-time visitor tips, please remember that, since the arrival of the ETS lines, Butterworth is no longer the “train hub” it used to be, and that most of the connections with ETS services from Kuala Lumpur and Padang Besar (the other end of the line, right next to the Thai border) now stop in nearby Bukit Mertajam, rather than Butterworth.

Alas, this post focuses on what trains you can get from Penang/Butterworth — the train station located right across the Straits Sea from George Town, easily reachable by a free ferry ride (available 1/3 times per hour from 6 am to 1 am every day) and a 10min walk.

penang train travel guide
The George Town/Butterworth ferry, a great journey in itself (picture by Kit Yeng Chan)

You have 3 main options:

1Southbound Trains from Penang to Kuala Lumpur

Reaching the capital is easy, comfortable, and considerably quicker since Malaysia introduced the new ETS (Electric Train System) in 2016.

There are Platinum and Gold services, reaching KL Sentral in respectively 4hr and 4hr30min.
Tickets cost respectively RM79 and RM59, the only difference being that Gold services make more stops in a few more stations along the way.

All of the ETS train services also stop in Ipoh, the beautiful capital of Perak state, which we recommend you visit.

Current schedules from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur are as follows:

  1. 4.45am (Platinum)
  2. 6.10am (Gold)
  3. 7.33am (Gold)
  4. 1.30pm (Platinum)
  5. 4.05pm (Gold)

2Southbound KTM Trains from Penang to Taiping and Kuala Kangsar

Inside the KTM train from Butterworth to the Thai border at Padang Besar (picture by Chan Kit Yeng)

Besides the fast ETS trains (electric train from KL to Penang), the main improvement is the new KTM commuter trains (which are similar to the carriages you would find in any city’s metro and MRT systems, that is, with seats aligned along the sides, below the windows, and standing space in the central aisle) created to help locals get easily (and cheaply) to work in the neighbouring towns/regions.

And they are great for visitors as well, as they cost a fraction of the ETS trains, and are not that slower, too.

The first service runs from Butterworth to Taiping, the beautiful garden town of Perak, and continues to Padang Rengas. The name of this backwater town may not say much at first, but it actually sits less than 10km west of royal city Kuala Kangsar, a place we really like, with its golden-domed Ubudiah Mosque, and not less importantly, several traces of the past life of British author Anthony Burgess.

KTM trains from Butterworth to Taiping/Padang Rengas run only twice a day at 7 am and 7 pm. But you can take any of the hourly KTM services to Padang Besar, alight at Bukit Mertajam, from where the KTM trains to Taiping/Padang Rengas run roughly every 2 hours from 5.42 am to 9.42 pm.

3Northbound KTM Trains from Penang to Padang Besar and Thailand

There used to be a time when a direct express international train left from Butterworth at 2.45pm, arriving at Bangkok Hualampong station the next day at 11 am.

The glorious times when one could travel from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok by train are long gone, but getting to Thailand’s capital is still not hard — and getting to the border is now actually a breeze.

First, a new KTM service connects Butterworth to Padang Besar every hour (except for 11 am, 1 pm and 8 pm) from 5.25am to 9.25, reaching the Thai border at Padang Besar in 1hr40min. As it only costs RM11.40, it’s by far the cheapest, easiest, fastest and more scenic way to reach the border and see Kedah’s and Perlis’ countryside.

If you are still Bangkok-bound, your best bet is taking the KTM service to Padang Besar leaving Butterworth at 2.25pm. You will alight at Padang Besar station (Malaysia side) at 4.16 pm. Go upstairs to buy a through ticket on the international train to Bangkok, leaving Padang Besar at 5.30 pm.

Alternatively, you can choose between more categories of classes and trains by getting to Hat Yay station first (catch a minivan from the border for 50 Thai Bath, or wait for one of the two daily train shuttle connections between Padang Besar and Hat Yay, leaving at 9.55am and 3.40pm).

Stay tuned, as we will soon publish a post describing this Malaysia/Thailand border crossing in detail, and the new regulations (and pain in the neck) it ensues.

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