How to take the train between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur? A complete guide to taking the ETS

How to take the train between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur? A complete guide to taking the ETS
The KTM ETS Train in Penang, Malaysia.

Vibrant Kuala Lumpur (KL) remains a popular destination for quick weekend getaways to eat, shop and just have a change of scenery without breaking the bank for many of us.

But let's face it, those long bus rides are a drag especially if you're stuck in customs while waiting at airports and navigating customs isn't exactly fun.

Thankfully, there's another way to get to KL-by taking the train. While talks about the high-speed railway are still going on, at least there's still the option of taking the Electric Train Service (ETS). Plus, it's cheaper than a coach bus or flight (from $15), although it takes way longer, around eight hours, with 2-3 stops along the way depending on how you get to JB.

Note that there's NO DIRECT train between Singapore and KL. You'd have to take the KTM between Singapore and Johor Bahru (JB), then take two more different trains to get to KL. Check out our guide on how to take the KTM from Singapore to JB.

If you already know all that, here's how to take the train from Singapore to KL.

Travelling by train from JB Sentral to KL Sentral

The journey from Singapore to KL is done in three parts:

Part 1: Singapore > JB Sentral

To easily get to JB Sentral, take the KTM Shuttle Tebrau from Woodlands, which gets you there in five minutes.

Part 2: JB Sentral > Gemas

The train from JB Sentral to Gemas is an old diesel train, not an electric one as this part of the rail hasn't yet been electrified.

The Malaysian government is currently working on electrifying the rail from JB to Gemas and the Gemas-Johor Bahru electrified double-tracking rail project is projected to be completed by 2025.

Until then, train travellers will have to switch trains from JB Sentral to Gemas.

Gemas is a small town in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia which has nothing much going on for it.

Accounts of people who have taken the train say that it’s old but at least it’s air-conditioned, and can even get pretty cold!

  • Duration: 4h 25m to 4h 45m
  • Cost: MYR 21 (approx S$6)

Part 3: Gemas > KL Sentral

Once you reach Gemas, you have a brief stopover before being able to transfer to the electric train on the final leg to KL.

According to KTMB, the ETS is "the fastest metre gauge train service in Malaysia." The trains travel up to 140 km/h on an electrified metre-gauge rail line. The rail line goes all the way to Padang Besar, the northernmost town of Malaysia, near the border with Thailand, with stops along the way including to Ipoh and Butterworth Penang Sentral.

This train is more modern, has aircon, reclining seats and foldable trays, just like the ones you get when travelling by coach bus. All trains come with luggage racks, LED TVs, and even a food & beverage bistro.

There are three classes of tickets for the ETS:

  • ETS Platinum (fewer stops at the stations)
  • ETS Gold (stops at selected stations)
  • ETS Silver (stops at every station along the way)

However, the route between Gemas to KL Sentral is only served by ETS Gold trains and has only two timings. More on that below.

  • Duration: 2h 35m
  • Cost: MYR 30 – 33 (approx S$8.50-9.40)

Buying train tickets from JB Sentral to Gemas online

Now that you know how it works, here’s the part on how to buy tickets. Since you have to take different trains, tickets have to be booked separately. Train reservations open 30 days before departure so you’ll have ample time to book.

Step 1: Visit the official KTMB website to buy tickets

Step 2: Select the train time you want

As you can see, four trains depart daily and they’re always at the same time every day, regardless if it’s a weekday or weekend. The intervals between trains span two to six hours, so make sure you plan your Singapore to JB leg properly if you don’t want to miss your train and be stuck waiting.

Step 3: Select your seats

It’s nice that they show you the gender of who has booked the seats so you can check if it’s a male or female before confirming your reservation.

Step 4: Fill in your personal particulars before proceeding to payment

Step 5: Check your passenger details and select the payment method.

Step 6: Enter your credit card details and make the payment

This page opens in a new window once you've selected payment by credit card. And since I'm not buying a ticket, this is as far as we get. But overall, it's pretty straightforward to book and buy your ticket online in advance.

One thing to note is that if you make a mistake when keying in your details, there's no option to go back and clicking back won't help. You'll just have to restart the booking process again.

Buying train tickets from Gemas to KL Sentral online

You can buy tickets for this leg of the trip also on the KTM website. Unfortunately, you can’t key in JB Sentral to KL Sentral on the KTM page and buy two tickets in one booking. It just shows no trips found. You’d have to do two separate bookings.

Timetable from Gemas to KL Sentral

*The timetable is correct at the time of publishing. Full timetable available on the KTM website.

Step 1: Key in your start and end destinations

Step 2: Select the train time you want

As you can see, there are only two trains in the ETS Gold class. They run daily at the same times and the price ranges from RM 30-33, depending on the day of the week and time.

Realistically, there’s only one option — the Gold – 9322 train that departs at 3.20 pm, assuming you start your journey in the morning from Singapore and take the Express 42 – 08:30 – 13:14 train from JB Sentral to Gemas.

The next train from JB Sentral to Gemas is only at 14:40 and you’ll arrive way too late at 19:06. I doubt you’d want to stay overnight in Gemas as well.

So that leaves two hours to kill in Gemas. There are a couple of eateries around so you could probably have a leisurely lunch.

Step 3: Select your preferred seat and confirm

Steps 4: 6 are the same as the above

You fill in passenger details, proceed to the payment page, key in your credit card details and you’ve got the tickets!

Once done, you’ll see the confirmation page with your ticket and receive a PDF ticket in your email as well. There’s no need to print the ticket out on paper as a digital version is also accepted.

When is the best time to travel to KL?

KL is a destination that is available all year round. Of course, if you want to avoid the crowds, don’t go during long weekends and school holidays.

It’s fine to go during Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Haji as most major places such as malls and shops will still be open, although privately-owned Muslim establishments may be shut.

Train travel is a way to take it slow and relax as you make your way to your next destination.

Remember, the journey is the reward.

ALSO READ: Off the beaten path: Underrated islands in Southeast Asia worth catching a flight for

This article was first published in MoneySmart.

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