Tuesday, 16 May 2017

ON THE RIGHT TRACK WITH ETS

Onboard Electric Train from KL Sentral to Butterworth

Travelling solo means I avoid driving whenever possible. So what are the options? I’ve been taking coach buses, whether it is to my hometown, Penang, or off on a short escapade to Ipoh, Malacca and Johor.


Left: The sleek ETS train. Above: Ticketing counter at KL Sentral


Now there’s yet another option. KTM’s Electric Train Service. I’ve been avoiding trains for a good reason: The last time I took a train ride, I arrived after a 3-hour delay and completely missed an event I had wanted to attend.
But I have been told the ETS is totally reliable. So off I hop to KL Sentral to get a ticket to Penang. There are 2 types of services: Gold and Platinum. A third, the Silver service, stops at all stations but only runs between KL and Ipoh.
So what’s the difference?
ETS Platinum is the most expensive as it makes only 7 stops and travel time is only 4 hours. Tickets (KL Sentral to Butterworth): RM79 (adult), RM44 (child/senior citizen). 
There are 2 services daily from KL Sentral: 9am and 11.30am.
ETS Gold makes 10 stops and travel time is 4 hours 15 mins. There are 3 services daily from KL Sentral: 4.18pm, 7.53pm and 9.30pm. Ticket: RM59 (adult), RM34 (child/senior citizen).When I arrived at KL Sentral, tickets for the Gold Service for the next 3 days had been sold out, so I got myself a Platinum ticket. By the way, Platinum customers get a snack bag during the journey, comprising a tetrapack Milo and some biscuits. However, we are not informed of this at the ticket counter, so it’s a nice surprise for new passengers.
Boarding gate for ETS
I arrive at the departure gate 30 mins before departure to find a queue. It's located just next door to McDonald's, so you can't miss it. But there’s no hurry as seats are already assigned and you will get a seat, even if you’re the last one to board.

OFF WE GO
At 9am sharp, the train slids out of KL Sentral and five minutes later, makes a quick stop at the Old Railway Station to pick up a couple of passengers. Then it’s off and away to Batu Gajah at 11.09am and Ipoh at 11.21am. One of the railway staff comes around to hand out the paper bag of snacks.
The trip is generally quite uneventful, stopping briefly again at Kuala Kangsar, Taiping, Parit Buntar and Bukit Mertajam. Passengers can buy more drinks and food at the F&B coach or use the rather clean toilets at the end of each coach.
View of fishing village, from the train
Above: Inside of Coach B. Right: Alll set to disembark

At Butterworth station
WE ARRIVE!
At 1.03pm, the ETS rolls into Butterworth where all passengers alight. It has been a most pleasant journey and I barely feel the hours pass by. The seats are comfortable, clean and the staff members on duty are polite, helpful and even have ready smiles.
And now this is where my nightmare begins. I walk out of the platform, straight into a mess. Signboards are scant. So I ask for and am given directions to the ferry terminal. 

The formidable first set of 40 steps
Looking back and down after climbing the second flight of steps


As I exit the terminal building, I come face to face with four flights of steps (10 each). Now that can already be a problem for senior citizens and young children. Imagine if you’re carrying luggage. There are lifts but they don’t work.
I struggle to cart my bag up and at the top of the stairs, a RELA volunteer stops to ask why I haven’t taken the free shuttle at the exit. Well, because I haven’t been told and there are no signs to indicate such!
Sadly, I look down from the top of the stairs and decided I am not going all the way back down again, not especially since the RELA guy said I have to wait 20 mins for the shuttle.
And so I plod on… to find… another flight of stairs. Noooooo!!!!!
When I finally reach the ferry terminal, the guy in charge of the ticketing, upon seeing me panting, wonders aloud why the RELA volunteer didn’t help me. “That’s what he’s supposed to do,” he says. And then, with a big, cheerful smile, adds: “Yesterday, two Mat Salleh collapsed and died right here after the long walk.”
Thanks bro. That is most reassuring.
The Ferry, at last
On board the ferry to cross the North Channel to Penang Island
On the other hand, while waiting for the ferry, a fellow passenger on the ETS tells me it will be a breeze when Penang Sentral, presently under construction, opens sometime in July. Penang Sentral will accommodate the train station, bus terminal and ferry terminal, all under one roof.
Until then, I guess I will continue to take the coach.

Where to wait for the free shuttle: Next to the ferry exit at Butterworth terminal 
Small signage half-hidden by the bench

On the other hand, if you’ve just taken the ferry from the island, the free shuttle bus service is just to the left of the ferry exit. Look out for the red signage. 

For train timetables and tickets, check out http://www.train36.com/ets-schedule.html



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