The ETS services are the fastest mainline passenger train services in Malaysia. Operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) on the West Coast Main Line in Peninsular Malaysia, the services operate at an average speed of 140km/h, with the trains being capable of 160km/h.
One of the most popular train services in the country is the ETS service between Kuala Lumpur and Butterworth in Penang. As of December 2022, there are a total of 6 ETS scheduled services in each direction between KL Sentral and Butterworth. A large majority of these are classified as the “Platinum” service, featuring the least number of stops en route to Butterworth and the fastest service speeds.
I had a short vacation in Penang planned for the weekend, and the 0803 Platinum departure from KL Sentral would put me in Butterworth at 12:15pm, just in time for the afternoon check in times that Malaysian hotels are so fond of.
Booking my ticket
KTMB tickets are purchased through the KITS online ticketing portal. KITS is KTMB’s latest effort at a smoother ticketing experience, and I’m glad to say that it was decently functional. It certainly won’t score any points for UX design and aesthetic sense, that’s for sure.
My return Standard Class ticket cost me RM160.00 per person with a seat reservation included. You are able to book your desired seat at checkout and is also, oddly enough, the only way to book a Business Class ticket through KITS.
Departure experience at KL Sentral
KL Sentral is Kuala Lumpur’s central rail station, and is well connected to most rail services in Peninsular Malaysia.
I was running a bit late in the morning, so after a quick McDonalds breakfast I made my way straight to Platform 1 for boarding.
Note: Despite the labels of “Platform 1” and “Platform 2”, the ETS boarding process is a bit like boarding an airplane. You will be asked to wait at the designated waiting area just before the ticket gates, and some 10 minutes before departure the queue will proceed through the ticket gates and onto the escalators down to Platforms 1 and 2.
With most other passengers already onboard, I could breeze through the ticket gates.
The train doors were shut soon after and we departed KL Sentral on time. The quad tracked layout between KL Sentral and the old Kuala Lumpur station soon gave way to a single tracked section all the way up to Sungai Buloh – this is the result of ongoing track rehabilitation works in the Klang Valley, unfinished even after 7 years.
Cabin & Onboard Amenities
The Platinum services are operated by 6-car KTM Class 93/2 trains, the second generation of the Class 93 series already operating the ETS services since 2016. All Class 93/2 sets are fitted out in a 2-class configuration, with Coach A reserved for Business Class.
The Standard Class seats
The Standard Class seats fitted on Class 93/2 sets are a big improvement from their predecessors on the first generation Class 93/1 trains. The seats are very well padded, can be reclined, and have very good legroom. There is also a footrest at the base of the seat.
The seats are very sturdy and a world away from the shaky build quality of their predecessors. The seat back table while being somewhat small felt like it was bolted in solidly. I’m happy to say that my cup of coffee felt very safe on the table.
The onboard colour and lighting scheme is also greatly improved from the previous generation trains, with warmer LED lighting and somewhat earthy colour tones gracing the cabin walls. This is a much nicer cabin environment than the harsh fluroscent tones previously.
Onboard Amenities – Toilets
Coaches B and E are fitted with a regular sized toilet, whereas Coach D features an accessible toilet with automatic sliding doors. There is a sink in each toilet with running water and hand soap. There are no hand dryers, but there is (usually) a supply of hand towels.
All toilets were kept in clean condition throughout the run to Butterworth, and were also well ventilated courtesy of the small hopper window that had been left open to ventilate the space.
Note: When using the Accessible Toilet, please remember to manually lock the toilet door once it has slid shut. This appears to be a common problem where users assume that the door will be locked automatically after they’ve pushed the door close button inside - they won’t. The latch is a manual latch that has to be turned clockwise to lock. If you do not lock the door, the LED indicator outside will remain green, making people think that the toilet is unoccupied.
All ETS trains have a small bistro counter onboard. On the ETS Platinum Class 93/2 trains, this is located in Coach C.
The bistro counter sells a limited selection of meals and drinks with the supplies loaded at Kuala Lumpur (Old) Station.
The food is essentially pre-packed catered meals microwaved when ordered. Note that the displayed menu should be ignored, as a selection of available meals will be displayed on the countertop for your reference.
Drinks, on the other hand, are made from instant powder packs. There is no freshly made coffee onboard, but there are Nescafé 3-in-1 packs available with the characteristic Malaysian sweetness. If that’s not for you, small bottles of water are also available for sale.
I wasn’t feeling hungry on this trip, so I got myself a cup of Nescafé to warm up on this cloudy morning.
The view outside
The view along the mainline to the north is unfortunately not very scenic. With most of the jungle cleared for agriculture and palm oil plantations, there aren’t really any spectacular natural features to be seen. The windows were also very dirty and murky. Is it that difficult to have your trains cleaned, KTMB?
One of the sights to look out for is Tasik Bukit Merah (Bukit Merah Lake), where the tracks run across the lake on an elevated viaduct. Look out to the right (if you’re heading north) and you can see the remnants of the old single track alignment that used to carry the trains north and southwards.
Once you enter the Seberang Prai area of Penang state though, you start running next to paddy fields. Depending on the time of the year, the view could make for very good pictures as the paddy stalks turn green during the harvest month.
The surroundings got more industrial as the mainline curved westwards on approach to Butterworth and the Penang Port at Butterworth.
Arrival at Butterworth
We pulled into Butterworth station on time, courtesy of a slightly padded schedule.
Unfortunately for passengers with luggage, the station wasn’t built with escalators up to the concourse in mind. If you don’t want to haul your luggage up the stairs, feel free to join the queue for the sole elevator serving the platform.
Once through the ticket gates, connections to Penang Island are available for your picking.
The ETS Platinum services offer a good hard product for intercity rail travel. On this trip of mine, I found the experience to be enjoyable, and the build quality of the cabin was also a big improvement over the 1st generation Class 93 sets. Clearly, KTMB took more care in figuring out the onboard experience.
With the alternative being on a bus or car potentially getting caught in traffic on the highway, I have no qualms in saying that this is the most comfortable way of getting to Penang from Kuala Lumpur.
Click here to read about the return ETS Platinum trip from Butterworth to KL Sentral.