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Kuala Lumpur's Elegant Old Station


I had already fallen in love with Kuala Lumpur's old and nearly disregarded rail station well before I arrived to visit it; the beautiful image included last year in Jayita's ode to KL was enough to win me.

IMG_3351 jayitaJayita / TravelGumbo

Sadly, this beautiful architectural mashup that served as the main gateway to Malaysia's capital for over 90 years is now just a secondary stop for commuter trains with only a few long-distance trains making a stop on their way to KL Sentral, a mile or so away.


As for KL Sentral, well, the trains come and go, local buses and commuter rail connect there, there are dozens of shops and eateries... but nothing to catch the eye, nothing that couldn't be any other huge conglomeration of new malls, offices and hotels. Like New York's Penn Station, it's so covered in commerce that it's hard to even find a picture of it by itself. The best I found is above.

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But enough of my disrespect for Sentral, whose creation was apparently designed mainly to create new real estate and development opportunities rather than enhancing transportation.


The old station, which lost its role as the main gateway in 2001, is instantly recognizable from any angle by its unique tower tops, called chhatris, which pop up in views from nearly anywhere. They are part of the mix of Asian, including Indian, and European designs that reflect Kuala Lumpur's diverse peoples. The architect was Arthur Benison Hubback, a British architect working for the colonial Public Works Department.


The Railway Administration Building, still the home of Malaysia's rail system is another one of his; it sits directly across the street from the station and opened in 1917, seven years after the station.


It's still an active station for commuter rail, and a few of the long-distance trains that start from Sentral make a brief stop as well, but there's no active ticket office; we bought tickets from a machine for a later journey from Sentral to Penang with the kind help of apparently the only employee on duty in the station.


The lobby and access to the tracks is above; the waiting room and lobby space that once housed shops and benches served for a few years as a museum of railroad memorabilia, but even that has given way to a clinic that rents the space.

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Over the years, the station was extended to meet new uses and rising traffic, including major work in 1986, only eight years before the decision to create Sentral. Large colonnades provided sheltered space for drop-off and pickup.


As well as some office and administrative space, the station housed a small hotel for travelers, which closed down in 2010. There are reports that the station may at some point become a serious rail heritage museum, with a revived hotel as part of it, but I haven't found anything definite.


In the meantime, the building appears to be getting reasonable upkeep and clearly will survive in some form. Incidentally, the tall building in the background of the title image is Merdeka 118, set for completion this year; it has dethroned KL's Petronas Towers as the tallest building in Malaysia, and is second only to Dubai's Burj Khalifa in the world.



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