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The Kuala Lumpur to Penang train: everything you need to know

The Kuala Lumpur to Penang train: everything you need to know

The Kuala Lumpur to Penang train is arguably the best train journey in Malaysia. Read on for our full review and top tips for riding the rails from KL to Butterworth.

Penang has always been well connected to the rest of Malaysia, in particular to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, 350km to the south. Whilst it’s possible to drive, fly, or take the bus, the easiest and most comfortable option is the train between Kuala Lumpur and Penang via the fast, efficient and affordable ETS service.

With a journey time of just over four hours, the train links the city centre of KL to the mainland city of Butterworth, leaving just a short ferry or Grab ride onto Penang Island.

How to book tickets for the Kuala Lumpur to Penang train

Tickets can be booked either online or at any station in Malaysia. From our experience, the online booking system is simple to use and tickets are issued immediately as a PDF (and don’t need to be printed), so we wouldn’t recommend booking at the station unless you have a good reason.

The official online booking system is called KITS (standing for KTMB Integrated Ticketing System) and only requires you to complete a quick registration process before buying tickets. When you register, you’ll either need your MyKad details (for Malaysians), or your passport number (for anyone else). It only takes a couple of minutes and you don’t require a Malaysian mobile phone number. Once registered, you’re able to start the process to book tickets online.

The simple user interface lets you enter your journey details before showing the available options (plus a handy indicator of how many seats are available for a given journey). After selecting your journey, you select your carriage and preferred seats; if you’re travelling as a family of four, we recommend choosing the four seats around the table for a comfortable journey.

Check out the ‘On Board’ section below for information on the differences between the carriages.

Tickets cost RM81 for adults and RM45 for children aged 4 – 12.

What route does it take

The railway network in Malaysia is undergoing continuous improvement works, one of which has been to introduce an electric, fast line between Gemas in the south and Padang Besar in the north (at the Thai border). The KL to Penang route uses this line with the service starting in KL and terminating in Butterworth.

There are five Platinum services per day (which stop at a limited number of stations) and one Gold service (which originates at Gemas and stops more often). Try to get one of the Platinum services if you can as these are quicker and offer Business Class seats if you fancy an extra bit of comfort, plus free food and water.

All of the trains head up the west coast of Malaysia (known as the mainline) and pass through Ipoh.

Kuala Lumpur to Penang train timetable

The Platinum services depart KL and arrive into Butterworth at the following times:

  • 08:03 – 12:15
  • 11:08 – 15:23
  • 13:37 – 17:49
  • 15:55 – 20:07
  • 20:10 – 00:22 (next day)

You can check the timetable here.

Kuala Lumpur to Penang train timetable

KL Sentral station

Until the turn of the 21st century, all trains on this route originated and terminated at the original Kuala Lumpur station, a grand old station building in the heart of the city. Whilst the KL to Penang train still calls at this station, the start and end point is now KL Sentral.

This modern station makes for an easy departure, with the Penang ETS trains leaving from Departure point B on Level 2 (the same level the Grab cars will drop you off). Departure gates open thirty minutes before departure (you’ll need to scan your ticket QR code to get through the gates) and then sit patiently in a small waiting area. Approximately 15 minutes before departure, the guards will open the gates again for you to head down to the platforms on Level 1 via the escalator or lifts.

KL Sentral station has the usual array of convenience stores and fast food outlets and is well connected to the city’s public transport network.

On board the Kuala Lumpur to Penang train

The ETS trains are made up of modern carriages with comfortable seats, LED information boards, power sockets (three-pin and USB) and extremely powerful air-conditioning; take a blanket or jumper as it gets very cold, particularly for the first hour of the journey.

Each carriage has a luggage rack with enough space for several large suitcases, plus ad-hoc space nearby to leave your cases. For backpacks and smaller cases, there are overhead racks above the seats for all your luggage. We had no problem storing our two large cases and they felt safe and secure during the journey. Coach F has additional luggage space if you need it.

Each carriage has a slightly different configuration, so keep that in mind when booking your ticket:

  • Coach A is Business Class and at the rear of the train when heading north
  • Coach B (60 seats) has a toilet
  • Coach C (54 seats) has the bistro so does get more through traffic during the journey and feels busier
  • Coach D (42 seats plus 4 disabled) has the disabled toilet and designated wheelchair seating. The prayer room is also in this carriage.
  • Coach E (60 seats) has a toilet
  • Coach F (60 seats) has extra luggage storage

The onboard toilets are neat, clean and well-maintained, although lacked toilet paper towards the end of the journey.

If you’re in need of any food and drinks, there’s a small bistro and dining area in Coach C which sells hot meals (chicken rice, noodles, Mac and Cheese, etc), plus crisps, soft drinks and coffee/tea. A meal costs around RM15.

Butterworth station

As with KL Sentral, Butterworth is a new(ish) station and it makes for a simple arrival process, although there are currently no escalators, so you either need to join the long queue for the lifts, or drag your cases up the long flight of stairs.

Once at the top level, you need to scan your ticket QR code again to pass through the arrival gates. Butterworth station has a small convenience store but you’re best off heading to Penang Sentral Mall if you need some food, drink, or an ATM.

Your onwards journey from Butterworth

If you’re heading onto Penang Island, you have the choice of taking the ferry across to George Town, or take a Grab car over the bridge onto the island.

For both the ferry and Grab, you need to walk towards Penang Sentral Mall which is five minutes away from the station along an indoor walkway. It’s slightly uphill and makes for a tiring walk, especially if you’re travelling with a large amount of luggage. For the ferry turn left at the end of the walkway and for Grab, turn right and enter the mall.

The ferries run every hour (RM2) and are the recommended option if the timings match, otherwise head into Penang Sentral Mall and take a Grab car from the e-hailing area on Level 8 (take the lifts directly in front of you when entering the mall). It’ll take about 40 minutes in a Grab depending on traffic, whilst the ferry only takes about ten minutes and drops you right in the heart of George Town.

Final thoughts about the Kuala Lumpur to Penang train

In our opinion, a train journey remains the most iconic way to travel between Kuala Lumpur and Penang. With the introduction of the ETS trains, the journey is now modern, reliable and straightforward, even if it has lost some of the charm it once had.

Your journey starts and finishes in handy locations and once on board, the ETS trains offer comfort and relaxation. The journey passes by quickly as you experience the beauty of the Malaysian countryside rushing past the window and, before long, you’re arriving in Butterworth, ready to exploring all the things to do in Penang.