Buying Malaysian rail tickets should be be a cinch, right?




Buying a train ticket to Kuala Lumpur should be as simple as ABC, right? Think again. All that fuss over the closing of the old Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in July 2011 had got me gushing with nostalgia. For a very last fling, I had on impulse decided to take a rail trip up north to Kuala Lumpur and back, with an overnight stay to catch the Malaysian Philharmonic and meet up with old friends. The date: 17 June. The catch: tickets are only available for sale 30 days before the actual date of the trip. Here’s how easy it is to buy a ticket.


Wednesday 19 May: The gentleman in the kaunter tiket (ticket counter) booth politely informs me that ticket sales begin 30 days before the date, not 31 days. So I should come back tomorrow after 8.30am.


Thursday 20 May: The day has arrived. I come after work at 6.30pm, and find a long queue ahead of me. I wait patiently for about 15 minutes. Finally its my turn, and the lady at the counter informs me that the komputer sistem is down, and I should come back tomorrow, or buy the tickets through the Internet.


Friday 21 May: I log into the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) website, and create an account for myself. However the sistem appears to be designed for rocket scientists. No drop-down menus are to be found, and one has to fill in the exact service, time of departure (not available on the same page or anywhere easily accessible), as well as the names and passport numbers of all who are travelling. One wonders what happens should I be asked to fill in my kredit kard details? So I quit trying.





Saturday 21 May: I head to Tanjong Pagar first thing in the morning. There is no queue (!), however there’s as sign stating that the komputer system is still faulty. I suppose they are waiting for a technician from Kuala Lumpur to arrive (by rail, I imagine). That’s likely to be Monday. I console myself with a plate of mee rebus.



Monday 23 May: There's an article in The Straits Times today about the sudden surge of rail ticket sales by like-minded people who want to relive their glory rail days. So I can't possibly wait till Wednesday afternoon to get my tickets, can I? So I break early from work this morning and make that trip to Tanjong Pagar. Surely they would have gotten the komputer sistem fixed, right?


Not a chance. Its 12.45 pm and the guy (and queue jumper) in front of me is told that he should call up the main ticket call centre in Kuala Lumpur to get his ticket. So is there any chance that I can reserve and pay for the tickets today, and then collect the hard copy on another day, after the sistem has been fixed? The lady in the ticket booth looks sympathetic to my plight, and says she'll try... but later in the afternoon. That is after the 1 pm train leaves. Having expended one half-hour car park coupon, I decided to soak in the atmosphere, sip on a teh tarik, and watch those with the 1 o'clock tickets chase after the leaving train. "Those lucky blighters," thought I. There's still a long queue at the kaunter tiket, so I return home for a nap.

I return in the evening, and the lady tells me that all the komputer sistems are down, even in Kuala Lumpur. I should now e-mail the KTM Call Centre in Kuala Lumpur in order to make a reservation, which will later be printed out as tickets in Singapore once the computers get back on track. When that will be, only Allah knows. My son and I have maggi mee goreng for dinner. At this rate, I will have sampled every dish in Tanjong Pagar pretty soon.



Tuesday 24 May: So I dutifully send an e-mail to callcenter@ktmb.com.my (note the Americanised spelling), and to my pleasant surprise I get a polite reply within the same day. The lady asks for the details of all travelling but no kredit kard figures required. Phew! I will thus be given a Reservation number, with which I will be able to buy my tikets when the komputer sistem is back. Should I hold my breath?


Wednesday 25 May: YESSSS! The Call Center in KL has replied with a reservation number and my tickets have been confirmed. Meanwhile, I also get good news from my bestman Sherman who has bought my return tickets in Kuala Lumpur. So my rail holiday will finally come true, after five visits to Tanjong Pagar station and a couple of anxious nights. When I last checked, the komputer sistem is still down.


Visit Malaysia. The time is Now? What about next week, next month, next year, next century?