Enhancing Sabah’s Connectivity: Rethinking the Trans Borneo Railway Route


The ambitious Trans Borneo Railway Project, designed to link key locations across Borneo, has been a topic of significant interest for its potential to boost the economic landscape of the region. Recently, Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, the president of Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) and former Chief Minister of Sabah, voiced a compelling proposition for the project’s expansion. Highlighting a vision for broader connectivity, Shafie Apdal calls for a reassessment of the railway’s route to include the vibrant east coast of Sabah, particularly Tawau, an area renowned for its rich natural resources and burgeoning tourism sector.

The proposed Trans Borneo Railway Project, encompassing regions from Kuching in Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah to Brunei and Kalimantan in Indonesia, stands as a beacon of regional development. However, Shafie Apdal points out a notable omission: the east coast of Sabah. This exclusion, he argues, overlooks the significant potential of areas like Tawau, which not only are rich in natural resources but also hold a strategic position for tourism and the agriculture industry, especially with Tawau being a major oil palm producing area.

Shafie Apdal’s concern stems from the planned development of a Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex in Tawau, aimed at fostering connectivity with North Kalimantan. By integrating Tawau into the Trans Borneo Railway route, Sabah could unlock new avenues for economic growth and international collaboration, particularly in leveraging its tourism and natural resource sectors.


Brunergy Utama Sdn Bhd, a Brunei-based company, has been reported to commence the railway project, anticipated to unfold in two phases and span 1,620 kilometres. The first phase aims to connect the western to the eastern coast, beginning in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, and concluding in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. The second phase seeks to link North and East Kalimantan with the main route, extending to Samarinda and Indonesia’s new capital, Nusantara.

Shafie Apdal’s advocacy goes beyond regional development, emphasizing the project’s national significance for Malaysia. The inclusion of the east coast, particularly the Kalabakan and Tawau regions, in the railway project could bolster Malaysia’s position in the tourism sector and enhance its agricultural productivity. As such, Shafie Apdal plans to bring this matter to the forefront of parliamentary discussions and the federal government, advocating for a reevaluation of the railway’s route to incorporate the east coast of Sabah into its expansive network.

This strategic extension of the Trans Borneo Railway Project could serve as a critical step toward realizing a more interconnected Borneo, promising to elevate Sabah’s role in the region’s socio-economic development and solidify Malaysia’s footprint on the global stage.

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