How the Iconic London Transport Logo Influenced North Borneo Railway Signs

If you’ve seen the old North Borneo Railway sign, you’ll notice the striking resemblance with the iconic London Transport logo.

The North Borneo Railway or formerly known as British North Borneo State Railway (B.N.B.S.R.) before the War has a long history in Sabah.

It was first launched in 1898 which means the only railway system in Borneo is now 120 years old.

The railway system was originally planned primarily for the transport of tobacco from the interior to the coast for export.

The first line built was a 32 kilometres track from Bukau River, north to Beaufort, and south to the port of Weston. Then it was extended with a further 48 kilometres route in 1903 to Tenom.

At the same time as this, work began on another line from Beaufort to Jesselton (now known as Kota Kinabalu), which was completed in 1903.

Now back to the original topic, the signage used at all the different stops and stations throughout the railway line had similar design with the London Transport logo.

The replica of the British North Borneo State Railway sign for Jesselton can be found at the Sabah Museum which I highly recommend anyone to visit the railway exhibit.

It was very similar to London Transport Bullseye design but the colour scheme was green. Maybe the colour was chosen to reflect how green North Borneo was back then.

The Chinese characters shown on the Jesselton sign is read ‘Ya Bi’ which was the Chinese name of Jesselton that was used by the Chinese community. Arabic characters were also used to identify Jesselton on the signage.

There’s no record of who actually designed the local sign or which year the sign was deployed at all stops and stations in North Borneo. Our estimation would be in the 1930’s.

Perhaps the designer had close ties with the designer in London.

When we started the Save Melalap Station campaign around two years ago, we visited the old Melalap station and discovered that the signage there had the same design so we used computer graphics to re-create the replica as shown above.

This vintage design is now becoming an icon for those who are able to appreciate Sabah’s rich history. I personally love the design so much so we’re making it available on T-Shirts.

This T-shirt is available in black and white. Pre-order your limited edition T-shirt here.

We’re truly excited to see this logo to come alive again and to be worn by Sabah history lovers!

[Photo credit London Transport Museum, David Lawrence]

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Richard Ker

I love the history of North Borneo (Sabah) and strive to digitally archive any related information on this website. Follow me on Twitter @richardker.


  1. It is probably not Arabic but Jawi, the other language as written on the British North Borneo State Railway signage.

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