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The future belongs to rail travel

By DEEPAK GILL




PICTURES BY BRIAN MOH, DARRAN TAN & REUTERS


Trains used to be the way to travel long-distance. That is, until roads began to improve, private vehicles became the norm and flying got cheaper. The Malayan Railway or Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM) still gets nearly four million passengers a year, but it’s a long way off from its glory days.

Its biggest challenge came in 1994 when the North South Expressway became fully operational. It cut travelling time for vehicles by about half, sending many travellers to express bus stations and car dealers. From more than eight million passenger trips in 1991, the Intercity service now gets only about 3.7 million (2004).


KTM’s Azman Ahmad Shaharbi knows all about the current drawbacks of long-distance rail travel, but is optimistic that the future belongs to rail.

“We are looking at the return of the golden age of the railways with the right investment,” says the general manager of Intercity Services.

“The corporation is charting a rebound. We hit rock bottom in 2003 with 3.3 million passenger trips; we’re confident of getting 3.9 million passengers this year.”








In the quest to stay current, KTM will undergo many upgrades in the next five years.








Azman admits that the rail system has not kept up with the country’s rapid development in the last 20 years. That couldn’t be helped. In the railway industry, upgrading works carry huge price tags, and KTM has to rely on the government for big decisions and funding.

Currently, Intercity has a budget for several ongoing upgrades. However, they need to build new tracks and acquire new trains. Fortunately, things are already moving in that direction.



Need for speed

High-speed rail (where trains cruise between 150kph and 480kph) is common in some developed countries but not here. KTM now plans to introduce it along existing routes, beginning with the 174km stretch between Rawang (Selangor) and Ipoh (Perak).

“The next new Intercity service will be the non-stop KL-Ipoh (route) – under two hours,” Azman reveals. Scheduled to be operational in two years, the service will run every two hours and hit 160kph. This sort of travel time will attract many passengers, including business travellers.

Trains are efficient and an obvious alternative to congested highways and airports. High-speed rail competes not just with private vehicles but with the airlines as well. Taking a flight requires travelling to and from the airport as well as having to arrive an hour before the flight. There are also possibilities of delay, overbooking and flight cancellation.

High-speed rail, though, usually takes one quickly and directly from one city centre to another. If you include environmental and land issues, high-speed rail is the smartest alternative. However, double-tracking for the rest of Intercity’s routes around the country has been deferred indefinitely by the government.


The current fares are pretty affordable. In most countries, rail fare is substantially higher than those of express buses – up to 50% more. However, second-class travel per kilometre with KTM works out the same as with buses: 6.5 sen/km, while their economy seats work out to 3.7 sen/km. If you’re on vacation and in no particular hurry, you could say this is a value-for-money way to travel.








Azman Ahmad Shaharbi








The journey time from KL to Johor Baru is currently five hours and 15 minutes on the day train. The overnight, which has the option of sleeper bunks, is slower but saves time since you travel during your sleep time and arrive in the morning.

“You have to sleep anyway, so rather than doing it at home, you can do it while travelling,” reasons Azman. “Also, we have real beds with a pillow and blanket, not seats that recline until it’s flat.

“The main reason for delays of Intercity services is operational constraint – having a single track. When one train is delayed, it sets off a chain reaction that leads to other trains waiting for it,” Azman points out. Because of this, KTM is not yet able run more services nor reduce journey time.

Intercity’s occupancy currently averages 65%, dropping drastically during weekdays, peaking during school breaks. Since the railway company is not allowed to reduce or stop any services without the Ministry of Transportation’s consent, it cannot drop unprofitable routes.

Azman says he is concerned that the East Coast Highway, when fully completed in 2008, will take away many passengers.

“Currently our East Coast operations are quite good. However, to upgrade that stretch takes a lot of investment. We’re talking billions,” he says.

Azman says low airfares on carrier AirAsia has also had an impact on rail travel, but not much. “You have to take into account the cost of getting to and from the airports, which adds up.”




Its services

KTM’s Intercity currently runs 12 express services a day, 10 local services (mostly within the east coast) and two shuttle services from JB to Singapore. There are several discount cards to encourage travel: one for senior citizens and two for students, which give reductions of up to 50%. The Student Privilege Card is issued to anyone who is studying, irrespective of age.

Azman feels that rising toll and fuel prices are a definite advantage for the railway, as travelling by highway becomes more costly, not to mention slower because of the congestion.

“Travelling by train is enjoyable, relaxing and, more importantly, it’s safe. The last accidental death on a train was 13 years ago. Our emphasis on safety is something we’re proud of.”

Travelling in a bus, he adds, is cramped while the seats in a train are more spacious. You can move about, have meals or drinks, and use the toilet. You have the option of seats or beds, first-, second- or economy classes, coach or private cabin. First-class passengers can either stroll to the buffet coach or have the food sent to them.

Intercity’s first-class (deluxe) cabins have a TV, two bunks and an attached toilet with hot shower. Azman comments that KTM’s room-on-wheels “is the only ‘hotel’ where you can check-in in KL and check-out in Singapore.”








Although KTM now has the modern KL Sentral, it still languishes in the past in some areas.








About 200 coaches will soon be refurbished at a cost of RM100,000 per unit. Ten new coaches will arrive at the end May.

“In the next five years, we will upgrade about 20 of our main railway stations: lengthening and raising platforms and shelters, renovating toilets, waiting area and ticket counters,” says Azman. In addition, 40 new air-conditioned coaches of various types including night sleepers and day-seaters are scheduled for use in 2006/2007.

KTM is also concerned about all-round comfort. KL Sentral, for instance, offers shower facilities and changing rooms, where towels and toiletries are available upon request. KTM is also working hard to improve the taxi services at Sentral.


“We aim to provide door-to-door service to our customers,” says Azman. “Improving frontline and customer services is very important to us.”

However, KTM needs to do a lot more for disabled travellers. Most stations lack even basic facilities like ramps. Also, the Sentral management needs to reassess their parking rates. A stop of slightly over two hours costs RM7.40, which is exorbitant!

There are now first-class lounges at KL Sentral and KTM Singapore stations for premier passengers.

“The e-ticket system on its website www.ktmb.com.my has the convenience for you to complete purchases and print your own e-ticket,” says Azman, but only 1% of customers currently use it, mostly tourists. KTM also has package rail holidays across Malaysia.

The train schedules are amended every six months. The passenger coaches are sent to KL Sentral’s maintenance depot after every trip for cleaning. Pest control is done once a week, major fumigation every six months, after which the coach is not usable for four days.

Maintenance is a major cost for a railway operator. For 2004, KTMB incurred a net loss of RM87.61mil, an improvement over 2003 when the figure was RM131.23mil.

The number one complaint that KTM receives from its customers is on punctuality. “At the moment, our arrival punctuality is 60%; we are aiming for 80%.”

Azman adds that the primary target now is to reduce journey time, which should unleash the potential of rail travel in Malaysia. Combine comfort and convenience with speed, and you have a winner. W
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
KTM's history in brief



Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM), formerly known as the Federated Malay States Railway, started as a tin-ore transportation in colonial Perak in the 18th century. The first line, an eight-mile long track, was laid linking the tin-mining town of Taiping to Port Weld in 1885.

Rails were soon laid in Selangor, Pahang, Kelantan and Johor, all of which were eventually connected together to form a trunk line, running from Singapore to Padang Besar or Kuala Gris, on the borders of Thailand, by 1931.





During its heyday, KTM’s steam locomotives (above) were the main means of transportation for moving bulk commodities and people. Steam trains were fully phased out by the 1970s and replaced by diesel trains.


KTM’s decline started in the 1940s, when better shipping, roads and air services became available. By the 1990s, it was no longer considered the most effective transportation option.

In order to remain competitive, KTM’s administration was transformed in 1992 into a corporate body responsible for its own performance. Three years later, the first electric Komuter trains began their short-distance runs from Kuala Lumpur to Rawang. Plans are in the pipelines for high-speed rail. – Compiled by TAN LEE KUEN
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Rail systems of the future




Transportation specialists see the railway as the way of the future. It has a dedicated line, is energy-efficient, non-polluting (electric and maglev trains), fast, and provides mass transit.

High-speed rail has taken a lot of load off highways and airports in many countries around the world.







Shanghai’s maglev train is a peep into the future.






Capital outlay and huge costs are the main barriers to high-speed rail systems. The Eurotunnel train service between France and UK, for example, is facing severe debt. In the US many states have yet to upgrade their rail systems, mainly due to lack of funding. However, most plan to do so as rail travel is considered the most efficient public transportation.

The latest high-speed technology is maglev, or magnetic levitation. In this amazing system, magnetic forces lift, propel and guide the vehicle over a guideway. The train floats 15cm above the rail. Utilising state-of-the-art electric power and control systems, this configuration eliminates contact and permits cruising speeds of up to 430kph!

The maglev offers competitive trip-time savings compared to aviation in travel destinations of up to 1,000km away. The ride is quiet and smooth, and the train boasts zero emissions and low energy use.

The Shanghai Maglev in China is the fastest railway system in commercial operation in the world. The 30km line, in service since early 2004, runs between Pudong Shanghai International Airport and the Shanghai Lujiazui financial district. An end-to-end ride takes about eight minutes!

“In the long term, we’re looking to maglevs for high-speed ground transportation that might replace aircrafts,” Arnold Kupferman, maglev programme manager at the Federal Railroad Administration (www.fra.dot.gov) of the US, was quoted as saying by online mag Prism (www.prism-magazine.org).

“Forty percent of air travel in the US covers a distance of less than 480km. We can relieve the air transportation system by allowing them to concentrate on long-range travel.” – By DEEPAK GILL
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Feedback from rail users



As expected, delays in journey is the main grouse of rail users.

“Five out of 10 times the trains are delayed. The delay at times can be a couple of hours, which is really frustrating,” says business development executive Rajdessh Gopal, 33. “Time is precious and what I’d like to see is punctuality. Other than this, I’ve had no problems; I love the rural views.”

Besides faster travel, Bank Negara executive Zoe Rai, 34, would like to see an improvement in service, a viewing carriage and more frequent services between popular destinations.

The air-conditioning is another thing that is mentioned. “It’s too cold in there!” says traveller Prashant P, echoing the views of many. “And the food needs improvement.” The 34-year-old would also like to see longer, wider berths.
Another traveller, Gabrielle Sim, 26, says providing some entertainment on board, especially music, would be nice. “Also, we should be informed on what to do in any emergency or if there’s a medical situation.”

“Movies-on-demand,” suggests Sharan Sambhi, 41. She, like many others, enjoys rail travel. “It’s the scenery, the atmosphere and the choices of meals that I like. I also find it’s a good way to avoid traffic jams, and it stops in the heart of the city. It’s also great for group travel. I’ve made new friends during the trip and have even had a small party on board once.”

Rajdessh concurs that rail travel can be fun. “I was travelling with a bunch of cricketers from Penang to Bangkok once, and the boys created a party out of nothing. I had a memorable trip!”

“The type of people who travel by rail differs from buses,” Rai, opines, “They are more adventurous and open to a casual chat. I’ve met some real nice people and had interesting conversations with strangers on trains. I guess rail travel still has an air of history, adventure and romance.”

When asked if they would ride trains or buses if travel time was the same, almost all say they prefer trains.

“I definitely would take the train as it’s still much safer than a bus. Plus it’s a smoother ride and you can walk about,” says Rai.

“Yeah, they’re cleaner and greener, so why not. It’s always fun,” adds Prashant.


All agree trains are a lot more comfortable, with one even saying that the klak-klak-klak sound the train makes is hypnotic and lovely. – By DEEPAK GILL
 

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KTMB Gets First Locally Assembled Coaches
April 22, 2005 18:16 PM




PORT KLANG, April 22 (Bernama) -- Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) Friday received the first 11 locally assembled economy class coaches.

The air-conditioned coaches, worth RM21 million, were assembled by Kuala Lumpur-based engineering company Hartasuma Sdn Bhd with parts imported from India.

They can seat 74 passengers each and are equipped with passenger information system, vacuum toilets and baggage racks.

Previously, KTMB imported its coaches mainly from South Korea and Japan.

The new coaches were received by Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy, who said they would be used in KTMB's inter-city services in a month's time after trials.

With the new coaches, KTMB targeted to carry 3.9 million passengers in its inter-city services this year up from 3.7 million last year, and the number would rise to 4.1 million next year and 4.3 million in 2007, he told reporters.

He said the new coaches were an important investment by the government to upgrade the KTMB service quality and attract more passengers.

KTMB now has 49 air-conditioned economy class coaches out of 207 coaches in its inter-city services. It rovides 26 inter-city services daily.

Hartasuma chairman Tan Sri Mohamed Khatib Abdul Hamid said the company was negotiating with the Thai government to supply rail coaches for its railway.

-- BERNAMA
 

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szehoong said:
Rail systems of the future






Shanghai’s maglev train is a peep into the future.
Imagine every raya season...how nice if we could travel KL-Penang, KL-Johore in an hour. Less traffic on North-South expressway, less business so no need to expand it to 4, 6 lanes. :)
we should seriously think of upgrading our rail service to european standard..but German's maglev a bit expensive la...Japanese bullet train or france's tgv would be nice :)
 

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i totally agree.i kept telling to myself,if only Malaysia has high speed train like Maglev from states to states!Imagine,i can actually travel to Singapore from Melaka town in just within an hour.sob...sob....
 

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D_Y2k.2^ said:
i totally agree.i kept telling to myself,if only Malaysia has high speed train like Maglev from states to states!Imagine,i can actually travel to Singapore from Melaka town in just within an hour.sob...sob....
But then again, no one is gonna take coaches and thousands of employees will then have to be retrenched soon...
 

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Lastresorter said:
But then again, no one is gonna take coaches and thousands of employees will then have to be retrenched soon...
Retrain the coache drivers to drive high end machine at the tech industry plants.
Retrain the jobless labour force (Malaysian) into skilled workers. Introduce more industry parks along the high speed rails system, build new towns to diversify the economy zone in every state.

If possible build another normal rail line bridge to (Indonesia) for the sake of cheaper raw materials. Develop a malaysian industry park in sumatra, sooner later migrate malaysian cheap labour factories there. malaysian should focus all more medium, high end and service industry. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Lastresorter said:
But then again, no one is gonna take coaches and thousands of employees will then have to be retrenched soon...

Yes.....coaches would still flourished as it is cheaper. A high-speed line are usually priced like an airplane ticket thus only a segment of the market are able to afford it ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
bobdikl said:
Imagine every raya season...how nice if we could travel KL-Penang, KL-Johore in an hour. Less traffic on North-South expressway, less business so no need to expand it to 4, 6 lanes. :)
we should seriously think of upgrading our rail service to european standard..but German's maglev a bit expensive la...Japanese bullet train or france's tgv would be nice :)

Any high-speed line would be an addition instead of upgrade. ;)

This is because our standard gauge for our railway line itsn't the same as those for Shinkansen or the TGV. Furthermore we have freight trains and also connections to Thailand and beyond thus we just can't change the gauge standard :)

I would really wanna see a high-speed long-distance rail in Malaysia in my lifetime ;)
 

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KTMB likely to raise freight, passenger rates
25-04-2005
By Jimmy Yeow



KTM Bhd, which is likely to raise its rates for freight services this year, has sought a fare increase for passenger services next year, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy says.

“Rates for freight services would go up sometime this year while we are looking at the possibility of fare increase in the passenger train services in 2006,” he said.

Speaking to reporters after officiating at the 1st Asia Rail Conference & Exhibition in Petaling Jaya on April 25, Chan did not disclose the quantum of fare increase sought by the railway operator.

KTMB managing director Datuk Mohd Salleh Abdullah said the last passenger fare revision was in 1992 with an average 15% hike while the commuter train services fares were increased by between 5% and 20% in 2003.

He said KTMB’s monthly fuel bill was about RM4.1 million, of which RM3 million was for diesel and RM1.1 million for electricity for its Komuter train services.

The government subsidises at 91 sen per litre of up to one million litres of diesel required by KTMB monthly with the balance of one million litres being acquired at the market price of RM1.40 per litre.

FinancialDaily had earlier this month reported that KTMB is mulling a fare increase as its fuel bill had gone up to RM40 million from RM24 million yearly. KTMB posted RM330 million in revenue last year, of which RM107 million was contributed by its freight services.

Meanwhile, Chan said KTMB was calling for tenders for the construction of a new workshop and training centre at a 162ha site in Batu Gajah, Perak. The project, estimated to cost RM400 million, is expected to be completed in 36 months.

The existing workshop is part of the 119ha of land in Sentul to be handed over to Sentul Raya Development Sdn Bhd, a 30:70 joint venture between KTMB and YTL Land & Development Bhd, for mixed development.
 
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