Train crash: A danger waiting to happen

By Michael Kaung, FMT

KOTA KINABALU: The morning after the train crash outside the Kota Kimabalu International Airport here has provoked fear and anger among city residents, with many saying that “it was an accident just waiting to happen”.

Widespread dissatisfaction and complaints have been brewing for years now over the railway line that has been plagued by controversy since the government approved a contract to upgrade the tracks a few years ago.

In an immediate reaction to yesterday’s collision between a passenger train and a fuel tanker in which eight people were injured, Deputy Chief Minister Joseph Pairin Kitingan said all illegal crossing along the railway track will be closed.

How the authorities intend to do this could not be ascertained as there are scores of such crossings all along the track.

It is the only access to hundreds, if not thousands, of dwellings on the other side of the track.

Pairin, who is Infrastructure Development Minister, said that his ministry would launch an investigation into claims that some of the automatic gates recently put up for thousands of ringgit at major level crossings are not functioning.

The collision between the petrol-laden fuel tanker and the passenger train on its way to Beaufort caused a fireball and sparked fires along the track.

Scores of motorists panicked when they saw the accident while on their way home.

“Oh my god! Oh my god!” was all one observer could say as she filmed the flames and smoke with her cellphone and later found its way onto the Internet.

Repeated collisions

The word on the ground has always been that something is not quite right about the way the line has been “upgraded”, with the number of level crossings cutting through major roads and junctions as it comes to the station in the city.

There are even private roads crossings the tracks to scores of individual houses all along the route from Beaufort to Tanjong Aru and even more when the line to Tenom opens.

Most of the roads are illegal and have been so for decades.

Numerous vehicle-train collisions over the years should have served as a warning for last night’s inevitable accident, residents of houses and workshops along the route said.

One long-time resident, a civil servant, who recently sold his house across the railway tracks, said it was a disgrace that the authorities did not provide a safe crossing for those living on the other side of the lines.

“The track is crisscrossed with roads to houses there. I was told that it is illegal to build a road or make a path across the lines when I applied for permission to get access to my land but still there are so many crossings.

“What are they (the authorities) doing about it? This is a big slap in their face.

“They know but have refused to act for years despite numerous accidents… you go check the papers. Perhaps now they will do something,” said the individual who asked not to be named.