Derail unnecessary railway projects

It is important that taxpayers’ money be spent wisely on projects that are feasible and which generate economic returns for the country.

At a time when there is a need to enhance public transport within cities to relieve congestion and to reduce vehicle use, spending a total of RM16 billion on rails from Ipoh to the Thailand border and Seremban to Gemas is rather puzzling.

Selena Tay, Free Malaysia Today

Malaysia is one of the only countries in the world with a very high number of car ownership according to the population ratio. This problem is most acute in the Klang Valley where car ownership per 1,000 persons in 2002 is 994.  This means that out of 1,000 persons, 994 of them own a car.

This demand for private transport has been mainly driven by the lack of efficient public transport alternatives to cope with the accelerating demand in urban centres. To illustrate, the percentage of trips using private vehicles rose significantly from 47% in 1985 to 71% in 2005 while in the same period the share of public transport dropped from 35% to 16%.

According to the National Key Result Area (NKRA) report by Pemandu (Performance Management and Delivery Unit), this figure is even lower in 2010 at 13%.  This malaise is the cause of urban congestion in the Klang Valley.

In addition to traffic congestion that costs Malaysia in lost productivity, the excessive use of motor vehicles has led to noise and atmospheric pollution, accidents, environmental decay and unsustainable energy use. Therefore, making public transport more convenient and efficient is imperative and this is where the KTM commuter train comes in as it is fast and economical, not to mention saving us the hassle of being caught in traffic jams or paying expensive car park charges.

However, it is sad to note that KTM Bhd (KTMB) has incurred a loss of RM92.6 million in 2009, which, of course, is a massive sum indeed.

One of the reasons for this is that KTMB has a high number of outstanding debtors  As at the end of 2008, KTMB had failed to collect debts amounting to RM40.7 million. Another reason is that KTMB does not have enough electric multiple sets (EMUs) to support its commuter train services, which can generate much income if properly managed.

There are now only 36 train sets compared to its original 62 train sets when the KTM commuter service was first established in 1995. This is despite the fact that new stations have been added and passenger demand has tripled; for instance, the Rawang-Seremban Line has been extended to Sungai Gadut and the Port Klang-Sentul Line has been extended to Batu Caves.

Economic benefits

Besides the new stations extending from these two lines, the Rawang-Seremban line has also seen new stations being added within the line itself, that is, Kepong Sentral added between Kepong and Sungai Buloh and Mid-Valley just after KL Sentral besides another subsidiary line extending to Tanjung Malim. As train sets have decreased, commuters have to put up with cancelled or delayed trips.

Another issue that merits attention is the 1Malaysia KL-Ipoh Express which reduces travel time from three hours to two. This train is definitely making a loss as it is almost always three-quarter empty because not many people travel from KL to Ipoh or Ipoh to KL everyday. This is compounded by the fact that there already exists ordinary trains running from KL to Ipoh and vice-versa daily, albeit the journey takes three hours.

Currently these express trains are being used to double up as commuter trains for the Rawang-Seremban line as the KL-Ipoh route is highly under-utilised.

Part of the problem pertaining to public transport is because the government has spent our money on building more highways instead of focusing on improving the rail service. Public transport investment priorities by the federal government are skewed towards mega-projects which are not necessarily the projects which will produce the most effective and efficient outcome for public transport utilisation in Malaysia.

One has to question the economic benefits arising from the double-tracking railway from Ipoh to the Thailand border that will cost taxpayers RM12.5 billion, out of which RM5 billion alone is spent just for signalling. The 329km Ipoh-to-Padang Besar railway will cost a massive RM38 million per kilometre, which is 62% higher than the RM23.5 million for the 179km double-tracking railway from Rawang to Ipoh, which was completed for only RM4.2 billion.