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Commentary: KL-Singapore High Speed Rail proposal

TRANSIT recently noted that YTL Corporation’s proposal for a High Speed Rail link between KL and Singapore has been brought back to life. The following articles have more information:

An image of the Siemens Velaro Electric Multiple Unit train, (proposed by Siemens Corp. for the KL-Singapore High Speed rail) is shown below:

Visit this link for a discussion of the High Speed Rail proposal as well as more photos including Valero trains in-service in Germany, Russia, and China.

For general information, the Wikipedia entry on the Siemens Velaro is here.
Three different people have chimed in with interesting letters is support of the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail Proposal.

Gursharan Singh wrote a letter published in the Star, which we are enclosing below.  He also wrote a similar letter for the NST, linkedhere.

Fast track the S’pore bullet train project (The Star)
Friday July 3, 2009

IT is reported that the YTL Corp still believes, as it has done since the late 1990s, that the high-speed bullet train linking Kuala Lumpur with Singapore is still a viable project.

Covering a distance of about 300km and costing about RM8bil, it will cut travel time from the present seven hours to about 90 minutes.

YTL considers its implementation important to further build and strengthen the country’s economy as it can also help attract foreign investors to the country.

Many developed countries such as China, Japan, the UK and those in Europe have successfully implemented the high-speed train system and Malaysia should have it due to its viability.

In another report, Datuk Ahmad Zaid of Johor has proposed the double-tracking KTM railway system to include the 197km stretch between Johor Baru and Gemas. It will cost RM7.5bil, which will include the building of overhead bridges.

This extension of the current Gemas-Seremban is being considered by the relevant authorities.

The YTL proposal is a privately funded project where the company is willing to take full financial risks due to its confidence in the viability of the project. The JB-Gemas project is to be financed by taxpayers and it could substantially reduce the travel problems of the Johor people. [TRANSIT: We remind Mr. Singh that, while there are 3 levels of government, there is only one level of taxpayer – and we are the ones who will be on the hook if this project needs a government bailout]

However, in the absence of details, [TRANSIT: Always a dangerous phrase] it is impossible to ascertain whether the JB-Gemas length of 197km costing RM7.5bil (RM37mil per km) is fair and reasonable compared with the KL-Singapore journey of 300km that is estimated to cost RM8bil (RM27mil per km). [TRANSIT: note the key word, estimated]

What is certain is that both projects are viable and will complement each other as one is an express service while the other will mainly be a commuter service for those living along the route. [TRANSIT: What is truly certain is that many other HSR projects (even the successful ones) have required significant government subsidy. So has every other mass-transit project built in Malaysia. We should not kid ourselves about this fact.]
Both can be a stimulus for developing those undeveloped areas and generate commercial/industrial/housing opportunities. Employment opportunities will be created that will benefit the locals and state and federal revenues. [TRANSIT: The stimulus effect of intercity rail is not as well-proven as the stimulus effect of intra-city rail. Why not spend the RM8 billion on a new LRT line for KL?]

It may be noted that the first double-tracking project (Rawang-Seremban and Sentul-Port Kelang) was constructed in the mid-1980s covering 181km. The cost was less than RM3mil per km without any overhead bridges and functional station buildings.

The 180km Ipoh-Rawang link was estimated to cost RM40mil per km. The 1990 YTL proposals of the KL-Singapore link was estimated to cost RM5bil or RM17mil per km. Thus, delay has only raised the cost and hampered the development of surrounding areas and economic progress. [TRANSIT: It is always worrying when people suggest that, if we don’t build now, it will cost more in the future.]
Now is the right time as the projects will definitely stimulate the economy and further the efforts of the Government. Delay can prove to be financially not beneficial. [TRANSIT: See comments above]

However, the government-funded project should be based on competitive tenders and not negotiation. This will promote transparency and accountability while minimising opportunities for corruption and fraud. [TRANSIT: At last, some sense. But think of how challenging it will be to negotiate between 2 countries (Malaysia and Singapore) and 5 different states (KL, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Melaka, and Johor)]

Kuala Lumpur.

Someone named T.E.T. also wrote a letter suggesting that YTL focus on serving west coast communities.

But it is the letter by Mohd. Peter Davis, (in which he uses the KL-Singapore railway proposal as a platform to promote Magnetic Levitation technology) that really caught my attention and left me quite concerned. I enclose it below with a few comments and qualifying statements.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Think about ‘flying on land’
NST Online » Letters 2009/07/08
By : MOHD PETER DAVIS, Bandar Baru Bangi

I AGREE with Gursharan Singh’s article (“A good time for that rail project” — NST, July 3) that now is the best time to upgrade Malaysia’s railway system.

In 1957, the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore express train service took seven hours 35 minutes; today it takes seven hours. The journey by car or express bus can be completed in four hours without traffic jams.

However, traffic jams are a way of life in the Klang Valley and other major urban areas. It is twice as fast for my daughter and her fellow students to walk the few kilometres from their apartments to their colleges in Subang Jaya, but this is not so easily done without a dedicated pedestrian path. [TRANSIT: How is intercity congestion related to travel from KL-Singapore? Perhaps we should focus on building pedestrian paths?]

My independent research reveals a road death rate per million population that is three to four times higher in Malaysia than in Australia, Japan or Britain. The heavy reliance on motorcycles in Malaysia must be the main reason for this. Worldwide, motorcycles are inherently unsafe, with a death toll of 117 per billion kilometres travelled compared with 12 for cars and only one for planes and trains. Roads worldwide have been transformed into death-traps. With 30 million road deaths in the 20th century, the transition to fast and safe public transport, affordable for the entire population, is long, long overdue. [TRANSIT: Once again, we wonder where the connection is]

The short distances between urban centres in peninsular Malaysia makes high speed intercity trains a far better choice than planes, especially with airports a long way away from city centres.

Scientists and engineers internationally have done their job. Suitable public transport technology is available and lacks only the political will to implement.

Japan’s bullet trains travelling at 210kph have been operating successfully and profitably for 45 years. This is the fast rail system proposed for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route by the YTL group. However, the much better Maglev technology, capable of 480kph has been sitting on the shelf for decades. Only China has taken the plunge with this German technology. For the past five years commercial Maglev trains have been amazing travellers with the four-minute trip from Shanghai airport to the city centre. China is extending the Maglev line to Hagzhou City, which by next year is scheduled to cut the 175km journey to 30 minutes. Japan has announced it will replace its bullet trains with Maglev trains travelling more than twice the speed.

Clearly, Malaysia should not be the last country to use the 1960s bullet-train technology, but should instead leapfrog to a Maglev railway network covering the whole peninsula. [TRANSIT: WHY?]

I think the Maglev system most suitable for Malaysia is the American Maglev 2000. The modular concrete Maglev track, elevated above existing railway lines and alongside highways, can move both the intercity Maglev passenger trains at 480kph and the larger Maglev container trains at 300kph. This gets several cars and trucks off the roads. (Maglev photos and diagrams can be viewed on my website, [TRANSIT: Perhaps more accurate numbers can be provided here?]

Travel time for passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban will be reduced to 12 minutes, 60 minutes to JB or Butterworth, KL to Kuantan will take 40 minutes, Kuala Terengganu 70 minutes and Kota Baru 100 minutes. Suburban feeder Maglev trains will quickly get people close to their workplace.

This will be a grand project, but it is no more difficult or expensive than building highways. Given cheap electricity that only nuclear power plants can supply, the low operating costs will make travelling by Maglev “flying on land” affordable for all Malaysians, children included. [TRANSIT: Many countries in the world have highways, but only two countries have Maglev. Clearly it is “more difficult” than some would claim.]

A Malaysian Maglev railway network, achievable within 10 years, must therefore be seen as an essential component, along with nuclear energy, of a high-tech Vision 2020.


While we admire the faith that Mohd. Peter Davis has in Magnetic Levitation technology, we do not share the same level of faith and do not have the confidence that such a line in Malaysia would be cost-effective or successfully meet the needs of Malaysians.

The letter and website posting by Mohd. Peter Davis do not make an effective connection between the need for better public transport and the need for high-speed rail (let alone Maglev technology).

In fact, his observation that his daughter and her friends could walk to their colleges in Subang Jaya “twice as fast” if there were a “dedicated path” does nothing to support his argument in favour of high speed rail.

In fact, it supports the belief of the people at TRANSIT that we should put our attention towards improving public transport from the ground up, building better pedestrian walkways and improving the reliability of the bus service, before looking at projects like Maglev (or Aerorail, or Aerobus, or LRT in places where there is no public transport yet).

Moaz from TRANSIT shares his own observation:

In the 1970s, the Canadian government partnered with a German company to develop Magnetic Levitation technology. The project was largely a failure due to high costs and the government pulled out of the project. What remained was sold to the Urban Transporatation Development Corporation or UTDC, a Crown (publicly-owned) corporation of the Government of the Province of Ontario that had taken over various public transport assets.

The UTDC designed a system powered by Linear Induction.

TRANSIT stops for a moment to share some technical Stuff:

  • In a conventional train, the engine turns the wheels which pushes the train forward.
  • In a Linear Induction train a series of magnets pull the train forward.
  • In a Maglev train, a series of magnets push the train upwards (off the track) and another series of magnets pulls the train forward.

Now back to the story:

UTDC needed to have a public transport operator demonstrate its new technology. They settled on the Toronto Transit Commission, which was about to build an LRT line in the east end of the city.

The UTDC and Ontario government promised the Toronto Transit Commission would receive full funding (including cost overruns) to change from the overhead wire technology of the LRT to the Linear Induction technology of UTDC.

The Scarborough Rapid Transit line opened in 1985.

The Urban Transportation Development Corporation was sold to Bombardier Transportation in the 1980s. Today the Intermediate Capacity Transit System is marketed as Advanced Rapid Transit and has been sold to numerous cities including Kuala Lumpur.

The point of the story is that, in the case of Maglev, the faith in technology did not make the technology any more practical. The ICTS story has shown that even that technology has not been as successful as originally believed. Toronto, for example, is currently debating about expanding the ICTS Scarborough RT line, or replacing it with conventional overhead wire technology.

7 replies on “Commentary: KL-Singapore High Speed Rail proposal”

Maglev guy is scary. And what the wiki said is startling. The Shanghai airport train is mainly an experimental line for the German firm to “sell” their pricey technology to the Chinese. Unfortunately, they didn’t buy it since it was reported that the Beijing-Shanghai route has since reverted to conventional high-speed rail.

It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of “American Maglev 2000” and guess what, no American is riding in one as we speak. I’m not sure if he was referring to this … … but if he was, it is a joke.

But Moaz, I think we’re also missing out a point here. Intercity high speed rail direct competitors are AirAsia, KTM, PLUS and Transnasional. If we neglect intercity rail travel too much, we might just end up like the Americans today who are putting up with congested airports and delayed flights.

Taiwan was supposed to see an increase in domestic flights and highway travel but it was reported that the flights are now halved and toll collection has reduced. So we’re actually talking about reducing the neverending LCCT airport extensions and highway expansions, and providing another alternative to people returning to their hometowns every festive season.

I take cognisance also that Malaysia is a poor country. So if YTL is so sure that it would turn a profit like the Taiwanese and succeed like the Spanish, he can build it on one condition: With its own money.

If it does fail later, at least Tony Fernandes can buy it with RM1 again.


A very good point. We recognize the need for reliable intercity rail. As for high-speed rail, perhaps we are not at that level yet where such a service is needed.

Double tracking will be the most significant project in Malaysia and increase the number of trains KTM can run by a factor of 10 (if not more). That will definitely increase the reliability of intercity rail and increase the demand for it.

We only have to look at the growth of traffic on the KL-Ipoh corridor after the double tracking (without electric trains) to see that it does work.

Double tracking is proving itself, but we still have to ask: Is double-tracking + electrification necessary?

If double tracking + electrification prove themselves (e.g. on the KL-Butterworth corridor) then we talk about intercity high speed rail.

This article is a joke. Saying that the Japanese bullet train is a 60-year old technology shows nothing but blatant ignorance.

Japan and France have been the first countries in the world to promote, develop and operate successful, reliable, and fast high speed tracks for decades now. And of course, the technology is evolving. Alstom rolled out its new AGV and the Japanese heavies will soon release a new type as well.

Of course infrastructure costs a bomb, but that’s why its construction should be government backed.

And please, no more Maglev joke. They are electricity guzzler machines, which translates into more pollution for countries not operating nuclear power.

Yes, maglev uses up even more electricity compare to conventional high speed train. In the long run, it’s not environmentally friendly and it is very wasteful.

No doubt the high speed rail between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur seems to be not so necessary for the moment, but we must planned ahead, we cannot wait until like an old Hokkien saying goes,”when the shit is almost reaching your pants then only you try to find a loo”, this is exactly what happen to the construction of MRT and extension of LRT lines now. It was like 20 years ago, mobile phone was seems like not relevant to our life and consider to be a luxury item. But nowadays, even I saw beggar owns a handphone. Believe it or not, I strongly believe sooner or later we need the service of high speed train if we want to connect to the rest of the world, we must plan earlier and build earlier, don’t try to build a loo only when you need one URGENTLY and DESEPERATELY. Thank you.


that is a very interesting analogy.

To borrow from it, let us say that TRANSIT is not saying we should not build a toilet – the question is, do we need a toilet with gold-plated taps & fixtures which is as expensive as real gold?

Moreover, do we need a toilet that is so expensive that only a few people can afford to use it and few people get the benefits?

Or…is it right to build a classy 5-star hotel toilet in KL while everyone in every other city is left to go in a bucket?

Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

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