TRANSIT took note of this article, provided by Malaysian national news agency Bernama and carried by various local media.
In the article, KTMB Chair Mohd. Dzin Mohamed (himself the former Minister of Works) comments on the problems that the urban rail transit networks are facing.
KTMB chairman says more needs to be done to serve commuters better (The Star)
5 February 2010
WHILE the government recently announced several initiatives to boost public transport ridership especially in the Klang Valley, where demand and complaints are at their highest, rail transport insiders are asking that more push be given to rail transport.
This is because the main passenger hauliers will be trains — be they KTM Komuter, RapidKL LRT or Monorail — under the government’s National Key Result Areas (NKRA) for public transport.
A critical look at the grim situation brings out several issues which need to be addressed quickly by economic planners, especially in terms of train capacity and scheduling.
That the KTM Komuter trains are filled to the brim speaks of the fact that there is no shortage of takers for public transport in view of its relatively cheap cost.
For example, the fare from KL Sentral to Seremban is only RM6.
About 100,000 commuters jam KTM Komuter trains daily to travel from Seremban to Kuala Lumpur, to Rawang and even Tanjong Malim and vice-versa and from Sentul to Port Klang and back on weekdays.
They pack themselves like sardines in about 20 sets of Electric Multiple Units (EMU) of three cars each.
From a schedule of 15-minute intervals at one time, which required at least 36 EMU sets to be provided by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd or KTMB, this has since slowed to 20-minute intervals, which theoretically needs 25 EMU sets.
But KTMB does not have the luxury of 25 EMU sets each. Since September 2009, their availability has been down to around 21 EMU sets.
Sometimes, this can sink to a low of 15 to 18 sets per day. Hence, delays of up to 40 minutes or more on certain sectors are not uncommon.
In an interview with Bernama, KTMB chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Zin Mohamed said the reason the situation had been allowed to happen was because of a lack of action in terms of maintenance and a shortage of funds to get proper maintenance and spare parts to address the issue of wear and tear.
[TRANSIT: We state, without fear, favour or doubt that the leading cause was the lack of action rather than the shortage of funds]
The former Works Minister did not mince his words when he blamed this on poor maintenance culture at KTMB on one hand and the lack of financial support from government planners on the other.
[TRANSIT: And we do not mince words when we say that the problem was a lack of direction and clear understanding of how to invest in a rail network. Not to mention, a former Minister of Transport who spent most of his time dealing with ports.]
Mohd Zin said from 1995 to 1998, KTMB had 62 EMU sets.
But five sets had to be scrapped later due to accidents, leaving KTMB with only 57 sets.
Of that, 32 EMUs have been knocked out by wear and tear and subsequently through poor maintenance.
“This leaves only 25 EMUs to faithfully serve loyal commuters until they break down,” Mohd Zin, who is also the Sepang MP, said.
The sorry state of affairs would make it imperative for KTMB to re-look at its priorities immediately to salvage the damaged trains and put them into service for a “quick win” with the commuting public, he added.
Besides the purchase of new train sets announced earlier, Mohd Zin said additional funds were also needed for the repair of non-operational or run-down trains to enable KTMB to alleviate the frustrations of commuters and for the government to be seen as sensitive to their prolonged plight.
[TRANSIT: Buying new trains after 5 years is not a way to show that the government is sensitive to our ‘prolonged plight’. Apologizing and making sure that it never happens again is the way to show that the government is sensitive!]
This view is also shared by Transit, or the Association for the Improvement of Mass Transit, which said that KTM Komuter was now carrying three times more passengers than it did in 1995 and at least 60 train sets were needed on the KTM Komuter line for a decent 10-minute service frequency.
Over the medium and long term, Mohd Zin, a civil engineer by profession, said it would also be necessary for KTMB to evaluate the size of its railway gauge.
KTMB’s trains currently run on the metre gauge (measuring one metre or 3 ft 33/8 inches wide), which is used by about 7% of railways in the world.
Mohd Zin explained that this meant that new railway equipment would be difficult to procure since most manufacturers of railway equipment were focusing on the standard gauge of 1.435m or 4ft 8.5in.
[TRANSIT: That is not really the issue. The problem is that the order coming from Malaysia are too small to bring economics of scale (and lower costs) for the ‘meter gauge’ railways. If only all the ASEAN railways could pool their purchases – that would increase the scale of ‘meter gauge’ and cut costs for all the nations.]
About 60% of the world’s railways use the standard gauge and they are mostly in Europe, Argentina, the United States, Canada, China, South Korea, Australia, the Middle East, North Africa, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, Uruguay and the Philippines.
The high-speed lines in Japan and Spain also use the standard gauge. Incidentally, the RapidKL and KLIA Ekspress also use the standard gauge.
Mohd Zin, who is a member of the American Society of Engineers, said new railways were usually built to the standard gauge as its advantages were that it facilitated inter-running with neighbouring railways and locomotives and rolling stock could be ordered from manufacturers’ standard designs and do not need to be custom built.
[TRANSIT: Our ‘neighbouring railways’ do not use standard gauge. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar mostly use ‘meter’ gauge (1000mm) railways, while Indonesia uses ‘narrow’ gauge (1067mm). The Asian Railway from Singapore to China will be standard gauge with dual gauge sections.]
Asked about the long-term prospects of KTMB, he said the company would have to seriously look at unlocking the value of its landed assets.
Mohd Zin said unlocking the value of its property scattered all over Peninsular Malaysia and in Singapore would enable KTMB to raise funds to modernise its rolling stock, passenger coaches, railway equipment and train stations, and even re-look at plans for improving railway tracks to be in line with international standards.
[TRANSIT: Dare we ask, who shall we sell these valuable land assets to? And how will the government ensure that KTMB and the Railway Assets Management Corporation and MRCB get full value for these assets?]
This would help transform KTMB into a vibrant and viable transport corporation, he said. — Bernama
We are happy to see that the Chair of KTMB is aware of the many significant problems that KTMB has had to deal with. However, his explanation of the issues rings very hollow.
The issue of management, maintenance culture and lack of funding is really common knowledge, so talking about these issues is not saying much. But it is nice to hear the problems acknowledged.
The KTMB chair stops short of announcing or discussing the ‘catch-up’ train investments in great detail – suggesting that they may not be finalized yet or that funding has still not been confirmed.
As for the meter gauge issue, this is a minor one and not worthy of mentioning. We have meter gauge and we should live with it. If he really wants to resolve the issue, instead of talking about gauge conversion, tell us about plans to work with the rail operators in other countries and have joint purchases of meter gauge trains.
As for the comment about unlocking land assets, we at TRANSIT can see people start to salivate at the prospects. But KTM should not be selling its assets to pay for operations. The government should be giving it enough funding.
The suggestion of having KTMB sell assets to pay for operations is like asking a starving man to sell his house so he can buy better furniture!