Saturday, December 23, 2006

Updated: Malay Land Railway

The massive rains have caused havoc to southern and eastern Malaysia. The country is still cleaning up the mess.

As widely reported, the rail service from Singapore to certain parts of Malaysia has been disrupted due to the floods. The service disruption is aptly captured in this rather interesting picture in New Straits Times. Several observations can be made about the disruption of the train service in Malaysia:

1. First, the current single track system operated by the anachronistically named Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malay Land Railway or Malayan Railway instead of Malaysian Railway) is obviously inadequate. Malaysia needs a double-tracking system to allow two-way traffic. The second line can still be used in the event of disruption to the first line. How can Malaysia move goods and people fast using a rail network that was built by the British in the late 19th century?

2. It's perhaps better to embark on a fast train service project in Malaysia that will require a stronger foundation for the tracks. Such tracks won't be as easily dislodged as the old gravel system to support the single track.

MMC and Gamuda had proposed a double-tracking railway system for a fast train service but the RM14.5-billion project was shelved by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi three years ago. Malaysian tycoon Francis Yeoh of YTL is now proposing a bullet train service between KL and Singapore but it's not known if the train service will materialise as well.

3. The disruption of the rail service has raised an interesting academic conundrum for bilateral ties between Malaysia and Singapore.

It is well known that Malaysia has legal title to the railway land in Singapore to operate a railway service through KTM. However, under the terms of the lease, should Malaysia stop operating its railway service to Singapore, the Malaysian railway land in Singapore reverts to Singapore (That is why KTM had been runing the shabby train service to Singapore although it was probably losing money from carrying so few passengers on each trip!)

The point is probably moot because Malaysia and Singapore had signed the so-called Points of Agreement to jointly re-develop the Malaysian railway land in Singapore in 1990. However, the two governments have not been able to come to terms on basic points in the POA in the past 16 years.

In fact, Malaysia's former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad didn't quite recognise the POA, saying it was not ratified by the Malaysian Parliament -- eight years after it was signed by former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew and ex-Malaysian Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin.

So what will happen to the Malaysian railway land in Singapore if Malaysia uses the damage caused by the flood as an excuse to stop its unpopular* train service to Singapore indefinitely?

*The train service is not the most popular mode of transport between Singapore and KL as it takes more than seven hours on the current single track. Furthermore, it's faster to travel by highway (4 hours) and planes (45 minutes). The KTM service will become even more anachronistic once the Asean open-skies pact takes effect in 2008, a move that will allow budget airlines to fly more freely between KL and Singapore and other Asean cities.

Latest: KTM has resumed train service since Christmas Eve, according to Singapore TV channel Channel NewsAsia. But KTM is still a shabby service!

1 comment:

Nvittal said...

WOW!! Amazing pictures!