Saturday, April 07, 2007

Of fast cars and slow trains

Pix source: Formula One at Sepang (top) courtesy of Malaysia's Shukor Janis of Shuk Photo, and KTM (bottom) from Wikipedia

The race is on for Singapore to narrow the gap with Malaysia in the Formula One arena. Singapore is set to sign a deal to host F1 in a couple of weeks -- some eight years after Malaysia joined the F1 circuit.

Many people, including some commentators in Singapore, had criticised former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's decision to build a first-class track in the middle of the jungle. The Sepang track was conveniently billed as one of his wasteful mega projects.

But many people have come around to accept the wisdom of hosting the F1 event as a necessary tourist magnet.

Unlike many competitive areas between the two countries due to their proximity, there is room to host the big event in the two nearby capitals. As pointed out by Dr Mahathir's second son Mokhzani Mahathir in The Straits Times today, the races in Malaysia must not be held back to back. Mokhzani, who was instrumental in bringing F1 to Malaysia together with his father, said the races in Singapore and Malaysia must be held at different ends of the eight-month racing calendar. Malaysia at the start and Singapore at the end, he said.

Sounds reasonable to make it more appealing to fans who won't want to be under the equatorial sun for two straight races. And there two other key aspects to differentiate the two racing venues -- Singapore is likely to have street racing versus a closed circuit in Malaysia; and night racing in Singapore versus day racing in Sepang.

While the two countries are likely to see cars going at more than 300 km an hour outside Kuala Lumpur and in Singapore, we will have to wait for some time before we can see a fast train zipping from Singapore to KL at over 300 km. The two governments are still studying the proposal by
YTL to build a bullet train from KL to Singapore, cutting travel time to just 90 minutes from the current 8-hour snail ride provided by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM).

According to Malaysia's
The Business Times today, German engineering expert Siemens is keen to be the technology provider for the proposed high-speed train project linking the capitals of Malaysia and Singapore.

Tim Hunter, Siemens' new head of rail for Malaysia, painted an interesting route the proposed train service could take.

"Ideally, it would begin from KL Sentral, linking the airport and Johor Baru and Changi Airport - that would make sense to me because inter-modal exchanges are most important."

What a great route! One can hop from one airport to another in 90 minutes or so.

But he also noted a complication. He said the existing KTM routes would have to be upgraded significantly, as would the causeway crossing. The existing causeway linking JB and Singapore could well be the deciding factor for the entire project. There are many
complications in the cross-border fast train link.

While we continue to wait for a faster train service linking KL and Singapore, we can get a taste of speed at 300 km from watching Formula One cars on Singapore's streets one day.

PS: Interesting trivia in the ST report today: When Dr Mahathir and Mokhzani met F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone in 1995, Mokhzani said his father offered to build a circuit to host the Malaysian leg. Mr Ecclestone stood up and offered his hand.


johore_royalist said...

What the heck, F1 is a race, Sophie. KTM Komuter trains don't race like F1 cars. Does Monte Carlo have high speed trains going around the city? There's hardly any correlation between F1 and public infrastructure development.

Sophie said...

dear johore royalist, posting is not meant to be a literal comparison between the two projects. i was just making an observation about the need for two high-speed projects -- F1 and bullet train -- in the singapore/malaysia context. tks for your comment though. woof woof

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