Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Haphazard Malaysian railway blueprint

Malaysia's railway blueprint is as haphazard as the country's current political climate.

The Straits Times today reported that the government is set to revive part of Malaysia's massive railway project with the award of a RM12.5 billion contract to a joint venture led by businessman Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bhukary.

The report said MMC Corporation, the corporate flagship of Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar's vast business empire, will team up with Lin Yun Ling's construction house Gamuda to build an electrified, double-track rail system stretching from the central city of Ipoh in Perak to Padang Besar on the Malaysia-Thai border.

The news is not unexpected although the project to build the entire track was shelved by the current administration following the retirement of former PM Mahathir Mohamad in 2003. The lobbying to revive the project has been intense.

The cost also appears to have ballooned. The plan to build the entire track along the peninsular was estimated to be RM14.5 billion back in 2003. But the price tag is now reported to be RM12.5 billion for a segment of the Malaysian peninsular.

Another point that's not been made clear by the government is the other major leg of the Malaysian railway blueprint -- between the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru and/or Singapore.

A report this week by Singapore's The Business Times cited JP Morgan as saying that Francis Yeoh's YTL bullet train project between KL and JB is set to take off. The price tag also appears to have gone up -- RM11 billion from the reported figure of RM8 billion earlier.

Will the two railway projects be able to coordinate their operations and make fast train service seamless from southern Malaysia to the tip of the Thai border? Will travelers be able to hop on the train one day in Singapore and travel all the way via Malaysia and Thailand to reach Kunming in China as part of the Asean dream?

Sophie's World doesn't have high hopes, after so many false starts amidst all the problems within Asean.

Maybe, Malaysia must continue to rely on the good old, snail-pace Keretapi Tanah Melayu.

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