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Malaysia plans five years of rail growth

01 Oct 2006

The Ninth Malaysia Plan outlines all aspects of the country's development framework for 2006-10. Rail investment will focus on increasing operational efficiency, and promoting freight, commuter and inter-city passenger traffic

ON MARCH 31 the government of Malaysia unveiled its Ninth Malaysia Plan, setting out a detailed framework for national economic development in 2006-10. State railway operator KTMB has been allocated US$1·08bn for infrastructure and rolling stock investment focused on increasing operational efficiency, as well as promoting rail for freight transport and as an efficient alternative for inter-city passenger movements.

A special focus is being given to developing urban rail networks like KTM Komuter, encouraging a modal shift from private vehicles to public transport to alleviate traffic congestion. The Plan also calls for better integration between various modes and the different operators' rail networks.

Previous Malaysia Plans emphasised the importance of rail links to major ports such as West Port (Port Klang), Tanjung Pelepas and North Butterworth Container Terminal (Penang).

Demand for freight movement by rail is continuing to increase, with the Malaysian economy averaging annual growth of 5·2% since 2000. Coupled with that, KTMB has been playing an important role in transporting goods from southern Thailand, with 12 daily freight trains running from the border station at Padang Besar to Penang for export. Landbridge services between Malaysia and Thailand have grown from two services per week when introduced in 1999 to 40 per week, with return shuttles now running on the Port Klang - Bangkok, Pasir Gudang - Bangkok, Penang Port - Surat Thani and Port Klang - Hatyai routes. We currently carry 11 000 tonnes of freight a day on 38 trains, and increased track capacity will accommodate more services on our 1 658 route-km network of largely single-track metre-gauge lines.

At the same time, the demand for commuter services has increased tremendously, encouraged by the government which is keen to promote urban public transport. Ridership in the Klang Valley increased by 59% from 19·4 million in 2000 to 30·9 million in 2005.

This growth in demand was spurred further by an increase in petrol prices from US$0·44 to US$0·52 per litre on February 28 2003. The present 153 route-km of electrified double track in the Klang Valley is now inadequate, so double-tracking and electrification of the 182 km Rawang - Ipoh route was started under the Eighth Malaysia Plan to resolve partly the track capacity constraint.

The Ninth Plan allocates US$270m for the Rawang - Ipoh project, which has been rescheduled for completion by the end of 2007. As well as allowing more freight trains to be run between Ipoh and Port Klang, completion will permit the extension of commuter services from Rawang to Tanjung Malim and the introduction of a rapid train service between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh.

The 25 kV electrification as far as Rasa was energised on September 21, and it is planned that commuter services will be extended to Rasa by end of 2006 to capitalise on the infrastructure which is already completed.

Some of the budget is allocated for improving station facilities to meet the rising expectations of commuters on the existing Klang Valley services. These works include expansion of waiting areas and car parks, additional ticketing facilities, provision of ramps and lifts for disabled passengers, and the construction of canopies to fully cover platforms.

Axleload increase

KTMB has embarked on a long-term project to upgrade from 16 to 20 tonne axleloads, and all new or renewed infrastructure is being designed to this standard. The aim is to improve the productivity of freight trains in particular.

With this in mind, KTMB purchased 20 General Electric locomotives of 3 300 hp in 2003 and a further 20 locos from Dalian in China. These have allowed us to almost double our freight train haulage capacity from 20 to 30 or 40 wagons per train. The order was a precursor to an earlier plan to double the whole north-south West Coast route, but the government has since decided to implement double-tracking in smaller stages. In the meantime, funding has been allocated to strengthen tracks and bridges in critical areas, and works are in progress to increase axleloads on the Seremban - Gemas, Gemas - Kerdau and Bukit Mertajam - Ipoh routes, and between Bukit Timah and Tanjung Pagar in Singapore.

New projects

Long-awaited by the public is the double-tracking and electrification of the 7·5e_STnSkm Sentul - Batu Caves branch north of Kuala Lumpur. Construction is expected to begin by the end of this year for completion within 30 months. The link will not only benefit daily commuters along the route but also the many tourists and pilgrims to Batu Caves.

Another major project is doubling the line through the pass between Taiping and Padang Rengas, which will involve the construction of new tunnels and a change in alignment.

To expand the commuter network to the south, the government has included in the Ninth Malaysia Plan the double-tracking and electrification of the 10 km between Seremban and Senawang. However, the implementation of these last two projects may be delayed to give funding priority to projects which are already committed or underway.

KTMB is to build a new central workshop and Railway Centre of Excellence on a 400 acre site in Batu Gajah, a project which has been identified for funding through a Private Finance Initiative. The workshop has been designed to maintain 120 locomotives, 300 coaches, 408 EMU cars and 4e_STnS000 wagons, and will have ample space for expansion. The Railway Centre of Excellence will be equipped with state of the art training facilities which could cater not only for KTMB staff but also for other railway organisations, particularly from Asean countries.

The Ninth Plan includes the purchase of six EMUs for the planned rapid train service between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. The six-car sets would be capable of 140 km/h running and would cover the journey in 2 h 15 min. Other rolling stock projects include overhaul of 50 EMUs, 10 shunting locos, 200 coaches and procurement of 40 new coaches. The acquisition of new wagons will be implemented towards the end of the plan period, as our immediate requirements can be met through the improvements in wagon turnaround under current productivity initiatives.

As well as developing its own network, KTMB is also assisting in the modernisation of Sabah State Railway in East Malaysia under the five-year plan (RG 5.06 p244). On behalf of the federal government KTMB is providing project management for an upgrade of infrastructure, signalling and communication systems between Tanjung Aru and Tenom.

Going global

KTMB has been carrying international passenger and freight traffic to Thailand and Singapore for many decades. Demand for cross-border freight services is increasing, particularly as the landbridge services between Malaysia and Thailand offer an attractive alternative to feeder ships.

With globalisation and the opening up of Indo-China and the Chinese market, Malaysia is committed to the implementation of the Trans-Asian Railway. In the first phase of development, we are actively pursuing the implementation of the Singapore - Kunming Rail Link. Malaysia has decided to donate 106 km of recovered rails from KTMB projects for construction of the missing link between Poipet and Sisophon, and these will be sent to Cambodia by November 2006.

Strategy and future policy

KTMB needs to play a greater role in changing Malaysia's transport landscape, which has been too focused on roads. Considering the problems of road congestion, accidents, pollution and rising fuel prices, policy makers have realised the advantages and potential of rail. KTMB will pursue a policy of moving bulk, long haul and dangerous cargoes, where rail is more cost effective and energy efficient than other modes.

Rail will also play a more important role in urban travel, especially in big cities like Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Penang and Johor Bahru where systems like KTM Komuter, light rail, and monorails will encoruage modal shift from a largely road-based approach.

Future development and modernisation of Malaysia's rail infrastructure should seriously consider more main-line electrification. KTMB is keen to use electric traction for freight movement, which has now become more pertinent owing to the ever-increasing cost of fuel.

At the moment, there are no plans to allow other companies to run freight trains on our network, although KTMB has permitted open-access for the Eastern & Oriental luxury passenger train between Singapore, Penang and Bangkok.

Recently there was a private proposal to build and operate a high speed line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. As far as KTMB is concerned, we prefer to concentrate on modernising the existing infrastructure through double tracking and electrification from Seremban to Johor Bahru or Singapore. In this way the huge investment in the railway infrastructure will not solely benefit passenger services, but also freight trains on the existing and well-connected network. Double-tracking and electrification of the existing network would improve our capability, and offer the greatest overall benefit to the country.

CAPTION: The newly built Slim River station on the Rawang - Ipoh route will be served by fast trains from KL

CAPTION: Flanked by Komuter EMUs, a freight train passes Rawang KTMB is keen to use electric traction for main line freight operations in future

KTMB traffic 1996-2005

Year 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Commuter Passengers million 11·1 16·5 20·8 16·5 19·4 20·9 22·6 24·6 27·4 30·9
Passenger-km million 252·0 349·9 463·1 422·7 437·3 507·5 558·4 586·7 654·8 732·2
Inter-city Passengers million 6·1 5·4 4·9 4·3 3·8 3·5 3·4 3·4 3·6 3·7
Passenger-km million 1 370 1 492 1 397 1 316 1 220 1 181 1 123 1 018 1 139 1 181
Freight Tonnes million 5·4 5·1 3·7 3·8 5·5 4·2 3·7 4·6 5·0 4·0
Tonne-km million 1 417 1 337 992 907 916 1 094 1 107 886 1 032 1 178