Malaysia wants to improve existing rail services, network

It is not worthwhile to have an HSR for short journeys, says PM


Malaysia’s high-speed rail (HSR) ambition may take longer to realise as the government shifts to improve the existing railway services and network, with the revival of the RM44 billion East Coast Rail Link.

The controversial project, which was put on the backburner after the new government took over Putrajaya almost 11 months ago, is restarted with the alignment adjusted to 640km and will pass through six states including the federal territory of Putrajaya.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia’s priority presently is not to build a high-speed train network, but to improve the quality of existing railway services.

The PM said it is not worthwhile to have an HSR for short journeys, but instead may consider such super fast train to operate from Johor Baru to Penang or even the Thai border.

“We will not build the high-speed train yet, but we want to improve the quality of services in our railway system, and that has been done to some extent, by double-tracking and electrification,” he said at a question-and-answer session after delivering his speech at Technomart Rail 2019 yesterday.

Peninsular Malaysia has a comprehensive rail network, estimated at 1,699km long which links to Singapore from Padang Besar in Perlis, to Gemas in Negri Sembilan and Tumpat in Kelantan. There are other smaller rail networks across the country, largely built during the British era as a means to transport people and the country’s resources.

“For Malaysia at the moment, a high-speed train is not really necessary, especially as it is only within Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

“If the line is long enough and saves about two to six hours, then I think a high-speed train may be the answer,” he said.

Dr Mahathir said Malaysia will discuss the HSR project with Singapore within two years following the project’s suspension last year.

“We are not giving out any contracts, but we have had to compensate to Singapore earlier,” he said when commenting on the HSR project.

Earlier in his speech, Dr Mahathir pointed out that the rail industry can be a catalyst to economic growth and is not purely a transportation mode for the general population.

Dr Mahathir said some developed countries like Russia have witnessed remarkable national development growth and Malaysia could replicate these successes.

“Today, with various fast trains servicing the Klang Valley area and beyond, rail travel has reached an unprecedented level of popularity with more than half a million people using a rail-based transportation method daily.

“Its socio-economic spillover is tremendous. Proximity to an electric rail service now is a valuable proposition with real commercial benefits.

“Fast trains boost tourism, increase footfall in retail establishments and increase real estate value,” Dr Mahathir said.

The PM said according to reports, some of the residential and commercial properties’ values along prominent rail transport lines in Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding area have increased between 15% and 25%.

He said as the world population is expected to move towards urbanisation in the future, Malaysia will likely experience the same situation.

“Malaysia’s urbanisation rate is 75%, which is 20% higher than the global rate. Imagine the kind of mobility ecosystem required for this.

“Our experience in meeting the transportation requirements of the Greater Kuala Lumpur area, which is home to 7.25 million inhabitants, is enough to make us realise how critical the situation is,” Dr Mahathir said, adding that the trend is not expected to slow down anytime soon.

Dr Mahathir cited the Trans-Siberian Railway as an example, where it has the longest railway line in the world and has contributed towards the country’s economy and defence industry.