Realign, modernise to get KTM back on track, says expert

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The problem is not so much that KTM was not performing well, but it had just not received enough attention and support to properly modernise. (Facebook pic)

PETALING JAYA: A transport expert has urged Putrajaya to pay greater attention towards reshaping the business model and role of Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTM) so that it can reach its maximum potential.

Amid reports of the government-owned rail company experiencing dwindling ridership and revenue, MAG Technical and Development Consultant director Goh Bok Yen said KTM’s assets, particularly its track and land banks, were of great value to the country’s transport sector.

He said KTM played a major role in the nation’s history but had been neglected.

He said the problem was not so much that KTM was not performing well, but it had just not received enough attention and support to properly modernise.

He said the failure to modernise its operations had left it looking inferior to the newer LRT and MRT trains, which are under Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, another government-linked company.

Both KTM and Parasarana come under Minister of Finance Incorporated.

Recently, a Penang Institute study highlighted issues faced by KTM, including accumulated losses of RM1.87 billion from 2000 to 2015.

It also noted a 73% decline in ridership from 2010 to 2016, with only the Electric Train Services (ETS) recording a tenfold increase in ridership in the same period.

Goh said KTM still had a vital role to play as the main mode of mass sub-regional and intercity transport for passengers and freight cargo.

“The problem is that because we didn’t modernise KTM’s assets and business model, it suffers from a serious lack of quality in terms of comfort, frequency and speed compared with the LRT and MRT,” he told FMT.

He said the company did not keep up with the times, including the latest development trends, in the placement of its stations.

He said many KTM stations were in non-strategic locations and were difficult to access, with limited space for expansion.

“Rail transport is inflexible as it is confined to its track. It needs roads and light-rail to serve as feeders,” Goh said.

“Every major KTM station needs to be linked to MRT and LRT stations which have greater access and are connected to hubs.

“KTM’s role should be focused on long-haul transport, prioritising stations at commercial hubs along the rail line now that the service is complemented by other light-rail and road transportation,” he said.

As an example, Goh said there were 31 stops on the MRT line from Sungai Buloh to Kajang

He said KTM could be faster along this route if its operation was revamped to have its train stop only at six locations.

He added that on average the distance between each MRT stop is 2.5km, while for KTM the distance between each stop should be at least 10km.

He also said KTM’s ability to carry more than double the number of passengers than the LRT and MRT could make it ideal for mass transport between big towns and cities.

KTM is best bulk cargo carrier

On freight transport, Goh said KTM remained one of the best bulk cargo carriers to act as a “land bridge” through Peninsular Malaysia, connecting Kuantan Port in Pahang to Port Klang in Selangor.

He said it could complement projects like the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), under China’s Belt and Road initiative.

“At present, the KTM line is being shared by freight and passenger trains,” he said.

“We need to have separate rail lines for freight and passenger trains at certain high-demand passenger stations.

“Imagine if we have a freight line from Serendah to Westport in Port Klang, and eventually to Port Dickson, with stops at the industrial zones along the way.

“This will be a catalyst for development and give industries better cost efficiencies and lower transportation costs,” he said.

“So the demand and potential for revenue for KTM are there.

“We just have to reshape it and treat it with the same importance as the MRT and LRT.”

Goh said although it would seem on paper that a lot of money would be needed to help KTM play its optimum role and adapt to a new business model, it would, like all public transportation, be heavily subsidised.

“KTM must also develop its land assets and turn them into commercial hubs to make itself more sustainable,” he added.

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