Rail is the way to go, says Dr M

CYBERJAYA: Dr Mahathir Mohamad today said rail is the transport choice of the future as Malaysians struggle with traffic congestion on a daily basis due to the increase in number of vehicles on the road.

“For a while, trains were not fast or the usual mode of transport for people. But now, cars have increased to the extent that we see jams.

“The obvious answer for a substitute is a rail system, which will be faster as there is no stop-look-go sign, only signal signs,” he said after the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology Consultation 2019 here today.

The prime minister said travelling by rail is a better option than flying, “provided that the distance is not too long”, as there are many checks involved in air travel, especially with concerns over terrorism.

“But it shouldn’t be too short,” he added. “If travelling time is (shortened by) 15 or 20 minutes, then it is not worthwhile.”

In his speech at the event earlier today, he said the socioeconomic spillover from a rail system would be huge as an electric train service brings in commercial benefits.

“Fast trains boost tourism and increase retail establishments and real estate value,” he said.

He added that the value of some residential and commercial properties along prominent railway lines in Kuala Lumpur and the surrounding area had increased by 15 to 25%.

“The trend we are witnessing is not expected to slow down any time soon,” he said, adding that Malaysia’s urbanisation rate is at 75%, 20% higher than the global rate.

“Imagine the kind of mobility ecosystem required for this.”

Mahathir also said the alignment of the KLIA Express line should be improved and straightened in order to further reduce travel time.

“But that will cost more money,” he acknowledged.

During the question-and-answer session after the event, Mahathir said he would also look at the taxation system imposed on local manufacturers.

He was responding to a question on foreign manufacturers who are given tax exemptions while local companies pay the sales and services tax.

Here, he advised Malaysians not to look down on their achievements, including in the manufacturing of cars.

“We buy imported cars, but that money goes out and we become poorer.

“We have the capacity. But our policy seems to encourage imports rather than exports. We are not serving our own country. We need to re-plan taxation so that more products will be produced locally,” he said.

Acknowledging that the government cannot force the people to buy local products, he nonetheless said he hoped Malaysians would be like the Koreans and Japanese who prefer their own products over foreign ones.

On the by-election in Rantau last Saturday, Mahathir said Pakatan Harapan (PH) had failed to win the state seat but added that the government remains the same.

“Obviously there was some loss,” he said. But he added that while government parties do not always receive support during by-elections, “there is no change in the government”.