Are we on the brink of a serious bus fire tragedy?

All buses are required to pass biannual inspections at Puspakom, but vehicle examiners may not have the expertise to check electrical circuits and wiring.

By YS Chan

On Tuesday evening, an empty tour bus on the way to pick up passengers caught fire at KM10.9 from Genting Highlands.

According to Genting fire station chief Yusry Abdullah Sani, a distress call was received at 6.50pm and his men arrived at the scene some 20 minutes later. By then, the fire had already spread and the bus was completely burnt by the time the flames were doused.

Luckily, the fire did not occur when there were passengers in the bus. The driver escaped unscathed, and there was no report of anyone attempting to put out the fire using the fire extinguishers which are found in all commercial vehicles.

But why was a double-decker bus sent to pick up passengers at Genting Highlands when they are barred from mountain roads?

On Dec 20, 2010, a double-decker tour bus on its way down from Cameron Highlands overturned and 27 passengers were killed and another 10 injured.

It was at that point the worst road accident in our country. My letters, “High price of beauty” and “Double-decker risk on roads”, published two days after the tragedy, called for double-decker buses to be limited to city roads but they fell on deaf ears.

It was only in April 2014 that Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi announced that double-decker buses would be barred from routes to Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands, Fraser’s Hill, Bukit Larut, Bukit Tinggi and Gunung Jerai from May 1.

Judging by the number of bus fires in recent years, it appears that the authorities and bus operators have not taken preventive measures. Perhaps the 12 incidents over the course of just over three years, as listed below, will jolt them into realising that fire poses a serious risk to buses and passengers.

Jan 15, 2015: Eight people died while 21 were injured after a tour bus overturned and caught fire at KM326 of the North-South Expressway near Tapah.

Nov 11, 2015: A RapidKL bus caught fire in Petaling Jaya. All 20 passengers and the driver escaped unhurt. The fire started from a short-circuit in the engine area.

Oct 13, 2016: At Wangsa Maju in Kuala Lumpur, a RapidKL driver stopped his bus and told passengers to get out after smoke emerged from the engine compartment. The bus was soon engulfed in flames, which were so intense that six cars parked nearby caught fire.

Nov 29, 2016: A tour bus caught fire after it stopped at KM92 of the North-South Expressway, between Ayer Hitam and Yong Peng, after one of its tyres burst. All 30 Chinese tourists escaped unhurt before the bus was completely destroyed.

Dec 16, 2016: Forty passengers scrambled out of a tour bus when it burst into flames at Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur.

Jan 2, 2017: An express bus on its way from Kuching to Miri caught fire at KM30 of Jalan Serian-Sri Aman near Balai Ringin. While there were no passenger casualties, the driver suffered burns on his ear and hand, and the bus was 80% destroyed.

Aug 20, 2017: An express bus carrying 10 passengers heading towards Johor Bahru burst into flames at KM121.4 of the North-South Expressway. The bus was charred to the core.

Dec 1, 2017: A double-decker express bus travelling from Alor Setar to Kuala Lumpur caught fire at KM201.5 of the North-South Expressway. Luckily, 38 passengers and the driver escaped a fiery death, as the blaze destroyed 80% of the bus.

Dec 14, 2017: A double-decker tour bus with 32 Indonesian tourists bound for Kuala Lumpur from Johor Bahru caught fire at KM99.9 of the North-South Expressway. Mercifully, no one was injured but the bus was destroyed and all passports and luggage on board were burned.

Jan 31, 2018: A RapidKL bus caught fire at KM31 of the Federal Highway. Attempts to put out the fire using a fire extinguisher failed, and the Fire and Rescue Department deployed 14 firemen to the scene. By the time the fire was put out, the bus was destroyed.

Feb 18, 2018: A tour bus travelling from Kundasang to Kota Kinabalu with 40 passengers caught fire at Crocker Range. Although the bus was destroyed, there were no injuries.

Feb 26, 2018: A stage bus with 42 passengers on board caught fire along Jalan Tebrau in Johor Bahru. The passengers and driver managed to rush out before the bus was engulfed in flames

We may not be so lucky the next time a bus catches fire. It appears that we are not heeding the tell-tale signs that all is not well with our locally built buses, particularly the electrical system fitted by coachbuilders or accessories added on by bus operators.

Although all buses are required to pass biannual inspections at Puspakom, vehicle examiners may not have the expertise to check electrical circuits and wiring.

Buses should be equipped with at least two fire extinguishers, one near the driver and the other in the engine compartment. For buses with luggage compartments, another fire extinguisher can be placed there.

Apart from the suffering of those injured and untold miseries to the loved ones of those killed, a bus catastrophe involving foreign visitors would also severely damage our tourism industry.

YS Chan is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.