RAIL TRANSPORT: Money for high-speed train could be better used
OF late, there has been much talk about the proposal to develop and operate a high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
I read that the estimated cost of this runs into billions, with one report saying it will be about RM30 billion.
Just imagine how much more it would cost if the system was extended to Padang Besar in the north.
Here, one question needs to be addressed: with such an amount of investment, who are the potential passengers and how much would they be willing to pay for tickets?
Another question is whether there is a need for Malaysia to invest in a high-speed rail, given that there is a lack of critical mass to make the system economically viable.
The majority of Malaysians possess a low level of awareness about the use of rail services for medium-and long-distance travel.
The rail system is considered unattractive compared with air travel, even though the latter might be a low-cost carrier system.
If the high-speed rail fare is as much as what a low-cost carrier charges, people are likely to choose the latter.
Moreover, other land transport systems, such as interstate highways, have been reliable and convenient for almost two decades.
For many, cars provide more convenience for inner-city travel than public transport because of the system's inefficiency.
These factors raise another question: how best to invest that RM30 billion?
It is better to spend some of that money to complete the Gemas-Johor Baru sector of KTM Bhd's double-tracking system, some on the Gemas-Tumpat tracks and the rest on inner-city rail transits between Johor Baru, George Town, Putrajaya, Ipoh and Malacca.
The KTM double-tracking project must cover the entire peninsula.
Therefore, the Gemas-Johor Baru-Tumpat sectors must be completed to give true meaning to the system.
Travelling at a speed of 140kph, with minimal interruption, may make rail travel look promising.
However, this is not enough if the public transport systems in the inner cities are inefficient or non-existent.
At present, it appears that extensive investment in the public rail system is focused in the Klang Valley and Greater KL.
Meanwhile, other cities are suffering from growing congestion caused by cars, especially during weekends, holidays and festive seasons.
Even Putrajaya, after more than a decade, has yet to have an integrated rail transport system.
I think it will be more meaningful to spend the RM30 billion on the infrastructure necessary to create a critical mass of rail users.
There will come a time when Malaysians, upon getting used to the rail system, will accept the idea of a high-speed rail transport. When this happens, they will be willing to spend.
Also, by such a time, we will have enough professionals to run and maintain a high-speed rail system.
Normala Hashim, Kamunting, Perak