Analyst: A high-speed rail connecting KL-Bangkok more feasible than KL-Singapore [BTTV]  

KUALA LUMPUR: A northern line for the high-speed rail (HSR) connecting Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, via Padang Besar, is more "interesting" and feasible than one to Singapore, according to a transport analyst.

The potential KL-Bangkok line will likely have more positive ripple effects on Malaysia's economy while reducing the country's dependence on Singapore in freight distribution, he added.

The transport analyst, Dr Rosli Azad Khan, told Business Times that the KL-Padang Besar line is a more interesting proposal versus the potential KL-Singapore HSR due to the wider connection the northern line entails.

Via Bangkok, Rosli said the train will be able to travel further up north to Vientiane in Laos, connecting to an existing bullet train line between Vientiane and Kunming, China.

"The opportunity to link up with Bangkok-Vientiane-Kunming and beyond, will be a major game changer for the travel sector in Malaysia, for both passenger and freight traffic.

"In fact, major imports and exports to and from these countries could be carried by rail instead of by sea. This is more cost effective and less time consuming.

"I believe there is also a proposal to connect Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.This plan will put Malaysia in a much bigger network in terms of future trades and connectivity to all these countries.

"I foresee that the cost-benefit analysis (Coba) that will be used to measure economic and financial feasibility of Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok would be much greater than that of Kuala Lumpur-Singapore," he said.

By developing such line, Malaysia will be well positioned to play a greater role in freight distribution for the whole of the peninsula, making it less dependent on Singapore for cargo transhipment.

"At the moment, Malaysia's trades (freight) and passenger travel are overly dependent on Singapore port and Changi airport as a transshipment hub (containers) and aviation hub (passengers).

"The proposed KL-Singapore HSR will make these two dependents a lot worse," he added.

Business Times previously reported that the KL-Bangkok line might be possible once the KL-Singapore HSR is developed first.

MyHSR Corporation Sdn Bhd Datuk Seri Fauzi Abdul Rahman recently told Business Times that there might be a possibility that the bullet train will be extended to Malaysia's northern sector, with a final stop at Padang Besar in Perlis, but the immediate priority is on the KL-Singapore HSR to be developed.

"Thailand intends to construct a high-speed rail system that will connect Bangkok and Padang Besar. The three airport lines and the northeast are being constructed. They will begin the southern line after they have finished that.

"We would simply synchronise with that if we were to construct a line connecting Kuala Lumpur and Padang Besar," he said.

To date there is an existing rail line between KL to Padang Besar via electric train service (ETS), run by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB).

The distance between the two destinations is roughly 450km from KL. Via the ETS, it  takes about five hours for passengers to get to Padang Besar.

In comparison, the HSR from KL to Singapore is between 330 km and 350 km long, and is expected to reduce travel time to 90 minutes.

Rosli noted that the northern line alignment may not need to replace the current ETS lines as it is serving the existing markets.

"I do not see that the State Railway of Thailand would also want to completely replace their meter gauge line that serves them well to Padang Besar. The HSR will most likely be a standard gauge track.

"For Malaysia, I foresee that it would be a lot cheaper, feasible and beneficial, to take on a new alignment altogether and use this new HSR alignment to open up new areas up north," he added.

Meanwhile, tourism and transport business consultant YS Chan said the current ETS service from KL to Ipoh, Butterworth, Padang Besar and Gemas is great for domestic passengers.

With the Gemas-Johor Bahru electrified double-tracking rail project completed next year, the whole West Coast will then get to enjoy ETS service, said Chan.

Despite that, Chan said the KL-Singapore HSR is necessary as it serves high-end and international travellers.

He believes that it will be redundant to have a HSR line between KL and Padang Besar due to the existing ETS lines.

"Malaysia will not build such an HSR, but it will proceed if subsidised by China under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Concrete plans for HSR heading north from KL will only begin after the KL-Singapore route has started construction or is up and running.

"This will happen when China decides to give its BRI a timely boost by extending its HSR into foreign countries and the initial route will be Kunming-Chiang Mai- Bangkok-KL," he added.

On the rail line connecting to Singapore, Chan said HSR will positively impact both countries immensely, particularly in Malaysia where areas near MRT stations will benefit, and ripple across a much wider radius.

HSR operations are likely to incur losses but will be offset by indirect gains.

"There will be electricity in the air and businesses will be charged up, spurring the economy. The same cannot be said for HSR service northwards and there is no international city the size and appeal of Singapore all the way to the Thailand border.

"The Thailand government may consider linking Bangkok and Chiang Mai with HSR and until it is built will not explore the feasibility of building one from Bangkok to Padang Besar," he added.

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