The new KL to Padang Besar electric train service opens today. Most people are excited about it. But wait…
Unfortunately, little news is available about the stops in Butterworth, Penang or other major towns.
In fact, most news reports failed to mention the stop in Butterworth, Penang which is likely to be a major hub for the northern region. It doesn’t make sense. Why this glaring omission?
The KTMB website has no information. So I called the KTM hotline (it is so difficult to get through to them!) and was given the following info about the Butterworth to KL route. (As they say, the devil is in the details…)
First of all, there is no direct service from Butterworth to KL or KL to Butterworth. You have to change trains at Ipoh.
Butterworth to Ipoh (Fare RM23):
Depart Butterworth 5.00pm
Arrive Ipoh: 6.50pm
(12 stops along the way!)
Ipoh to KL (Fare RM35)
Depart Ipoh: 8.00pm
Arrive KL: 11.30pm
(15 stops along the way!)
So total time is six and a half hours. And you reach KL at close to midnight, when taxi fares will be higher and public transport less frequent or drawing to a close for the day.
This is no good. It is slower than using the North-South Expressway. What happened to the promise of Butterworth to KL in just over three hours?
KL to Butterworth?
theSun reproduced a schedule showing the train leaves KL Sentral at 5.00am.
But the KTM agent told me the train leaves Ipoh (not KL Sentral) for the north at 5.00am. I couldn’t believe it; so I called up KTM headquarters and they confirmed it. What about the KL to Ipoh segment? Apparently, you have to take the train from KL to Ipoh the night before, spend the night in Ipoh, and catch the 5.00am train (what an unearthly hour) from Ipoh to Butterworth! What nonsense is this?
If this is how KTM plans its service and schedules, I don’t know what to say. It is almost as if they don’t want people to use the electric train, direct from KL to Butterworth, when this could be a major money-spinner for KTM and create more jobs in the tourism, hospitality and services sectors in KL, Ipoh and Penang if planned properly.
Are they worried more people from KL might visit Penang and boost tourism in the state? Is the government concerned that highway toll collection and express bus revenues could be affected? Are there plans to privatise KTM after this so that it can be “more efficient”? Or do they want to leave room for a mega bucks high-speed train service? I don’t know what to think, but these are the questions running through my mind.
In any case, this train service is 30-40 years late. In fact, Malaysia should have planned for a nationwide electric train service in the 1970s and implemented it in the 1980s. Instead, Mahathir foolishly embarked on the national car project – at great cost to the nation.
The opportunity cost in terms of the neglect of public transport across the nation has been huge. Think of the congestion, fuel costs, household debt due to car loans, time lost in traffic jams, large amounts of money spent on highways and roads, and pollution.
By now, we could have had a world-class sustainable public transport system. We could have had a rail link from KL to the north with one line branching out to Penang Island via the Penang Bridge along the Jelutong Expressway, heading to George Town or via the Butterworth railway station crossing over the channel to George Town, and then going onwards to Air Itam.
Even so, even with just this electric train, many are likely to leave their cars at home when travelling between KL and Penang – provided the schedules are planned properly and there is a direct service from Butterworth to KL and KL to Butterworth. Some Penangites may want to live outside Penang to take advantage of lower property prices, though the train fares could be prohibitive for daily commutes to work.
In the meantime, we have to keep a sharp lookout for any attempt to privatise KTM. The last time we heard such talk it was Al-Bukhary who was reportedly linked to KTM. Stay away from KTM!