I knew this would happen.
Just when KTMB is doing well and packing in passengers into new electric trains after billions of public funds were spent on double tracking, along comes Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai with an announcement that the authorities plan to allow private companies, apart from KTM, to operate rail services on inter-city routes.
For years, KTM had suffered due to underinvestment in rail infrastructure and neglect of rail services in favour of the so-called ‘national car’ project and focus on tolled highways.
Now the new electric trains are full and people even have to book in advance. Over Christmas, tickets from Butterworth to KL Sentral were sold out for a week from 21 December to 27 December. Extra services were introduced during this period and even these were sold out.
Now that KTM’s new electric trains and double tracking have raised the popularity of rail services, PRIVATE companies are interested in cashing in – after massive amounts of PUBLIC money were invested in upgrading infrastructure.
Fares now are quite affordable – RM59 from Butterworth to KL Sentral – and the railway is now an attractive and more relaxing alternative mode of transport to driving or flying – especially for those without cars or those who prefer not to drive.
Public transport should not be run like a profit-maximisation business. Fares should remain low or even be subsidised to encourage motorists to ditch their cars and hop on a train, thus easing congestion on the roads and reducing motorists’ petrol and toll burden. It is also environmentally friendlier.
Unfortunately, instead of allowing KTMB, a public entity, to improve its financial position after the massive investment of PUBLIC funds, Liow wants to allow PRIVATE operators. These PRIVATE operators will want to maximise profits and grab a huge chunk of the returns on that PUBLIC investment in double tracking and new trains. Will Liow now ask those PRIVATE operators to reimburse the government for the billions of PUBLIC funds invested in double tracking? No? So we the PUBLIC are supposed to subsidise those PRIVATE operators? Who is subsidising whom now?
If private train operators are allowed, how long will fares remain affordable? Will private train operators be interested in servicing stations in rural areas or less popular stations?
Of course, the pro-business MCA-paper The Star appears to be in favour of this proposal with a page 2 commentary titled ‘Competition good for rail services’. The MCA is Liow’s party.
Liow, before you think of allowing private train operators, please resolve the Penang ferry debacle created by the federal government’s privatisation of Penang Port Sdn Bhd.
Cancel the Penang port privatisation for PPSB’s failure to provide a satisfactory ferry service. If not, you should resign and not try and burden rail users with another privatisation debacle.