Better days for the east-west railroad

THE triumph of clear thinking about an overall greater national interest over narrow definitions of environmental and social protection has enabled the creation of rail infrastructure that will improve land transport in Peninsular Malaysia, including the Klang Valley.

Last week, the state government of Selangor accepted the federal government’s proposal to route Section C of the 665 km east coast rail link from Kota Baru to Port Klang via the northern part of Selangor in this called the north alignment.

Stretching nearly 170 km from Temerloh, Pahang, to Jalan Kastam to Port Klang, Selangor, the dual-purpose standard gauge, or 1,435mm wide between rails, Section C will even transform the fortunes of KTM Bhd (KTMB), along with the rest of North Selangor.

Indeed, there will be a new interchange on the KTM line known as the Serendah Baru, which will allow freight trains from Padang Besar and Butterworth to bypass the section between Rawang and KL Sentral towards Port Klang.

This KTM line is very well used by freight trains and now faces various capacity constraints, such as bottleneck caused by the need to share the track with passenger trains such as ETS and KTM Komuter, because KTM tries to balance its role between profit (freight) and social service delivery (especially through Komuter).

Significant decongestion

According to Goh Bok Yen, a Kuala Lumpur-based transportation planning consultant, KTMB’s track decongestion in Klang Valley is extremely important to the operator, as its northern freight trains to Port Klang still have to wait nearby. from the city until late in the evening, after passenger trains are no longer frequent, before they can get to Port Klang.

The bottleneck also stems from the fact that all freight trains currently have to pass through congested KL Sentral, where all kinds of passenger trains converge.

Goh: Decongesting the KTMB tracks in Klang Valley is extremely important to the operator.

This passage through KL Sentral also presents a certain level of risk for the central station and its surroundings, as some trains carry goods considered dangerous, such as industrial chemicals. Once the Serendah Bypass is ready, this level of risk will be significantly mitigated as freight trains from the northern region will be diverted even before reaching Rawang, Selangor, and will travel on a dedicated line just for them in road to Port Klang.

Datuk Seri Transport Minister Dr Wee Ka Siong said on Thursday that the Serendah cargo bypass was something the ministry had been waiting for a long time, with the proposal being launched 15 years ago.

“The approval of Section C of the ECRL actually makes it possible to fulfill the wish of this Serendah bypass, all at the same time, at a competitive cost,” he said, announcing Selangor’s decision to authorize the north alignment of section C during a document exchange ceremony. with the Selangor State Government, represented by Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari, in Kuala Lumpur.

KTMB’s urgent need for more track capacity came after it began land bridge services with its Thai counterpart, Thailand State Railways (SRT) on June 13, 1999.

On that day, a train loaded with containers made the journey from Setia Jaya (Sungai Way), Selangor to Bangkok, an event that marked a new era in the rail industry in the Asean region.

“The service was seen not only as a smart partnership between KTMB and road transport operators, ship operators and freight forwarders, but also as a way to improve bilateral transport links between KTMB and SRT. The land bridge services are a testament to KTMB’s commitment to the establishment of the Trans-Asian Rail Link, the proposed connection which has the potential to strengthen and improve trade between ASEAN and China, ”said KTMB on its website.

Dr Wee speaking at the MRLSB / CCCC North Alignment Document Handover Ceremony in Kuala Lumpur recently.  - IZZRAFIQ ALIAS / The StarDr Wee speaking at the MRLSB / CCCC North Alignment Document Handover Ceremony in Kuala Lumpur recently. – IZZRAFIQ ALIAS / The Star

The creation of Serendah Baru will also generate more excitement at Hulu Selangor as a mini rail hub. Already Malaysian company SMH Rail Sdn Bhd operates a railway station in Rasa not only to refurbish old trains, but also to assemble imported trains, as well as to build new ones for export, like its recent export of diesel-electric locomotives to Africa. Elsewhere, the rail network contractor Daya Maju Infrastructure (Asia) Sdn Bhd, the contractor for the rehabilitation of the KTMB network in the Klang Valley, also operates a site in Serendah.

“Puncak Alam and Kapar can develop new industrial parks, maybe even rail. There is also an automotive cluster at Hulu Selangor, Perodua, Tan Chong and UMW Toyota, ”said Goh, director of MAG Technical & Development Consultants Sdn Bhd.

Goh said that on the surface the federal and state governments cannot be blamed for defending their respective positions, with Selangor preferring the southern alignment that runs through southern Bentong District, rather than much closer to Bentong Town she -same. To make the southern alignment of Selangor still possible, the ECRL will need to head sharply south after passing Temerloh, passing through Kemasul in the southern parts of Bentong district, before heading towards Jelebu district of Negri. Sembilan, and from this point, towards the Bangi-Kajang region, continue towards Putrajaya before Port Klang.

“There is no right or wrong, as Section C’s north and south alignments are based on two different business models. However, a closer look at federal plans will show which alignment will best ensure the project’s chances of financial viability, ”Goh said.

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Passenger comfort

From the point of view of passenger ridership, the fact that ECRL serves the integrated transport terminal of Gombak (future terminal for express buses in the northern region) allows ECR to tap directly into the suburban rail network of the Klang Valley from day one. Integrated into Kelana Jaya LRT’s Gombak LRT station, commuters can easily connect at Gombak ITT, ensuring overall success in terms of passenger pick-up.

“If city dwellers have to travel south to Putrajaya to take the ECRL (or take a bus to Temerloh) to the east coast states, then the train becomes a less attractive proposition,” a- he declared.

For him, the value of the northern alignment of Section C lies in its greater potential to capture more freight, as it serves a more mature industrial ecosystem.

“As ERCL is expensive to buy as well as to maintain, it is crucial for the operator to obtain significant financial returns as soon as possible. Routing Section C through less developed areas exposes the project to greater financial risk, ”he said.

However, Goh noted that a southern spur to serve the southern part of Selangor may still be added in the future, when the situation warrants it.

“The south of Selangor will take time to transform into an industrial zone, but it already has a good road network so far. While the rail network in the north of Selangor is being improved, the same transformation can take place for the roads in the south region to support industrial development, as there are also land reserves. These industries do not necessarily have to be export oriented or destined for direct export and, as such, may not be so dependent on the land rail bridge.

Other observers also note that Negri Sembilan and surrounding areas will not be left out in the grand scheme of things either, as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore bullet train project will cross the state, with a possible station near Labu. In addition to this, Putrajaya is already served by the Express Rail Link, and in three years the MRT Putrajaya line, other than the proposed TGV.

Goh argues that ECRL needs to quickly prove its viability as a freight line, given that the bulk of its income is expected to come from freight transportation. As a land bridge, it will connect Kuantan and Kemaman Ports of Pahang, and Tok Bali Fishing Port of Kelantan, Port Klang, to name a few.

“It must target a mature market or watershed, and be demand driven,” he added.

A bridge under construction over the Pahang River in another part of the ECRL connecting Kota Baru to Port Klang.  The East-West Railway will improve land transportation in Peninsular Malaysia.  - BernamaA bridge under construction over the Pahang River in another part of the ECRL connecting Kota Baru to Port Klang. The East-West Railway will improve land transportation in Peninsular Malaysia. – Bernama

Alternative to freight

Stretching 665 km from Kota Baru to Port Klang, the ECRL is expected to reduce the pressure from the trucks, freeing up space on the roads. One projection has shown that Section C’s northern alignment will be able to capture more than 26 million tonnes of cargo each year, nearly triple if it uses the southern alignment.

In fact, RM50.27bil ECRL planners predict that 70% of its revenue will come from freight transport, with the remainder from operating passenger service.

“When freight operations are well optimized, ECRL can provide a good level of service to passengers,” Goh said.

The balance between freight operations and passenger operations will be very critical in the first few years of operation, as ECRL will rely heavily on a single lane, with the addition of an additional lane to be considered only when the cargo volume is sufficient.

The latest development was also praised by Haniff Ghazali, Honorary Secretary of the Malaysia Rail Industry Corporation (Maric), a local rail industry interest group.

“There are rapid movements in public transport, with ‘disruptions’ like electronic calling, then Covid, delaying our progress,” he said.

“’Nevertheless, we must continue to develop our skills, our talents and our local products. In this regard, industry and the private sector must take the initiative to jointly develop the economy.

“This is all the more timely given that the rail industry has recently experienced a revival and is greeted with great enthusiasm by the population and businesses. We just hope that by moving things towards normality, the government and the railway industry can collaborate in the spirit of “Keluarga Malaysia”, where there is something for everyone. “

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