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Malaysia set to spend US$50b to develop rail network

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MALAYSIA: Malaysia plans to spend a staggering US$50 billion to develop its rail network over the next seven years, including a high-speed rail linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore set for 2020, and the urban mass rapid transit system that is rolling out in 2017.

Compared to developed countries where rail transport makes up a third of public transportation, Malaysia’s share is less than 4 per cent.

People here rely heavily on roads because existing train services are slow and train journeys are time consuming. However with spiralling land and fuel costs, limited space and traffic congestion, rail transportation is seeing a revival.

Prime Minister Najib Razak recently announced big plans for the country at a global rail conference.

Mr Najib said: “Once considered a dying industry, railroads have made a strong comeback and are poised to become busier passageways in the years ahead.”

According to the land public transport commission (SPAD), the government has allocated almost US$50 billion for rail-related projects – three times more than what it spent in the last two decades.

The MY Rapid Transit (MRT), when fully operational, will cover a distance of 150 kilometres and provide half of the public transport services in the Klang Valley.

Commuter train services will also be expanded with the electrified double track railway. Spanning 1,000 kilometres from Padang Besar in the north, to Johor Bahru in the south, the project is expected to cost the government over US$13 billion.

Despite the massive cost overruns and project delays, KTM, as well as the government, want the electrified double track rail to be ready two years ahead of the scheduled completion of the high-speed rail linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore by year 2018.

Mr Syed Hamid Albar, SPAD chairman, said: “It’s not a competition… I think we are looking at people, the sector we are looking at generally is people who may like to go by flight for long distances (but not for short distances). But not everybody likes to go on fast trains, because fast trains there will be different cost elements. So I think both can be complementary.”

Still there has been much buzz about the high-speed rail link. It will have a 90-minute express service every hour, as well as three transit services lasting less than two hours.

Tickets will be priced below that of budget airlines.

Malaysia’s technical team will engage its Singapore counterpart next month. Negotiations may take up to 12 months before the tender process begins. Construction is expected to begin by 2015, before the scheduled take off in 2020.

– CNA/ac

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