Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Does Malaysia need to have a high speed train now? We already have the KTMB dual tracked electrification line system

It seems that our PM Najib after a one and a half year spell of rallying, organising and uplifting his BN/UMNO troops is finally coming out with the goods in a big way with very many new projects announced, read Projects worth RM30bil to put nation on the ETP roadmap. 

If we agree we should support those projects but if we disagree than we should give constructive criticisms and positive ideas, whether it is heard by the powers that be is another matter lah. It matters to me however that PM Najib is trying his best to further this nation of ours to better things.

Anyway this piece of news caught my attention again:

Monday October 25, 2010
KL-S’pore high-speed link proposal to be made soon

PETALING JAYA: A proposal for a high-speed train from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore using the magnetic levitation (maglev) technology will soon be submitted to the Government, industry sources said.

The sources also said the Government would soon appoint an international consulting firm to study the various proposals for the high-speed rail link to Singapore.

The maglev is the train system that links Shanghai’s Pudong airport with its financial district and was the first installation of its kind in the world.

The journey of 30km takes about seven minutes. The maglev train in Shanghai can reach speeds of up to 350km per hour in two minutes, although new generation trains being developed on this technology can go even faster, it is understood.

The maglev proposal will be competing with that of the conventional high-speed rail network, an idea first mooted by the YTL Group. Its technology partner then was said to be Germany’s Siemens, a global expert in high-speed rail technology....continue reading here.

I remember this idea been mooted by the same giant conglomerate with the midas touch namely YTL way back in 2007 read here. Back then YTL proposed a conventional system not the Maglev. This idea was shelved despite YTL's confidence as it was far too expensive at an estimate cost of RM8 Billion and we don't know until now whether that includes the cost of land acquisition.

Friends would want to visit these sites to know more about Maglev or as the name suggest Magnetic Levitation means, yes people no wheels, just electro-magnet. Interested? Then read here and here. Project Developers always cite the success of the Maglev Train linking Shanghai and Pudong Airport a journey of about 30km which took only a few minutes. Success comes with a price though as can be read here from derSpiegel:
Shanghai Residents Protest Transrapid Extension
A group of Shanghai residents have appealed to the German Chancellor to stop the extension of the Transrapid line near their homes. While some are angry at being evicted to make way for the track, others fear increased noise, magnetic radiation and possible accidents...Continue reading here.

I don't know  who the Consultants that the Gomen will appoint to study the YTL proposal, but I hope they are neutral.

High speed trains or High Speed Rails (HSR) is a type of passenger rail transport that operates significantly faster than the normal speed of rail traffic. Specific definitions by the European Union include 200 km/h (120 mph) for upgraded track and 250 km/h (160 mph) or faster for new track. In Japan, Shinkansen lines run at speeds in excess of 260 km/h (160 mph) and are built using standard gauge track with no at-grade crossings. In China, high-speed conventional rail lines operate at top speeds of 350 km/h (220 mph), and one Maglev Line in Shanghai reaches speeds of 431 km/h (268 mph). The world record for conventional high-speed rail is held by the V150, a specially configured version of Alstom's TGV which clocked 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) on a test run. The world speed record for Maglev is held by the japanese experimental MLX01 at amind blowing  581 km/h (361 mph). [reference: Wiki High Speed Rails]

As mentioned above High Speed Trains  system are meant to carry passengers only, no cargoes no freight. According to Wiki "HSR is best suited for journeys of 2 to 3 hours (250–900 km or about 150–550 miles), for which the train can beat both air and car in this range. When traveling less than about 650 km (400 mi), the process of checking in and going through security screening at airports, as well as the journey to the airport itself makes the total air journey time no faster than HSR... However, unless air travel is severely congested, merely providing a comparable service is often not a compelling financial basis for building an HSR system from scratch. As a rule of thumb, rail journeys need to be four hours or thereabouts to be competitive with air travel on journey time."

High Speed Trains are expensive to built, besides the mega Cost for special rail tracks, electric power feed, controls and signals and the special locomotive and passenger cars, the Cost must also include:

1. Due to its almost straight alignment with smooth curves for high speed travels meant new route has to be planned meaning more land will have to be acquired, which will also have to cater for wide buffer zones each side of the railway. Acquisition of land and buildings will cost a bomb, no make that a huge bomb.

2. For Malaysians who will have to be displaced and compensations for new homes will have to be disbursed.

3. For vehicular traffic which cannot intersect the high speed rail, much of the route may have to be be built on high embankment or elevated reinforced concrete structures.

Of course the project proposer will say that it will be private funding, but how many banks or investors will put money for a venture which will only obtain revenue from paying train passengers? Lets not even try to speculate on how many passengers will be using the high speed train services compared to flying or even driving between Singapore-JB-KL.  I am sure the project proposer will extract some sort of financial guarantees from the Government on compensation per year if their passenger targets are not met..much like the money spinning PLUS North-South Highway Concessions. In the end it will always be us Malaysian Tax Payers who will bear the brunt of any problems. Sigh..

Instead of High Speed Rails the Gomen should not divert its plan for the double tracking and electrification programme by the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB), the trains for these well thought out plans can carry both passengers and cargoes and freight. Electric trains on these lines can reach speed of up to 160km/h, so I am told. So a journey from JB into KL Sentral will be about 2 hours. If the trains leaves KL at 6am it can reach JB by 8am..enough time to hop over to Singapore for that meeting which usually starts at about 10am. Not as fast as a High Speed train but just on time.

I believe that the High Speed Train is a great idea whose time has not yet come for Malaysia, we still need to explore the use of the KLIA Main terminal and KLIA Low Cost terminal, the express buses modern terminals  and our beloved cars..yes Malaysians love to travel by cars. I think maybe when our population reaches around 45 million then the High Speed Trains will be a viable option, it may come sooner than later.

In the mean time why not  use the money that we have now to extend the KTMB dual track railway system  to Kuantan, Pekan, Rompin, Mersing, Kemaman, Kuala Terengganu that will surely give the impetus for industrial growth for the east Coast in particular and Malaysia in General. It goes without saying that many more Malaysians will benefit from these high income economic investments and activities.

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