Unsustainable Train Services
Recent line closures, reduced frequencies and delayed express KTM Intercity trains by an average of 3 hours daily, are affecting passenger satisfaction on the national railway operator, KTM Berhad, bringing it to an all-time low. Those with no option but to wait for the train makes up the most of KTM Komuter and Shuttle passengers who currently still use the train services, and ETS passengers are avoiding the service with the new timetable change with the new trains supposedly capable of operational speeds of up to 140 km/h offering a travel time comparable to the cheaper bus, excluding delays. As such, current rail services are unsustainable to maintain long-term profits as existing passengers will find alternative means of transport once they become more affluent.
Proposed Cessation of Train Services
With marginal profit on existing train services running on the electrified double track sectors and a perpetual loss-making subsidiary called KTM Intercity (excluding the Shuttle Tebrau service), it is logical to terminate the train service assuming this is based on cost alone. To continue running the trains for public service is also utmost important, considering that there are some minor kampungs which rely mainly on trains and motorbikes for transport to the nearest town, however, an alternative needs to be sourced to reduce the operational cost to have KTM Berhad at least break even to operate the service.
Proposed New KTM Bus Subsidiary
Replacing a train service with buses is not a new idea. In fact, arrangements are already in place for KTM shuttle buses for affected closed lines. However, by having a bus subsidiary, this will help reduce costs in the long run and have a much faster activation rate since its all in-house.
Railway companies operating buses in tandem isn’t a new or revolutionary idea at all.
Japan has JR Bus not only to offer a last-mile connection from stations but also to compete with their own Shinkansen service as the latter does not offer an option for overnight travel.
France has the Ouigo low-cost high-speed train, a subsidiary of French state railways SNCF, and also Ouibus, also a subsidiary of French state railways SNCF and low-cost intercity bus company operating on a similar model as the train.
Western Australia’s Transwa has bus services extending out of the terminus of the railway line to connect with further towns, combining rail and road coach public transport as a seamless single integrated mode of long distance transport.
After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the portion of the Kesennuma Line between Yanaizu and Kesennuma, and the portion of the Ofunato Line between Kesennuma and Sakari were converted to a single-lane BRT after a portion of the railway was destroyed. These BRT lines are made up of exclusive right of way roads tarred over certain portions of the existing railway alignment offering a journey with speeds similar to the railway prior to the earthquake. The BRT is much cheaper and faster to replace the railway with in the short term than reinstating the entire section of tracks, and is cheaper in the long-run too as maintenance is focused only on the buses and roads, and a tarred road with timetabled BRT buses just needs a simple signalling system with traffic lights at crossing points. Also, the BRT can now serve the heart of the new towns directly, diverting away from the destroyed town and original railway station stop as they are not restricted by the strict railway track alignment.
Comparison of Travel Times between KTM and Existing Express Buses
Due to the main highways not being parallel with the railways, an unfair advantage can be argued for buses especially in the southern region as the North South Highway offers a straighter, more direct and faster route as compared with the railway which first travels inland to Gemas from KL and then continues south down to Johor Bahru (ie. a triangle explained using Pythagoras’ theorem whereby a = KL to Gemas by KTM, b = Gemas to JB by KTM and c = KL to JB by highway ie. bus).
Due to KTM’s poor existing timetable, KL – Gemas takes approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, and Gemas – JB takes around 4 hours and 10 minutes. This is excluding the transfer time of around 1 hour at Gemas between the Shuttle and ETS (or 4 hours 58 minutes for the night train combination). As compared to a direct bus ride which takes around 5 hours including a toilet break from KL to JB by the direct North South Highway, there is not much reason for those travelling from JB to KL to regularly use KTM unless it is purely for the experience.
For services in the Northern Sector, KTM has a slightly upper hand over buses as ETS trains can travel at up to 140km/h at operational speeds, getting from KL to Butterworth in around 4 hours and 30 minutes as compared with around 5 hours by bus. For Ipoh, the location of the railway station definitely plays a part even with the slower ETS schedule now as the main Ipoh Amanjaya Bus Terminal is located out of the city.
For services in the East Coast Sector, it may not be a direct fair comparison for Shuttle trains as they serve mainly the smaller Kampungs, and the Express Rakyat Timuran offers an overnight experience – a plus point over night buses as there is no straight highway unlike on the West Coast, but it only departs once a day and is usually delayed by hours – definitely a negative point no matter how you want to argue it.
On a previous first-hand experience with the KTM01 Rail Replacement Bus Service from KL Sentral to Sentul, the running time of the service was just 13 minutes from end to end as compared to the original KTM Komuter timetable of 18 minutes. That is to say, KTM’s own Rail Replacement Bus Service is cutting down travel times from the closed railway line, and the travel time is actually improved by bus now that the KTM Komuter line is closed.
On the Tanjung Malim – KL Sentral transhipment bus service due to the derailment of a cargo train on 17 July 2019, the transhipment bus service took just 1 hour 7 minutes to run the route, as compared to the ETS Platinum running time of 1 hour 29 minutes. The disruption and transhipment bus service caused by the derailment actually got passengers to KL Sentral earlier than scheduled as compared with if the train had continued as per normal.
Proposed New Parallel Roads to Existing Railway Alignment
The following stretches of railway has limited train services and no immediate parallel roads connecting the stations, and there is a need for new roads to be built to improve connectivity between these towns:
- Kulai – Layang-Layang
- Paloh – Bekok – Labis
- Gemas – Batang Melaka – Pulau Sebang (Tampin)
- Dabong – Kuala Krai – Temangan
Proposed roads should be built beside the existing railway instead of on top of the existing railway alignment. This is to facilitate the JB – Gemas Double Track Project works and East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works. In Malaysia’s case, no portion of the railway should be tarred over to have a permanent BRT service in favour of the railway.
The road may be of a single-lane arrangement with timed crossings at stations prior to entering the single-lane roadway in order to save costs. The proposed new roadways should then be for the exclusive use of special buses designated for Rail Replacement Services. If necessary, signalling with a symbolic paper token system (Tiket Jalan Bebas) can be adopted to control the one-way flow of bus(es) into the single-lane roadway.
Proposed Operation of Existing Services
KTM Bus: A new subsidiary to cater to all Rail Replacement Services and new Express Bus services (details of replaced trains and new services below).
Shuttle Tebrau: To continue as per normal up till the completion of the JB – Singapore RTS as it is the only service for KTM to earn quick fares. After the RTS is opened, the Shuttle Tebrau will be terminated according the Malaysia–Singapore Points of Agreement Supplement 2011.
Shuttle JB Sentral – Tampin: To terminate and all rail replacement operations transferred to new KTM Bus subsidiary via existing roads and parallel new roads beside existing railway alignment. Existing coaches should undergo a major overhaul and refurbishment, which should be ready around the same time as the East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works completion date. Locomotives should be used to boost KTM Kargo services whenever possible.
Shuttle Timur: To terminate and all rail replacement operations transferred to new KTM Bus subsidiary via new roads tarred over the existing railway alignment until the new DMUs arrive and East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works are completed. Existing coaches should undergo a major overhaul and refurbishment, which should be ready around the same time as the East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works completion date. Locomotives should be used to boost KTM Kargo services whenever possible.
Express Rakyat Timuran: To terminate and all rail replacement operations transferred to new KTM Bus subsidiary via new roads tarred over the existing railway alignment until the new DMUs arrive and East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works are completed. Should the completion of the JB – Gemas Double Track Project works and East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works be around the same time, services on the limited stop Express Rakyat Timuran should be run with the new DMUs on the Gemas – Tumpat sector only, with ETS services connecting passengers between JB Sentral and Gemas. Existing coaches should undergo a major overhaul and refurbishment, which should be ready around the same time as the East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works completion date. Locomotives should be used to boost KTM Kargo services whenever possible.
ETS Silver: To terminate and be replaced by KTM Komuter (see below).
ETS Gold: To be renamed as ETS Express with a similar fare structure as the existing ETS Gold. All services to be truncated to terminate at Sungai Buloh instead of KL Sentral or Gemas. All services to Gemas should be terminated until the JB – Gemas Double Track Project is completed, thereafter ETS services can be extended to JB Sentral. Passengers can use the MRT Sungai Buloh – Kajang Line to connect with the KTM Komuter Pulau Sebang (Tampin) line to connect with the Pulau Sebang (Tampin) – JB Sentral KTM Bus. All trains are to run on a single Sungai Buloh – Padang Besar route at hourly intervals. This is to prevent conflict of timetabling, prevent a conflict of expected services based on the passenger’s perception and for easy fare calculations for both staff and passengers alike. Moreover, if all services are kept at a constant, there is no need to keep referring back to the timetable on the stations each train serves but rather just focus on the departure and arrival timings. Coaches A, B and C are to be reserved for passengers travelling on longer distances between [Sungai Buloh/…/Tanjung Malim] and [Taiping/…/Padang Besar] from 60 days to 7 days before departure. Coaches D and E are to be reserved for passengers travelling on short distances between Sungai Buloh and Ipoh, Ipoh and Sungai Petani, and Sungai Petani and Padang Besar from 60 days to 7 days before departure. Coach F will be for non-reserved seat passengers with KTM charging only the Travel fare without the Place fee, and a limit of only 1 carry-on luggage and 1 small personal bag per person. However, there should be a ticket limit of 1.33 times the number of seats available in the coach at any point of time ie. there will be 25% of passengers who will be standing in Coach F when the coach is fully sold out. (This loading factor is derived from the Shuttle Tebrau 240 available seats vs. 320 actual tickets sold.) This is to give the lower income earners a chance to ride on the ETS Express for transport, to encourage short-distance travel with ETS Express and for last-minute bookings when the other coaches are fully sold out for all destinations. During peak periods of the year, KTM may also consider increasing the ticket sales for non-reserved seat passengers to 2 times the number of seats available in the coach, with passengers allowed to stand in other coaches instead of being confined to Coach F. Enforcement will need to be made by on-board staff to prevent standees from sitting in other coaches or on the floor. These restrictions with the exception of the non-reserved seat coach are to be lifted from 6 days before departure to the time of departure including the usual blocked seats to prevent conflict between rolling stock changes from 93 Class to 91 Class or vice-versa. Passengers going to minor stations may use the KTM Komuter Northern Sector as a relay. Passengers going to Butterworth may use the KTM Komuter Northern Sector as a relay, or use the direct KTM Bus service as proposed below.
ETS Platinum: To terminate and be replaced by ETS Express (see above).
KTM Komuter Klang Valley Sector: Services between KL Sentral and Sungai Buloh to be suspended until the completion of the Klang Valley Double Track Project. Lines should operate on the KL Sentral – Subang Jaya – Pelabuhan Klang (60 minute frequency), KL Sentral – Subang Jaya – SkyPark Terminal (60 minute frequency), KL Sentral – Pulau Sebang (Tampin) (30 minute frequency) and Sungai Buloh – Ipoh (60 minute frequency) (replacing ETS Silver) routes, stopping at all stations, with the SkyPark Link limited stop service suspended. This is to provide just enough leeway for single-track operations whee affected and yet offer double frequency on the KL Sentral – Subang Jaya sector, and a wider coverage up north to Ipoh to divert passengers away from ETS Express services. However, passengers on the Sungai Buloh – Ipoh Line can also consider buying a ticket for the non-reserved seat coach of the ETS Express service should there be one departing ahead of the KTM Komuter train. Existing Rail Replacement Bus Services KTM01 should be extended to ply all stations on the KL Sentral – Batu Caves Line including Kuala Lumpur, Bank Negara and Putra, KTM02 should be extended to ply all stations on the Sentul – Batu Caves Line and train services on the Sentul – Batu Caves Line be suspended as long as the Rail Replacement Bus Services are in place. New KTM03 bus should be introduced to ply the KL Sentral – Sungai Buloh route, stopping at all stations en route. KTM01, KTM02 and KTM03 buses should charge existing KTM Komuter fares for the convenience of passengers, eliminating the need to change modes of transport for a short journey, and to sustain the bus operations on this line. Parallel bus services running at 15 minute frequencies should also be introduced to ply on the Pelabuhan Klang – KL Sentral, Seremban – KL Sentral and Tanjung Malim – KL Sentral routes, charging existing KTM Komuter fares until trains can run at 15-minute intervals consistently throughout the day. Should there never be such a day, the parallel buses should continue indefinitely.
KTM Komuter Northern Sector: To continue as per normal for the Butterworth – Padang Besar Line, to extend the Bukit Merjatam – Padang Rengas Line to become the Butterworth – Ipoh Line. This can be serviced with 2 additional sets of SCS (total of 4 sets for the line) which the Klang Valley Sector will have an excess of with the removal of the Sentul – Batu Caves service. Both lines are to run at hourly intervals, timetabled to act as a relay for passengers from ETS Express services to access Bukit Mertajam, Bukit Tengah and Butterworth stations.
Proposed New KTM Bus Routes
The proposed KTM Bus routes are to offer a faster connection between major cities by using existing highways which may or may not be parallel to the railway line, offering a flexibility of bus services as compared to the rigid railway line. This is in addition to the above-mentioned rail replacement local routes on the KTM Intercity network above.
- JB Sentral – Kempas Baru – Labis – Segamat – Gemas – Pulau Sebang (Tampin) Express
- JB Sentral – Kempas Baru – Labis – Segamat – Gemas – Bahau Express
- JB Sentral – Kempas Baru – Pulau Sebang (Tampin) – Melaka Sentral Express
- JB Sentral – Kempas Baru – KL Sentral Express
- KL Sentral – Seremban – Pulau Sebang (Tampin) – Melaka Sentral Express
- KL Sentral – Seremban – Kuala Pilah – Bahau Express
- KL Sentral – Mentakab – Temerloh – Kuantan Express
- KL Sentral – Kuala Lipis Express
- KL Sentral – Ipoh Express
- KL Sentral – Taiping – Kamunting Express
- KL Sentral – Butterworth (Penang Sentral) Express
- Ipoh – Gua Musang Express
- Ipoh – Butterworth (Penang Sentral) Express
- Butterworth (Penang Sentral) – Alor Setar – Jitra – Changloon Express
- Butterworth (Penang Sentral) – Alor Setar – Kuala Perlis Express
- Butterworth (Penang Sentral) – Tanah Merah – Pasir Mas – Wakaf Bharu – Kota Bharu Express
All services are (obviously) operating in the reverse direction as well, with stops at railway stations instead of existing bus terminals in the respective towns unless otherwise indicated or they have no railway stations.
The KTM Bus tickets can be sold like a train ticket, with bus numbers in place of train numbers, stops functioning like train stations and passengers can board and alight at intermediate stops if necessary ie. passengers can connect from the KTM Komuter at Pulau Sebang (Tampin) Railway Station to a Pulau Sebang (Tampin) – Melaka Sentral Express KTM Bus.
Proposed Name of KTM Bus
Well, KTM Bus sounds good. I mean, the initials of Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) and KTM Bus (KTMB) are a perfect match right? Also, by bearing the name KTM, passengers will still get the impression that this is a railway service. Goods delivered by KTM Distrbution are mostly not done by the railway any more but by trucks on roads, but people still think that it’s a train delivery service right?
Jokes aside, operating a bus subsidiary is the way to go for KTM, whatever the name could be – that’s probably the least of my concerns. Whoever said a railway company needs to be purely in the railway business only? Hong Kong’s MTR generates immense revenue from their shopping malls and residential apartments built on their land. Thailand’s SRT rents out their land to a popular market which attracts throngs of visitors, locals and tourists alike – the Chatuchak Weekend Market (yes, it sits on railway land). Singapore’s SMRT and SBSTransit rents out shops and event spaces around most stations so you can buy something to eat
when trains break down, and hey, they operate buses as well.
By having a bus subsidiary, just like KTM Distribution which now uses trucks instead of trains, KTM can reach out to more destinations than ever before from the current railway network, and perhaps, just hopefully, gain back the commuter’s trust in them before the JB – Gemas Electrified Double Track Project and East Coast Line Track Rehabilitation works are completed, for KTM to finally make a profit out of the electric train services which would span Peninsular Malaysia then.
Note: I’m not keeping my hopes up that KTM will actually follow this proposal. But at least, wake up, and not offer a ridiculous 120 minute frequency on Komuter lines please. If you need a standard on how poor the railway is currently, with almost no logical timetables to travel down south, RailTravel Station, a railway travel blog, has not taken the train to KL for more than 1 year and counting because there are no logical train connections and travel times now.
Disclaimer: This article is purely the thoughts and views of RailTravel Station and in no way reflects an actual train service arrangement by the operator, KTM Berhad. And RailTravel Station still loves rail travel, though it’s becoming more and more difficult to do so in Malaysia.