The KTM Shuttle Tebrau train is a highly-popular yet infrequent train service* between Singapore and Malaysia, with high-demand tickets selling out nowadays within 15 seconds after opening for sale at 8.30am 30 days before departure.
Passengers are so willing to pay for the KTM Shuttle Tebrau train despite the high fare price of up to RM32 (S$10) for a return ticket, higher than the disputed proposed one-way RTS fare of RM15 which was claimed to be “too high”. Despite the high demand and high fare, the Shuttle Tebrau is only able to keep to a minimum of 75 minutes frequency for a bi-directional service due to existing constraints, resulting in many people being unable to purchase a ticket despite being willing to pay the high fare.
But now, I have an idea of how to shorten the frequency time to a constant 30 minutes per train if some slight modifications are made on all stakeholders’ and agencies’ parts.
Warning: Long Post Ahead
(For those allergic to walls of text, this article may not be suitable for you.)
*Infrequent bi-directional trains at 75-90 minutes frequency is based on Singapore’s rail transport standards.
**All layouts below are intentionally poorly done, not to scale and incomplete for security purposes. They may also contain intentional and unintentional errors but the overall idea remains there.
***Before I begin, I hope you know the difference between immigration (chop passport) and customs (x-ray on yourself and your bags). Not everything is “clear custom”, “queue at custom” or “wah custom queue 2 hours” okay.
Overall Layout of Woodlands Train Checkpoint (Key Choke Point)
This is the basic current layout of Woodlands Train Checkpoint.
Originally meant as an intermediate station for immigration and customs facilities between Johor Bahru Railway Station (now moved to JB Sentral) and Tanjung Pagar Railway Station (now closed), Woodlands Train Checkpoint only needed a single platform to handle a single direction of immigration and customs as the train arriving would only be heading to Singapore or Malaysia at any one time.
Malaysia Immigration and Customs (Immigration Department of Malaysia and Royal Malaysian Customs Department) were added in on 1 July 2011 in the previous huge waiting room in order to facilitate Malaysia immigration and customs clearance which was done at Tanjung Pagar Railway Station before 1 July 2011.
Currently, Woodlands Train Checkpoint still handles a single direction of immigration and customs at any one point of time despite now being a terminal station.
This is the current departure process at Woodlands Train Checkpoint.
After getting Shuttle Tebrau tickets checked upstairs, Shuttle Tebrau passengers proceed down for Singapore immigration clearance, followed by Malaysia immigration and customs clearance, thereafter heading to the platform to board the Shuttle Tebrau train to JB Sentral. Passengers are then free to walk straight out to Malaysia after alighting from the Shuttle Tebrau train at JB Sentral as everyone has been cleared out of Singapore and in to Malaysia properly at Woodlands Train Checkpoint and in order.
This is the current arrival process at Woodlands Train Checkpoint.
After taking the Shuttle Tebrau train from JB Sentral with Malaysia immigration already cleared in JB Sentral before boarding, passengers clear Singapore immigration followed by Singapore customs in Woodlands Train Checkpoint, before proceeding out to Singapore freely.
Looking at the arrows, can you see the overlapping paths for arriving and departing passengers already?
This is my RailTravel Station-proposed modified layout on the platform level at Woodlands Train Checkpoint.
Part of the queuing area for Malaysia immigration will have Singapore immigration counters and regular one-way eIACS machines installed. New eIACS machines need not be procured, ICA can use the recently-removed Changi Airport Terminal 3 ones, if they had kept it. The number of Singapore immigration counters and regular one-way eIACS machines will match up to the number of counters and machines Malaysia immigration has behind in order not to choke up the Shuttle Tebrau passenger flow and to ensure that they fit within the same departure hall.
With this modified design, there are no more overlapping paths for arriving or departing Shuttle Tebrau passengers to take, and the flow of passengers can be easily seen here. However, there must be Tanjung Pagar-era style of operating Woodlands Train Checkpoint’s platform whereby the gate into Singapore arrival immigration will be locked after all passengers have been cleared in, and the waiting area after Malaysia immigration will be just like Tanjung Pagar-era, only opening when the Shuttle Tebrau is ready to depart.
As the departure frequency is now increased, passengers who miss the train due to late entry or immigration issues must wait for the next train at the waiting area after Malaysia customs. The train should not wait for all passengers to be ready before departing, in order to keep to the tight schedule.
However, the layout of Woodlands Train Checkpoint isn’t the only thing causing the Shuttle Tebrau train frequency to be limited. The existing trackside equipment plays a part too.
Proposed New Simple Signalling System
This is the current simplified track diagram for JB Sentral’s southern end.
To those twitching now about the over-simplification and possible inaccuracies, please remember that this is simplified. I know there’s a lot more details and necessary scales in this, but as mentioned above, all layouts are intentionally poorly done, not to scale and incomplete for security purposes.
Currently, the station’s signalling equipment and procedures requires manual operations which I shan’t go in to detail (but if you are a railway fan, you probably know what goes on) for any train which enters JB Sentral, including the Shuttle Tebrau, Ekspres Selatan, Ekspres Rakyat Timuran and occasionally, the Eastern & Oriental Express. This causes a delay sometimes as some department which doesn’t work in JB Sentral has certain trains timetabled to depart right at the same time or 5 minutes apart, causing a frenzy for the crew at JB Sentral to dispatch trains.
This is my RailTravel Station-proposed modified simplified track diagram for JB Sentral’s southern end.
By removing some circuit-breakers in the signalling system, there will be an alert about the break and the line being unusable. This is exactly what I’m trying to achieve.
There needs to be a separate line for the now-frequent Shuttle Tebrau train without troubling so many people clicking here and there or running around up and down every half an hour.
To achieve this, I propose converting Platform 6 to a dedicated Shuttle Tebrau platform with disconnected signalling from the existing system. Once the Shuttle Tebrau is brought in first on Platform 5 in the morning under the existing system, a new One Train Working Staff Token will be issued to the train, and the train holds on to the Staff Token throughout the service hours.
For the first train in the morning, the 61dn Shuttle Tebrau train will depart from Platform 5 after entering there from Kempas Baru, disappearing from the existing signalling system while holding on to the Staff Token, and the returning 1062up MT Shuttle Tebrau train will head into Platform 6 to continue on throughout the day.
For the last train at night, the 96up Shuttle Tebrau train will enter Platform 5 from Woodlands CIQ, appearing in the existing signalling system, returning the Staff Token to the Station Master, and the departing 1056up MT Shuttle Tebrau train will depart back to Kempas Baru as per normal.
Fun Fact: The original JB Sentral plan did plan for a separation for international trains at Platform 5 and 6, with domestic trains using Platforms 1, 2, 3 and 4. Hence the weird doors which you pass through now because international trains are currently using Platform 4.
Each train, with the exception of the first and last trains of the day, will just radio back to the cabin to state the existing processes (rights) and arrival and departure timings, rather than dispatching the Shuttle Tebrau train like every other KTM Intercity train. These timings will be recorded as per normal.
In the event that it is an Eastern & Oriental Express operational day, this process will be repeated with the Shuttle Tebrau train arriving at Platform 6, the Staff Token changing ownership to the Eastern & Oriental Express on Platform 5, and the Eastern and Oriental Express departs into and out of Woodlands Train Checkpoint, holding the Staff Token.
To cope with the Eastern & Oriental Express departures, 3 pairs of Shuttle Tebrau trains will be cancelled for a 90-minute window from 10.00am to 11.29am or 2.00pm to 3.29pm – the same procedure as per current, though with just 1 pair of trains now at 10.00am (and now you see why there’s a little jump in the departure timings from JB Sentral to 11.30am right there).
For remaining domestic trains of Ekspres Selatan and Ekspres Rakyat Timuran, Platforms 1, 2, 3 and 4 are used, with a new “headshunt” created in the signalling system at the end of Platform 4 (Main Line) for locomotives to run round the rake.
This is the current simplified track diagram for Woodlands Train Checkpoint. Simple enough.
This is the number of signalling changes needed for Woodlands Train Checkpoint – none. In fact, it’s a little bit like reverting back to the Tanjung Pagar-era as the interlocking signalling system was once compatible with the key token system which is now removed. (Do note that a key token system is not recommended to be used as it would adversely slow down the Shuttle Tebrau train frequency instead.) The existing receiving and dispatching processes at Woodlands Train Checkpoint can remain the same as current.
Additional Co-operation from Other Agencies
On top of this, I do have other recommendations to speed up the now-high-frequency of the Shuttle Tebrau train without putting too much stress on some relevant agencies.
For KTM Berhad:
Provide a double set of crew for the Shuttle Tebrau on board ie. 2 drivers, 2 firemen and 2 guards, each on duty for a single direction only. This is to increase turnaround efficiency and provide more than enough rest between trips. The two daily Shuttle Tebrau shifts will continue as usual. See below advice to ICA on how to increase the crew numbers available for Singapore trips.
To cope with the high number of staff assigned to the Shuttle Tebrau, the Kempas crew should work on the Shuttle Tebrau, Ekspres Selatan 40up/43dn, and Kempas cargo feeders to PTP and Pasir Gudang only. Ekspres Selatan 42up/45dn, 44up/41dn, and all other cargo trains should be operated by Gemas crew as it complements the Tampin feeder crew. If currency update on the rest of the network is required by Kempas crew, they can be scheduled to work in tandem with Gemas crew on any other trains if need be.
For Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA):
Allow special permission for the Shuttle Tebrau train crew to not hold passports when on duty. This excludes KTM staff working at Woodlands Train Checkpoint. This is to skip the step where the Shuttle Tebrau train crew has to alight and head to the office for arrival and immediate departure immigration for every train, not to mention the ridiculous up to 10 entry stamps per day on each Shuttle Tebrau crew’s passport.
This also increases KTM’s ability to provide more Shuttle Tebrau crew rather than restricting the roster to those with available pages on passports only, not to mention crew time wasted to keep making new passports because of the high number of entry stamps clocked every day.
To mitigate any immigration and security issues, the Shuttle Tebrau train crew should no longer be allowed to enter any part of Woodlands Train Checkpoint other than the train and platform – not even the Station Master’s office. This is mitigated with the now-locked gates based on passenger flow. During the time when the Shuttle Tebrau crew is in Woodlands Train Checkpoint, the now-high-frequency would get them preparing to just move the Shuttle Tebrau train further back to the departure area after all arriving passengers have alighted, and it would be about time to leave again already.
For Singapore Customs:
Skip bringing in the K9 unit to sniff arriving Shuttle Tebrau trains. The Shuttle Tebrau can’t proceed further down south to Tanjong Pagar even if it wanted to due to a lack of tracks, and can only head back to Malaysia, so I personally find that there is no point checking through the Shuttle Tebrau train for contraband or whatever when everyone would be well gone and not return within the next 10 minutes on the train back to Malaysia. If the K9 unit still needs to be activated, despite surprisingly not appearing frequently at the bus checkpoints, the K9 unit should sniff Shuttle Tebrau passengers in the immigration halls instead.
KTM Shuttle Tebrau Ticketing System Enhanced
I propose two types of processes to be adopted with the increase of Shuttle Tebrau train frequency.
Option 1 (Similar to Existing Procedures)
For tickets, passengers will have to buy a timed Shuttle Tebrau ticket as per normal. This is to regulate the maximum capacity of each Shuttle Tebrau train at 320 passengers so that there is just enough people for immigration to clear every 30 minutes. Passengers have to board the Shuttle Tebrau train as per current timings for their timed departure, however, as mentioned above, passengers who miss the Shuttle Tebrau train due to immigration will have to wait 30 minutes for the next Shuttle Tebrau departure.
Option 2 (Same Same But Different)
Everything in Option 1, plus an additional “Standby Queue” for those holding Shuttle Tebrau tickets of later departures. If less than 320 tickets are scanned for boarding 2 minutes before the gate closes, the KTM station staff will then proceed to allow others who are in the “Standby Queue” who have later Shuttle Tebrau tickets to board the earlier Shuttle Tebrau train. Priority will go to the next Shuttle Tebrau departure timing eg. the passenger holding a ticket for a 1.30pm ticket queuing in the “Standby Queue” for a 1.00pm Shuttle Tebrau train departure will have priority over the person with a 2.00pm ticket. Boarding in the “Standby Queue” does not come with any assurance for boarding, and the departure time as stated on the original ticket that the passenger is holding takes precedence.
Whatever the option, I do not propose a free-for-all any-time boarding system with unlimited Shuttle Tebrau tickets as it’ll just become a second bus checkpoint with the usual immigration crowds.
This is my proposed high-frequency schedule for the Shuttle Tebrau train:
At 45 and 15 of the hour: Boarding Bridge Gate for the next Northbound Shuttle Tebrau train departure opens at Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 00 and 30 of the hour: Southbound Shuttle Tebrau train departs from JB Sentral
At 00 and 30 of the hour: Boarding Gate A for the next Southbound Shuttle Tebrau train departure opens at JB Sentral
At 05 and 35 of the hour: Southbound Shuttle Tebrau train arrives at Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 05 and 35 of the hour: Boarding Bridge Gate for the next Northbound Shuttle Tebrau train departure closes at Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 09 and 39 of the hour: Platform Arrival Gates for the Southbound Shuttle Tebrau train arrival closes at Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 10 and 40 of the hour: Platform Departure Gates for the Northbound Shuttle Tebrau train departure opens at Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 15 and 45 of the hour: Northbound Shuttle Tebrau train departs from Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 15 and 45 of the hour: Boarding Bridge Gate for the next Northbound Shuttle Tebrau train departure opens at Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 20 and 50 of the hour: Northbound Shuttle Tebrau train arrives at JB Sentral
At 20 and 50 of the hour: Boarding Gate A for the next Southbound Shuttle Tebrau train closes at JB Sentral
At 25 and 55 of the hour: Waiting Room Gate for the Southbound Shuttle Tebrau train departure opens at JB Sentral
At 25 and 55 of the hour: Boarding Bridge Gate for the Northbound Shuttle Tebrau train departure opens at Woodlands Train Checkpoint
At 00 and 30 of the hour: Southbound Shuttle Tebrau train departs from JB Sentral
tl;dr version: The Shuttle Tebrau departs EVERY 30 MINUTES with the existing boarding times.
A 30-minute frequency may still not be considered frequent, but at least now about 2.5 times more people will have the opportunity to use the Shuttle Tebrau with the new schedule. That also potentially increases KTM’s revenue by 2.5 times too, making it (if it is independent from KTM Intercity) potentially the most profitable SBU with Shuttle Tebrau tickets selling for up to RM16 for a 5-minute 2.3 kilometer journey, with up to 320 people paying this every 30 minutes every day.
Please note that the above are my own regular-person ideas of the potential problems and solutions to overcome them in order to sustain the new high-frequency Shuttle Tebrau. I do not claim that these ideas are 100% feasible as there may be internal processes which I may be missing out on which I obviously won’t know because I’m just a passenger, not someone working to protect borders. If you have thought of other problems that you foresee, do leave a comment so we can discuss our ideas below.