Why Can’t KTM Shuttle Tebrau Run More Frequently?
The JB-Woodlands KTM Shuttle Tebrau train is a highly-popular yet infrequent shuttle train service* between Singapore and Malaysia, with high-demand tickets selling out nowadays within 1 minute after opening for sale up to 8 months 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”.
With such high demand, the immediate question for people who don’t frequently take the Shuttle Tebrau train is immediately “why don’t they run more trains then?”.
Well, it’s not that no one want to run more trains, it’s that the trains are physically limited to such a frequency.
*Infrequent bi-directional trains at 75-90 minutes frequency is based on Singapore’s rail transport standards.
Woodlands Train Checkpoint (Key Choke Point)
Woodlands Train Checkpoint was originally meant as an intermediate station for immigration and customs facilities between Johor Bahru Railway Station (now moved to JB Sentral) and Tanjong 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 to Woodlands Train Checkpoint on 1 July 2011 in the previous huge waiting room, in order to facilitate Malaysia immigration and customs clearance which was done at Tanjong 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?
No problems with JB Sentral?
Then upgrade Woodlands Train Checkpoint lah!
Not that straightforward.
Remember the closure of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station? That’s part of the Malaysia–Singapore Points of Agreement Supplement 2010. The current cut-back to Woodlands Train Checkpoint is only temporary as the Johor Bahru-Singapore RTS Link would be up by 2018 (haha) and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) would be up by 2020 (hahahahaha). 6 months after the RTS Link is running, KTM train services will be cut back to JB Sentral, and Woodlands Train Checkpoint will be demolished, as discussed in the Malaysia–Singapore Points of Agreement Supplement 2010.
Nevertheless, with the RTS Link construction in full swing with services expected to launch in January 2027, the above still stands. Woodlands Train Checkpoint will cease operations 6 months after the RTS Link is running, and KTM train services will be cut back to JB Sentral, concluding the land swap issue.
Woodlands Train Checkpoint is in the way of the redevelopment and expansion of Woodlands Checkpoint. The Old Woodlands Town Centre was closed on 30 November 2017 for this purpose, probably with the redevelopment and expansion plan supposedly starting in 2018, once the Johor Bahru-Singapore RTS Link was supposedly running.
With the on-and-off by Malaysia, this timeline has now been pushed back by about 9 years. The plot of land where Old Woodlands Town Centre once stood is now sitting empty outside Woodlands Train Checkpoint, waiting for Woodlands Train Checkpoint‘s demise.
Then upgrade the special shuttle train lah!
KTM Shuttle Tebrau was never designed to be a popular shuttle, although plenty of popular trains by KTM in recent years had extreme demand by accident rather than planned demand such as the KTM Komuter Northern Sector (Komuter Utara) and Shuttle Dabong, so that’s not new for KTM.
The purpose of Shuttle Tebrau launched on 1 July 2014 was to facilitate train turnarounds to and from Kempas Baru Depot. The move to Kempas Baru Depot was on 1 July 2011, due to the closure of Kampong Bahru Yard in Singapore with the closure of the KTM Singapore Sector on 1 July 2011. To shorten the turnaround empty-running distance and time, long-distance trains were cut back to JB Sentral for easier depot launches and returns.
The Shuttle Tebrau initially ran 7 pairs of trains daily, the same number of long-distance KTM Intercity trains formerly serving Peninsular Malaysia to and from Woodlands Train Checkpoint, now truncated to JB Sentral. KTM designed this to cater for through train passengers, and depot launches and returns, NOT for the JB-Singapore crowd.
Of course, everyone had the Pikachu shocked face on 1 July 2014 when there was an over-demand of the “new KTM train”.
And so the addition of Shuttle Tebrau trains started, till today.
And if the above explanation is a bit too technical, here’s a simple explanation.
1 train, 1 track, up and down. Remember you need immigration. This is not a new train, and not an MRT.
So how like that?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t straightforward, with the many agencies involved on this international rail route across one of the world’s most busiest border crossings, including potential sovereignty issues and breach of the Malaysia–Singapore Points of Agreement Supplement 2010 if Malaysia immigration was asked to move back to Malaysia to clear the main choke for departing trains from Woodlands Train Checkpoint.