Don’t be trapped in time warp

Malay Mail, February 26, 2013

IN the late 1990s, YTL Corporation mooted a highspeed rail (HSR) project linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. If it had taken off, the service would have been just as popular as the Ekspres Rail Link that connects Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to KL Sentral, a project jointly built by MRCB and YTL, and in operation since 2002. The estimated cost for the KL-S’pore HSR link has since swelled from RM8bil to RM30bil, if completed by 2020.

Japan has been using bullet trains, known by the nickname Shinkansen, since the 1960s, followed by the French with their faster TGV. Today, China has the most extensive network of HSR and it probably got there more through default than by design.

A late developer does not necessarily lose out in all areas. While countries with mature railway systems grapple with a combination of old and modern machinery and equipment, China was free to introduce the latest state-of-the-art technology.

Likewise, having delayed the introduction of HSR by 15 years has presented us the opportunity to leapfrog others if the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) opts for magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology.

Maglev trains are as fast as commercial aircraft and have reached speeds approaching 600kph. Those in use between Shanghai and Pudong international airport have proven to be highly reliable.

Cruising at an average speed of 500kph, it would take only 48 minutes to travel 400km and would surely put Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as twin iconic cities in the world map.

While we are moving forward into new frontiers with our southern neighbour, the northern border remains a boundary trapped in a time warp.

Preserving the status quo would complement a grand design that facilitates contraband and corrupt activities to thrive amidst an organised chaos.

For example, there was a recent strike by hiredcar (outstation taxi) drivers at Bukit Kayu Hitam in protest against a bilateral agreement that allows Thai vehicles into the peninsula all the way to Johor Baru whereas Malaysian vehicles are restricted to 2km into Thailand.

Local road transport operators have pleaded with the Road Transport Department to act on Thai vehicles “encroaching” into their territory and affecting their livelihood.

However, Thai operators view such enforcements as harassment and soon enough, the Thai authorities would reciprocate by putting up roadblocks to stop Malaysian vehicles in Thailand.

Fighting over fishing rights or engaging in tit-for-tat by enforcement agencies has never been the best way to tackle any cross border conflict.

Instead of waiting for the 2009 Asean Framework Agreement on the Facilitation of Inter-State Transport signed by Ministers of Transport to be fine tuned, it would be more effective for the Cabinet to appoint the Tourism Ministry as the lead agency to resolve issues affecting public road transport between peninsula Malaysia and Thailand.

The problem can be better resolved in a holistic manner by creating a win-win situation for all to promote tourism and not through long negotiations, which are more suited for trade agreements.

Also, the hired-car drivers need to be educated that the public would prefer cheaper express buses for long outstation trips and Thai tourists are more comfortable travelling in their own buses and vans to tour our country.

Similarly, the Tourism Authority of Thailand would welcome hordes of Malaysian tourists travelling in Bas Persiaran touring South Thailand and contributing to the local economy.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, hired cars were mostly Mercedes Benz and used to be the most popular mode of public transport for outstation travel in peninsular Malaysia until they lost out to express buses.

The hired-car drivers ought to realise that their sunset industry has been on a continuous decline over the past 40 years and should get out of their own trap.

Many of those who remained have probably found lucrative side income from the hustle and bustle of border town activities.

Ultimately, it is necessary to engineer quantum leap measures to lift masses of people out of time warps so that more of our citizens march in sync towards the realisation of Vision 2020.