Electric trains to reduce travel time? We think double-tracking makes the biggest difference.

We at TRANSIT have been following the electrification and double-tracking of the Malayan Railways since the proposal was first mooted. And we regularly check in with the blogs and other resources that follow the EDT project to keep updated on what is happening.

We believe that the double tracking of Malaysia’s railways is of huge importance for the future growth of the rail industry.

This article in The Star featured below is an interesting one because it highlights the electrification of the lines, rather than the double-tracking, and suggests that it is the electrification that will make a difference to rail transport service in Malaysia.

Of course we at TRANSIT beg to disagree. But first, read the article.

Electric trains to reduce travel time (The Star)

Tuesday August 24, 2010

TRAVEL time between Kuala Lumpur and Penang will be halved when electric trains start operating on the double train tracks from Ipoh to Padang Besar in Perlis.

Progress on the project is now 53% and is on track to be completed by December 2013.

Almost ready: The Taiping portals of the Larut twin tunnels. Blasting is still being carried out to excavate the tunnels but is nearing completion with a few hundred metres left. Image courtesy of The Star.

The 329km stretch, called the Electrified Double Tracking Project (EDTP), is a MMC-Gamuda joint venture and costs RM12.5bil.

The EDTP will be part of the KTM Bhd rail network running from Johor to Perlis and continues from the Seremban-Ipoh service, which was launched on Aug 12.

[TRANSIT: Not exactly. EDTP is a capital project to build an electrically-powered. double-tracked railway. If KTMB chooses to offer an electrically-powered intercity service (like ETS) or freight service that is up to them. As we have seen from the huge gap between the completion of the Rawang-Ipoh EDTP (in mid 2007) and the launching of ETS service (in August 2010), EDTP and electric train service are not necessarily going hand in hand.]

All laid out: The manufacturing depot for the railway tracks. Image courtesy of The Star.
Previously, a train trip from Penang to Kuala Lumpur took nine hours but with the new trains, it will only take three hours to make the same journey.
[TRANSIT: Didn’t they just say “halved” in the introduction? Well, which is it? Halved, or cut by two-thirds?]

The project also has some unique structures such as an elevated land viaduct, marine viaduct, swing bridge and two tunnel designs that take trains over or through uneven terrain.

[TRANSIT: Of course, some of these “unique structures” already existed before the EDTP and are being upgraded.]

These structures allow for straighter tracks to be laid, making for a smoother, quieter and faster ride aboard the electric trains, which can travel up to 160km per hour.

A smoother ride is the result of new jointless [continuously welded] tracks which are used in place of the usual tracks which are bolted together, and quieter as the familiar clanging of the train’s wheels would no longer be there.

However, this could prove deadly for animals and people who wander onto the tracks because they would not be able to hear the train in time to move out of the way.

[TRANSIT: Right … there always has to be a drawback to technology. It is strange here that they would imply that the clanging of a train allows it to be heard from a distance – as if the sound of the engine, rushing wind and the vibrating tracks (which also transmit sound) would not be a clear indication that a train was coming. Animals are generally smart enough to avoid trains, humans less so. An electric train traveling at 140-160km/h would definitely make enough noise to be heard.]

Steel support: A section of the Bukit Berapit tunnel which runs under the North-South Expressway. Image courtesy of The Star.

TRANSIT Says:

We find the above article very interesting because it implies that the presence of the electric trains will be making a huge difference to the number of services operated by KTM as well as the reduced travel time.

Actually, it is the presence of the double tracking that will allow KTMB to increase the number of trains (freight and intercity) on the rails. It is in fact a great investment for the government and KTMB to make. Increasing the number of tracks by a factor of 2, allows an increase in the number of rail services (as in, train trips) by a factor of 10!

This means that train services will not only be faster and more frequent, but also more reliable. There will be less need to spend time waiting at stations or sidings for other trains to pass (as it happens on a single-track system).

And in time, if the proposed bypass from Alor Gajah to Port Klang to Batu Gajah is built, freight trains can be removed from the Klang Valley almost entirely. Not to mention, similar double tracking of rail lines in Penang and South Johor will allow higher-frequency passenger commuter services to Penang and Johor Baru.

So where does electrification fit in? Well, electric trains have a few advantages over diesel trains in that they:

  • can accelerate faster but requiring less energy – meaning reduced carbon emissions;
  • have more torque (pushing or pulling power applied to moving the train);
  • do not pollute at site (meaning that there is no smoke/soot/particulates/emissions around the train itself);
  • can return kinetic energy to the electric power grid during braking;
  • are quieter and smoother than diesel trains;
  • cost less to operate & maintain than diesel trains.

All of these things are huge improvements – but make no mistake about it – the improved travel time will come more from the double-tracking rather than the electrification. Electrification is just the “icing on the cake”, helping KTMB find greater efficiency by increasing speed and reducing costs (maintenance, pollution, operations & labour, wasted time, etc.)

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