KTM Update: KTM losing customers due to shift to Woodlands Checkpoint. Where is our long-term plan for Singapore-Malaysia Transportation?

TRANSIT took note of a recent article detailing a challenge that KTMB was facing with the intercity services bound for Singapore.

Since KTMB withdrew from the Tg. Pagar station in Singapore on 30 June of this year, and cut back services to the Woodlands Checkpoint as of 1 July, there has been a decrease in the number of passengers on Singapore-bound train services.

KTMB President Dr. Aminuddin Adnan reasons that a large number of intercity passengers bound for Singapore have decided to switch to the many express bus options, which take them directly into Singapore. At the same time, he has no intention of cutting services, preferring to wait until things are settled.

Woodlands move a drain on KTMB (NST, 29 October 2011)

The Woodlands train station is registering a sharp fall in passenger volume after KTM Berhad moved its operations there from Tanjung Pagar in July. Image courtesy of NST.

JOHOR BARU: The shifting of KTM Berhad’s railway operations to Woodlands in July following the closure of the Tanjung Pagar railway station has taken its toll on the revenue of the rail company.

Checks showed the company has incurred an average monthly loss of RM1.8 million since July as a result of a decline of between 20 and 30 per cent of passengers using train services to the republic.

KTMB believes most of its customers are instead opting to travel to the republic by express buses, and some by planes, as the Woodlands station is not quite convenient for travellers.

There are seven train services to Singapore daily, and all services stop at the Woodlands checkpoint.

All the trains will make a brief stop at JB Sentral before moving towards Woodlands, which is about one kilometre away.

Industry sources said it is economically not viable to have two stations located too near to each other, more so when both are located near the border of two different countries using different currencies.

In the case of Woodlands, alighting passengers who turned to other modes of transport to reach their destination will have to pay for their fare in Singapore dollars.

For those who travel to the republic by express bus, the problem does not arise.

[TRANSIT: Not exactly as most express bus services do drop passengers off at “out of the way” locations – like Harbourfront (Aeroline), Novena Square (First Coach) and other places – that require an additional trip paid for in Singapore dollars. Even the Lavender bus terminal is not exactly centrally located. The trip might be shorter or cheaper but it is still there.

By the way, Moaz from TRANSIT told us that he always preferred taking the First Coach from Bangsar to Novena Sq. because it has quick public transport links at both ends – LRT at Bangsar and MRT at Novena.]

KTMB president Dr Aminuddin Adnan told the New Sunday Times that there are no plans to stop all seven trips to Woodlands despite the losses.

“It is too early to conclude the whole picture. We will wait and see before planning the next course of action.

“Our customers are basically from the middle-income bracket. We believe those who have abandoned our service are those who do not want any inconvenience throughout their journey, especially when they reach Singapore.”

[TRANSIT: Then KTMB needs to find a way to improve links within Singapore – perhaps working with the Singapore Government and private bus companies to pick up KTMB passengers and take them further.

In the long term, however, we feel that KTMB intercity services will be cut back to JB Sentral.]

The Tanjong Pagar station became part of KTMB’s history following the departure of the last train piloted by the Sultan of Johor at 11.03pm on June 30.

Dr Aminuddin said KTMB is trying to offset the losses by capitalising on the Johor Baru market.

It plans to introduce an additional train service from Tumpat to Johor Baru from next January.

Called the Malayan Tiger, the 14-coach service is believed to be an impetus for the tourism industry in Johor in view that more tourism products are coming up in Iskandar Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Dr Aminuddin said the stripping of the 23km railway track from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands had been completed.

He said the track weighed a total of about 2,500 tonnes, of which about 70 per cent had been transported back to Malaysia.

The rest, which was still being placed at a temporary storage area in Kranji, will be sent back to the country by the middle of next month.

“We are now demolishing all the locomotive shades and depots and we hope to complete the work by Dec 22,” he added.

It was reported that part of the track would be showcased in KTMB museums as a historical exhibit while others would be kept for future use on KTMB tracks throughout the country.

The first museum to display part of the track is the former Johor Baru railway station, which will be turned into a museum soon.

TRANSIT Says:

As you can imagine, any significant change in access will cause people to take the step that is easiest and most convenient for them.

That is why people drive – especially after a major change in public transport services or when starting at a new job or a new school. The lack of information, lack of assurance, and lack of confidence, leads them to do something that makes them feel secure.

In this case, passengers who took the train services are now looking for the convenience of the express bus market – which is not only growing, but is affordable and practical.

TRANSIT is concerned that the KTMB departure from Singapore happened too quickly, and was not supported by a long-term plan for Singapore-Malaysia transportation links.

Indeed, the Singapore and Malaysian governments are only now discussing the details of future rapid-transit and public transport links:

This effectively means that the Malaysian Government has pushed KTMB into an uncertain situation as the service is losing customers to the intercity express buses.

Now, KTMB could find ways to bring customers to JB Sentral by doing some of the following as soon as possible:

  • partnering with bus companies in Johor to operate “first mile” feeder bus services in JB, linking public transport users to “main” railway stations” and JB Sentral
  • partnering with bus companies in Singapore to operate “last mile” feeder bus services from Woodlands to nearby MRT stations and other “main” hubs in Singapore.
  • Developing a KTM Komuter Selatan / Iskandar-JB Komuter services, to serve major rail-based developments like Kempas Sentral and Bdr. Sri Alam, picking up on latent demand for public transport and move into new markets.

Unfortunately, KTMB appears to see itself as a “railway” company and does not yet offer bus services. Is this because of a limited perspective on public transport services or because of Malaysian law which for so long has separated road and rail-based forms of public transport?

Many successful railway operators also make do with buses, whether as a feeder service (like Hong Kong’s former Kowloon-Canton Railway feeder buses – now part of the Mass-Transit Railway Corporation, or the Taiwan High Speed Rail Shuttle Buses), or as a supplementary service (like Toronto’s GO Transit which operates train services on its main corridors during peak hours and bus services during off-peak & daytime hours).

As for commuter rail, we know that the Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking and electrification project is to be completed in 2016, (Star Biz, 19 October 2011) with a ‘complete’ railway network to be ready by 2018.

But there is also a problem of unclear plans about commuter rail services in Iskandar-JB, with the unsolicited plan for a Metropolitan Commuter Network that has been proposed in a strange manner, “accepted” or endorsed by the Menteri Besar, and given to two companies that have little experience in public transport projects – all with little public scrutiny.

That is why TRANSIT, as usual, is worried about public transport in Malaysia. With so many opportunities to make things right, why do we keep doing things wrongly?

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4 thoughts on “KTM Update: KTM losing customers due to shift to Woodlands Checkpoint. Where is our long-term plan for Singapore-Malaysia Transportation?”

  1. There’s no telling how much KTM passenger traffic will drop, if as you say, lines would be cut to JB Sentral. Nobody wants to take a train to JB and then take a bus/whatever to Singapore when you can have all of the above with a bus. Nail in the coffin perhaps, for an ailing transport service?

    1. @Patrick

      Thanks for the observation. We also share that concern but at the same time we see this as an ever increasing possibility.

      On the other hand – if demand for intercity services decrease, but KTMB can increase demand for Komuter Selatan services, perhaps the losses will not be so significant.

      Also, once the EDT project is finished from Gemas – JB and the intercity service is Electric, then the increased speed & comfort should help to compensate a little bit for the inconvenience.

      There is also the cross-border link to consider – if it is reliable and fast, some people will consider that as convenient as well.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  2. @patrick

    i believe let people do what they are best at and leave it at that..ie. do what KTMB can do and leave singapore to do what it believes to be best for itself, and what the general transported public wants to do..

    what i mean is… if KTMB can have a good connection within the greater JB region.. with a terminal/interchange at kempas. then thats the best… and put it far far away from JB central. reason: read up on stats of ppl moving in/out spore daily… jb central makes perfect sense as an interchange for jb/spore traffic.

    have a mrt come in to JB, terminate at JB central.. then ongoing passengers can move onto the trains bound for the grater JB region. and vice versa..

    ie. leave the public transportation for whats best in singapore for singapore to decide.

    and its best too… ktmb can still be VERY relevant by using their own existing tracks.. kempas to p.gudang, kempas to PTP, kempas to jb sentral… if you look at the maps… this cuts across wide wide areas of JB… just need to optimise by double tracking and electrification of the tracks… ( like what transitmy mentioned)

    KTMB may be dying at JB sentral.. but lets look at it long term. i firmly believe they should not sell out.. not so fast. i as a resident believe rail service it should be in public hands… just like our govt hospitals. and if they can manage it well.. its big money for them too. i said “if” ya….
    but anyway… KTMB is far from “nail in the coffin”…..

    the public is crying out for better transportation… and one thing good about JB is that… ironically.. we developed much much much later than other places.. klang, penang.. so hopefully giving ppl are much better picture of what works.. and given that we also have singapore physically linked up on a 1km causeway. that helps too.

    even if all else fails…. i’m willing to bet big on the little red dot. and if they do very well, jb will be just fine.

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