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Malaysia to make rail decisions by Q1

WORTH RM35B: KL-Singapore bullet train and Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking projects

THE government will decide by the first quarter of next year when the bullet train and the Gemas-Johor Baru electrified double tracking project (EDTP), with a combined worth of about RM35 billion, will be implemented, sources said.

Malaysia is planning to build a 300km high-speed rail (HSR) line linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore under a public-private partnership.

The project will cost about RM20 billion to RM25 billion.

The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) is conducting a study on the HSR system, which it expects to complete by the end of this month. If feasible, SPAD will call for pre-qualification bids by mid-2013.SPAD chief executive officer Mohd Nur Kamal, when contacted, told Business Times that the study is ongoing.

Its chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Syed Jaafar Albar said recently that several states have expressed strong interest for the high-speed rail to pass through their land because of the economic spillover.

Besides Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Malaysia is also studying the possibility of linking the HSR system to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and several cities in China.

Business Times reported that Tan Sri Ravindran Menon, who controls Skypark Terminal at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, has teamed up with UEM Group to vie for the HSR project linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

They plan to lay railway lines parallel to the North-South Expressway from Kuala Lumpur, Seremban and Malacca to Johor Baru, before connecting to Singapore.

The standard gauge railway network will beB2used, where the trains would run at 350 km/h.

Commuters using the trains could travel from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Baru in 80 minutes and to Singapore in 90 minutes, compared
to six hours by road, currently.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha recently said several options and alignments are being explored for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route.

He said the train could either run non-stop from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, or start from KL Sentral in Brickfields and have stops at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Seremban and beyond.

Meanwhile, the Gemas-Johor Baru EDTP will involve around 197km of parallel railway tracks.

Valued at an estimated RM8 billion, it includes building stations, depots, halts, yards and bridges and cover systems such as electrification, signalling and communications.

Read more: Malaysia to make rail decisions by Q1

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Singapore in 90 minutes by rail – positive for the economy and property prices

The possible policy responses to current economic downturn in Malaysia are actually quite limited. Private consumption has turned negative and is unlikely to recover as consumer confidence is weak and the consumer debt to GDP ratio of over 60% in Malaysia is already high by Asian standards. Export growth is likely to remain weak (exports down 30% y-o-y in May 2009) as long as highly leveraged US consumers continue to deleverage which could last over a decade if the Japanese experience is repeated. The only real solution is fiscal spending and private investment; on this front, we have to choose projects wisely especially as our budget deficit to GDP to also among the highest in Asia.
Japan undertook a series of unsuccessful fiscal stimulus to boost its economy which raised government debt to GDP from 60% in 1990 to 180% in 2008. In Japan, building bridges to nowhere has not generated long-term economic benefits but has instead burdened future generations. In Malaysia, building a double tracking railway from Ipoh to the Thai border for RM12bn can never generate as much economic benefits as a high speed rail (HSR) from KL to Singapore for around the same price tag.
Malaysia appears to be far behind in HSR development. China has completed six high speed rail projects with design speeds of up to 250km/h and in July 2008, it completed the 108km Beijing to Tianjin HSR with a design speed of 350km/h. This would be equivalent to travelling from KL to the Malacca border in 30 minutes. The 1302km Beijing to Shanghai HSR will be ready next year and will reduce travelling time by rail from 10 hours to 5 hours. In total China is planning 25 HSR lines between now and 2013!
China’s HSR network of 6,000km by 2013 will exceed Japan’s current HSR network of 2459km. Japan, famous for its Shinkansen bullet trains, was the first country to introduce HSR in 1964 starting with speeds of 210km/h for service between Tokyo and Osaka. The French TGV (Train à Grande Vitess) is the fastest conventional train in the world with an experimental speed of 574.8km/h while the Japanese JR-Maglev, which floats on magnetic fields, achieved 581km/h. France, with an HSR network of 1700km, has the most extensive HSR network among European countries followed by the UK (1400km), Germany (1290km) and Spain (1272km). Even the US is jumping on the HSR bandwagon with Obama unveiling plans for 10 potential high speed intercity corridors.

Other Asian countries that have successfully built HSR include South Korea and Taiwan. Interestingly, the 335.5km Taiwan HSR from Taipei to Kaohsiung is approximately similar in distance from KL to Singapore. I personally had the pleasure of riding the train recently. It was possible to buy tickets and board the train 10 minutes before departure. The train ride was very smooth and the speedometer on the train showed train speeds of close to 300km/h. The train reached Kaohsiung in the south of Taiwan from Taipei in the north in just 90 minutes after a stop in the central city of Taichung. As in Taiwan, the HSR in Malaysia could have direct services from KL to Singapore and also services that cover KLIA, Malacca and Johor. Malacca’s tourist potential will be enhanced while Iskandar’s viability will be improved by fast and efficient connectivity which will alleviate a shortage of manpower there.

The positive economic impact from the HSR from KL to Singapore would be tremendous. It would anchor KLIA-LCCT-Changi as the top airline hub in SE Asia where foreign and domestic passengers will have a choice of full service or budget airlines. Unlike Taiwan, which only have slightly more than 4m visitors a year, Malaysia and Singapore together have over 30m visitors a year. Therefore, the HSR may attract additional visitors to the KL-Singapore hub due to the clustering effect. Furthermore, it would boost the number of Singaporean and foreign visitors (from Singapore) visiting Johor, Malacca and Kuala Lumpur. Airline frequency between KL and Singapore may decline but airlines could generate additional traffic from the cementing of KL-Singapore as the premier transportation hub of the region.
Property prices in Kuala Lumpur should also benefit from greater demand from Singaporeans and foreigners who are attracted by the improved accessibility of KL. This would help generate demand for the large supply of condominiums in KL. With better accessibility, foreign companies may be attracted to place their operations in KL or Iskandar where operating costs are lower. The better accessibility would also make it easier to attract talent to work in KL or Iskandar. For example, the Taiwan HSR has allowed white collar workers easy access to Hsin Chu (Taiwan’s Silicon Valley) from all major cities in Taipei. Increased tourist arrivals and business activities will also boost the sagging rental market arising from lower occupancy rates. Singapore will also benefit from greater accessibility for its integrated resorts and higher tourist arrivals, both from Malaysia and overseas.
The high-speed Eurostar train link from London to Paris in just 2.5 hours has helped narrow the discount of Parisian property prices to London property prices. The ease of getting to Paris from London has encouraged the British to consider second homes in Paris and have even encouraged some British workers to consider Paris as a permanent base. Likewise, the KL-Singapore HSR could boost KL property prices and promote greater economic integration between Malaysia and Singapore as a catalyst for ASEAN integration. The differential between KL and Singapore property prices remains large with high-end condos in Malaysia going for around RM1,000 psf while high-end Singapore condos are at least 5 times more expensive at over S$2,000 psf.
Based on an estimated built up area of 1.8bn sq ft in the Klang Valley, property values could be boosted by a massive RM180bn if property values rise by RM100psf and the gain could rise to RM360bn if property prices appreciate by RM200psf. This excludes the potential gains for Johor and Malacca property. Prices of property in Taiwan and HK have risen due to Chinese demand and the yields of high end residential and commercial property in Taipei is only slightly over 2% (compared to rental yields of 6-7% in Malaysia) due to good demand and low interest rates. Greater demand for properties arising from the KL-Singapore HSR and lower Malaysian interest rates would help improve property prices in the Klang Valley. The positive wealth effect is an important ingredient for better consumer confidence, especially so as residential property accounts for around 80% of property stock in the Klang Valley. Of course, besides the HSR, other factors like better connectivity within Klang Valley, an investment friendly climate and a stable and safe environment are also important factors.
As Malaysia and Singapore squabble over long standing issues, Asian giants like China and India are increasing dominating the economic field. Hence, there is a greater urgency for Malaysia and Singapore to work together to carve out a niche (while it still exists) as the indisputable destination for investments, tourism, services and selected manufacturing in the ASEAN region. Hopefully the pain of deep recessions will numb the pride of both countries and enable closer economic integration that will benefit the people of both countries and promote better understanding.
Since the energy consumption per person using a train is less than those for cars and planes, the HSR will lead to lower carbon dioxide production, which contributes towards global warming. For example, the Taiwan HSR is estimated to produce a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions per individual compared to that for a regular four-wheeled vehicle. The KL-Singapore HSR will reduce the number of cars and planes plying between KL and Singapore. Greater use of trains will also reduce road accidents and improve productive time as passengers can comfortably carry on work their work or reading on a train.
Should the Malaysia and Singapore governments decide to carry on with the HSR, it is important for the project to be implemented by a group that can build the HSR within the stipulated cost and as quickly as possible. We cannot afford another Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) where massive cost overruns and accusations of misdemeanors in a privatized project have burdened taxpayers without any tangible economic benefits. The Taiwan HSL was plagued with delays and severe cost overruns. The final cost at a staggering US$15bn (RM55bn) equates to a cost of US$45m per km compared to US$27m per km in Korea and only US$12m for the Express rail link (ERL) to KLIA which was built by a YTL-led consortium. The YTL Group, backed by its ERL experience and strong financial resources, remains keen on the KL-Singapore HSR project. YTL Group is also believed to have a good relationship with the Singapore government as evidenced by its investments in Singapore property and power plants.
As a Malaysian consumer, I am very keen on being given the choice to travel on HSR to Singapore even if it costs more than a bus fare. As a taxpayer, I am keen on taxpayers money being spent on infrastructure projects that generate economic returns. It is no rocket science to know that a mainly private funded KL-Singapore HSR will generate more economic benefit than a government funded RM12bn double tracking railway from Ipoh to the Thai border. Economically viable private sector funded investments should be encouraged at a time when government finances are tight. As a property owner KL, I am keen to see better property prices and KL becoming a vibrant international city with excellent connectivity. What do you think?

71-Day Countdown to 13GE – charade of Sabah RCI, Malaysia’s high-risk in defence corruption and worst-ever press freedom ranking proof of failures of Najib’s transformation slogans/policies and why country needs Federal government change in 13GE


Every day, Malaysians are provided new evidence of the failures of the transformation slogans and policies of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and why the country needs a change of federal government in the 13th General Elections around the corner.

Today, we need only refer to three current developments.

The first is the charade of the of Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into illegal immigrants entering into its second week of public hearings.

What have concerned Sabahans and Malaysians that the RCI would not be able to get to the bottom of the whole truth about the illegal legalization of illegal immigrants in Sabah causing a five-fold increase of the state’s population from 600,000 in 1970 to the current 3.3 million seem to have been justified, and this is best summed up by a Malaysiakini reader who commented:

“Now we have it. There will be 100 odd witnesses in the RCI who will claim and counter-claim until it is all so messed up that no further action will be taken. It is all a sandiwara (act).”


But the real flaw of the RCI is the gross omission in its eight terms of reference to identify those responsible for the treacherous acts against the country in the long-running “citizenship for votes” scandals in Sabah state – or to be specific, to probe and identity the masterminds of Project M and Project IC.

Unless and until the Sabah RCI is given an additional term of reference to specifically probe and identity the masterminds of Project M and Project IC in Sabah, the Sabah RCI can only end up as a charade.

Is the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, prepared to give the Sabah RCI a ninth term of reference to probe and identify the masterminds of Project M and Project IC and to recommend the actions to be taken against such acts of treason against the country?

Secondly, Malaysia’s ranking by a leading international transparency watchdog as having high corruption risk in its defence spending and operations, placing it in the same league with countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Russia, Kazakhastan and Jordan.

In the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, the world’s first global analysis of corruption risk in defence establishments worldwide released by Transparency International UK yesterday, Malaysia scored D- in the band range of A to F.

This lowly ranking is a repudiation of Najib’s Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and National Key Result Areas (NKRA) programme which have combating corruption as one of the top priority agendas, as the new anti-corruption index is produced after a two-year study with country research done between July 2011 and November 2012 – which fall fully smack into Najib’s GTP and NKRA programmes in the past four years.
Among Asean countries, Singapore and Thailand outperformed Malaysia, both scoring D+, while Indonesia and Philippines fell behind Malaysia in band E.

Each government was assessed in five main areas of possible defence corruption risks – political, financial, personnel, operations and procurement risks.

Malaysia scored the lowest in financial risks and operations risks, with 25 percent and 10 percent out of 100 percent respectively.

The country report on Malaysia said “Political corruption vulnerability is high, as there is no defence and security committee and parliament’s role in the sector is limited to approving a general, aggregated budget”.

Thirdly, Malaysia plunging to a historic low of No. 145 ranking in the latest 2013 World Press Freedom Index – the worst since the start of the annual index by Reporters Without Border (RSF) in 2002.

Under the unflattering heading of “Cambodia and Malaysia: drift towards authoritarianism” for South-East Asia, RSF said Malaysia’s 2013 press freedom ranking “presented a sorry record, falling 23 places to a position below the one it had in 2002”, as a result of “a campaign of repression by the government, illustrated by the crackdown on the Bersih 3.0 protest in April, and repeated censorship efforts, continue to undermine basic freedoms, in particular the right to information”.

QED – why there must be a change of Federal Government in Putrajaya in the 13GE.

The MAS Story: Malaysian Hospitality or Malaysian Humbug
by Mariam Mokhtar (received via e-mail) 

In MAS, MH stands for Malaysian hospitality which many of us know is highly overrated; MH might as well stand for Malaysian humbug. Or Malaysian hanky-panky.
A once proud airline is now a shadow of its former self. It is run by the corrupt and the incompetent – all puppets of the government. If the MACC were a responsible outfit, MAS would not be in the position it is today and many MAS senior managers, and government ministers, past and present would be languishing in jail.
The new MAS-AirAsia merger is shrouded in secrecy. Tony Fernandes is just a public front and assumes the rôle of pilot in this move.Someone else has charted the route for him.Who is that person?

One thing is certain. There is talk about solving the operational issues in MAS. Will Tony be able to alter an UMNO-BN culture that has been allowed to corrupt all levels of the airline’s hierarchy? This UMNO-BN culture is mired in controversy. MAS, like other GLCs, is haemorrhaging money. Attempts to stem this outflow have been unsuccessful.
Would any CEO of MAS be as daring as Peter Hill, the British CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines, who stood up against the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2007?
President Rajapaksa, together with his family and several officials, was in the United Kingdom to witness the passing out parade of Rajapaksa’s son from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. When Rajapaksa demanded that 35 seats be reserved for his entourage to return to Colombo, Hill refused to bump passengers off the flight from London. Hill may have been the passengers’ hero but his work permit was rescinded.

Unfortunately, the work culture that exists in MAS is symptomatic of our government’s performance. Some dishonest MAS staff allegedly “steal” from the airline.
Perhaps they are taking their cue from the government officials or from previous chairmen. Perhaps they see this as part of their perks and benefits.
Cost cutting has reduced many allowances which they once enjoyed.One stewardess who declined to be named, said that she had lost track of all the items she took from the plane and according to her, “everyone did it”. In an attempt to justify her actions, she blurted, “What about the millions the chairmen have ‘stolen’?” She is wrong. It is billions. Not millions.
How many politicians and their spouses have used their influence to obtain free flights or bullied airline staff for upgrades for themselves, their officials, friends or relatives? How many times have we heard of a spouse of a leading politician wasting taxpayers’ money on transporting her shopping via MAS and MAS Air Cargo?
How many genuine passengers have been victims of alleged over-booking by MAS when it is well known that government officials were offered preferential seats over normal fare-paying passengers?
It is also well known that MAS practices two sets of rules: one for Malaysiansand another for westerners. One Malaysian mother and child were bumped off one flight to the UK. Under EU rules, cancellation of the flight meant they were due compensation. Only her teenage son was offered compensation because he had an English name. The mother was refused compensation despite pointing out the discrepancy to the senior managers in London.
In one European airport, it is alleged that some members of staff have protected their long-term positions by fraternizing with senior politicians and VVIPs. In most companies, employees would not be allowed to remain in one posting indefinitely, but not, apparently, in this location.
Another person alleges that it is common knowledge that a member of staff would use influence to perform “dodgy” upgrades for friends or people of influence and later be rewarded with “gifts”. Others allege, too, that this person removes items from the aircraft on a regular basis. Cheese, toilet rolls, toiletry bags, duvets and blankets from First and Business Class may not be classed as the crime of the century, but it is theft all the same.
The modus operandi appears to be to wait till the flight and cabin crew, have left the aircraft. The security staff must be complicit in these thefts. Could there be hanky-panky with food and fine wines from the Golden lounge?
One wonders why work colleagues have remained silent about the alleged petty theft. Are the senior station managers in these postings incompetent or in collusion? Perhaps theses managers don’t want to deal with the problem.
Co-workers are probably afraid of whistleblowing because they fear they will be known as troublemakers. They wonder, “Can the system be trusted or will they will be identified and crucified?” Like the Malaysian public and corrupt politicians, employees are reluctant to report irregularities because they do not see much hope of redress.
Perhaps the worst sort sycophancy is the one which is ignored by all because it involves VVIPs. In one European airport, it is alleged by many that some MAS employees turn up, even when they are not officially on duty, to attend to the VVIPs. This is no charitable act or selfless dedication to duty. The rewards are high. Cash and expensive, small personal electrical items are the norm but the most prized of all is a title.
When even the bodyguards of the VVIPs proudly display their designer labels, which lowly worker can fail to be impressed?Which junior employee would refuse a title in exchange for making sure personal baggage and the truckloads of luxury goods are safely loaded onto the plane? Who dares ensure that the customs at KLIA will tax these items?
It wouldn’t take a genius to trace the titles that are dished out to MAS employees at some of the overseas airports which are frequented by VVIPs. And it would surprise no-one that even those in menial positions in the airline, can acquire Datukships.
The equilibrium at work must be disturbed as it is alleged that those conferred titles are known to be generally work-shy, are late for work, despite occasionally reporting for extra duty for VVIPs.
It is baffling that these employees are allowed, allegedly, to have a stake, either directly or indirectly, in companies which provide airline services which are in conflict with MAS cargo services.
Will Tony address the staff, who only attend to VVIPs and celebrities who give them benefit in kind? This is a form of bribery and theft from the airline, reminiscent of UMNO political tactics.
Will he put pressure on those in charge of complaints? VIPs get their complaints seen to promptly. Others may take months. The truly unlucky customers have theirs swept under the carpet by lazy station managers.
So what else is going on? Tony should whip the corrupt and inefficient MAS work-culture back into shape and the MACC should investigate these irregularities. Then again, pigs might fly.
The MAS-AirAsia deal has been aborted. Agitated Tony Fernandes has decided to relocate the airline’s regional hub to Jakarta, Indonesia. But the problems of MAS remain. This is because the MAS culture is rotten to the core, and it is also trite to say that the culture has to change. Mana Ada Sistem is the reputation MAS enjoys, Mesti Ada Susah.

We need a Peter Hill, or Jan Carlzon who changed SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System) in MAS so that real transformation can take place. If the MAS Union is an obstacle to change fix it.

To operate an airline profitably every seat must generate revenue and every flight is  making money.  That is basic in management. It is, therefore, the duty of the sales people in our national airline to do their job. And they are not.

Have you tried booking a flight to London? It is always full. But when you are finally given a seat and board the aircraft, you will find there are still plenty of seats available. The problem of overbooking must be solved and ticketing agents should be penalised for blocking more seats than they can sell . You can deal firmly with erring ticketing agents, if they are your cronies, friends or relatives.
I myself cannot understand why certain number of Business class seats on domestic routes, for example, must be reserved for Royalty and Politicians. Can’t these VVIPs plan their trips? What are the private and political secretaries doing if they do not know the travel schedules of their bosses. It is that simple, yet it is not done.

There is no such a thing as a free lunch. MAS has to bear the burden of serving privileged customers. Furthermore, first and business class passengers must be treated in the same manner, irrespective of their social class or political office. No double standards, please. Will MAS top management answer me?–Din Merican


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