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Rail System in Malaysia

Final Report

From: Donavan M. Lowtan

To: Professor Joe Sussman
Date: 14 Jan 2004

Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1

This report is an internal memorandum to the Malaysian Group at MIT. It does not meet the
bibliographic requirements (in terms of precisely referencing sources) for a journal publication.

1. Introduction
This report investigates specifically one component of the Malaysian transportation
system: the rail system. It aims to provide data and information to the team that may
prove valuable for their future work. The Malaysian railways are indeed a dynamic,
diverse corporatized entity that has the potential to play an important role in the
development of a sustainable transportation system in the country. The seamless land-
bridge connections with neighboring states are a key characteristic that may define the
rail aspect of the system. Malaysian railways are facing the challenge to improve their
reliability and speed in order to offer competitive services and enhance their importance
as a road alternative.

Malaysia is a middle- income, multi-sector economic country located in Southeastern

Asia including a portion of the island of Borneo with a total area of 329,750 square
kilometers (of which 328,550 square km are land and 1200 square km are water). It
shares 381 km of border with Brunei, 1782 km with Indonesia, and 506 km with
Thailand. The CIA lists Malaysias major natural resources as tin, petroleum, timber,
copper, iron ore, natural gas and bauxite. Malaysias estimated population in July 2003
was 23,092,940 while its 2002 estimated GDP is US$198.4 Billion ($8800 per capita).
The major industries are listed as rubber and oil palm processing and manufacturing, light
manufacturing industry, electronics, tin mining and smelting, logging and processing
timber (on the Peninsula) and logging, petroleum production (in Sabah); and agriculture
processing, petroleum production and refining, and logging (in Sarawak). Malaysias
primary export partners are: the US 21%, Singapore 17.4%, Japan 10.9%, China 6.5%,
Hong Kong 5%, Thailand 4% (2002) while its primary import partners are Japan 16.9%,
Singapore 15.9%, US 15.5%, China 7.3%, South Korea 5%, Taiwan 4.7% (2002). 2

2. General Information on the Railroad System in Malaysia

As of December 2003, Malaysia has 2418KM of total track of which 57KM use Standard
(1.435 M) gauge and 2361KM use Narrow (1.000M) gauge. Approximately 150 KM of
rail in Malaysia is electrified.

Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad is the largest railroad in the country. (Keretapi is a
Malay word that translates to fire wagon). KTMB owns 2262 km out of the total 2418
km of tracks in Malaysia and employs 5024 employees. Of the remaining 156 KM, the
Sabah State Railway has 134 KM. (The remaining mileage remains unaccounted).
KTMB is the major and most important railroad in Malaysia. It is government-owned
but managed by a private entity. The remainder of this essay will be dedicated to the
affairs of KTMB and any discussion about Sabah State Railway will be limited. 3

KTMB utilizes 1.000M track gauge with 40% (903KM) tied with Concrete Sleepers and
60% (1359 KM) using Wooden Sleepers. Throughout the country, there are 943 bridges,

All the information from the introduction paragraph were compiled from the CIA World Factbook found
The information for the KTMB has been found on

144 grade crossings, 55 Overhead Pedestrian crossings, 11 Motorcycle overhead bridge
crossings, and 22 tunnels, 2112 KM of single track and 150 KM of double track.

The following figure provides a map of the KTMB railway network

3. KTMB Ownership
In December 2003, KTMB was still wholly-owned by the Government of Malaysia
through a vehicle called the Ministry of Finance Incorporated. In an attempt to privatize
the railroad in 1997, the Government handed over the mana gement of KTMB to a
consortium (which created a vehicle named Marak Unggul) that was majorit y controlled
by a conglomerate called Renong Berhad. The original plan had the consortium taking
over the management of KTMB and purchasing the equity from the Ministry of Finance
incorporated. However, the privatization attempt failed (Renong experienced major
financial difficulties as a result of the Asian currency crisis) and the Government ended
the arrangement, taking control of KTMB from Marak Unggul in early 2002. 4

3.1 Subsidiary Operations

KTMB owns a subsidiary company known as Multimodal Freight Sdn. Bhd. Multimodal
Freight operates container depots throughout the country and also hauls containers by
truck. This is part of KTMBs goal to provide Door-to-Door/intermodal service for its
customers. Multimodal Freight manages KTMBs container depots at Padang Besar,
Butterworth, Port Klang and Pasir Gudang.

According to a UNESCAP report5 based on a country profile report of 1996, Property

SBU, a KTMB subsidiary, is responsible for land development, which has become a
significant aspect of the railway business in Malaysia. This branch accounted for 21% of
KTMB operating revenues at that time and it was growing faster than all other sources of
income and according to the report was expected to surpass the transportation business.
According to later sources these activities were discontinued in 1997 and land
development contributes an insignificant amount of revenue to KTMB operations.

Also other KTMB activities, such as their road haulage company (for multimodal
transportation from rail to customer premises) and their road courier service are
insignificant in terms of generating KTMB revenue. Albeit their importance is strategic
since KTMB vision is to provide high quality door-to-door service. As a result these
services play a crucial role in the development of the company as a competitive
transportation provider.

4. KTMB History
Historical texts regarding the railroads in Malaysia are limited. One book, called Sejarah
Keretapi Di Malaysia(Malay) by M.A. Fawzi Basri that has been referred to as the best
book on railways in Malaysia.6 However, a search on the popular internet search
engines and internet book vendors did not produce any reference to this publication. The
Malayan Railway by J.A.Stanistreet, was published by the Oakwood Press in 1973. A
search of the Oakwood Press webpage (Oakwood Press is a publishing company
dedicated to railway issues) also did not produce anything. Some electronic sources have
provided clues to the history of railroading in Malaysia.

Information compiled from a source at ASEAN.
5 pg 39

The first railway track in Malaysia was built in 1885. This was a 12.8KM length of road
from the tin mining town of Taiping to Port Weld (known today as Kuala Sepetang).
1885 also saw the introduction of steam locomotive service. The early 20th century
involved the completion of several connections including Padang Besar (in Perlis) to
Singapore (in 1913), Gemas to Tumpat to Hatyai (Thailand) (in 1930) and the North-
South link from Singapore to Thailand border (in 1931). (Please see stylized map on the
next page).

The early 20th century gains were somewhat negated by the events of WWII. Japanese
occupation (circa 1940) and the construction of the Burmese Death Railway saw
widespread destruction of the Malayan railway system; bridges, tracks and coach-stock
were sent abroad after being dismantled. At the end of WWII, England started rebuilding
the rail system. Until 1948, each state in Malaysia managed its own rail services. The
British implemented the Malayan Railway Ordinance in 1948 which streamlined rail
administration. As a result, the Federated Malay State Railways became the Malayan

Railway Administration (MRA). Some of the previous State-run railways included the
Perak Government Railway, the Selangor Government Railway, the Malacca
Government Railway, the Sungei Ujong Raailway, the Johore State Railway and the
Singapore Johore Railway. In 1957/1958, diesel engines were introduced. Delivery of
26 Class-20 English Electric diesel locomotives marked the end of British- led World War
II restoration program in Malaysia.

Now consider the 1990s, when Malaysian railroad history changes. In 1992, MRA
became KTM Berhad (Railways Act 1991). KTM Berhad began operations as a private
sector organization (revenues and operations) but is still owned by the government.
Malaysias first electrified commuter system was introduced in 1995. 1997 marks the bid
by the government to attempt to privatize KTMB. As outlined in the ownership section
of this essay, that privatization attempt was not successfully completed.

5. KTMB Regulation Issues

Freight railways in Malaysia experience very little in terms of regulation from the
government. The freight side of the operation is free to set its own rates for shipping
goods. However, the government, through the Ministry of Transport, does mandate what
prices are charged for KTMB passenger service. As a result, the government does
provide some subsidies for passenger rates (but not for freight rates). No exact formula
has been established for determining the subsidies. Government subsidies change from
year to year for no apparent reason. The absence of a well-developed formula for
passenger subsidies means that government payments are hard to predict from year to

6. KTMB Operations

6.1 Intercity Freight

KTMB can transport a wide variety of products including hazardous material. There are
currently 5 different types of freight cars available; however KTM is endeavouring to
replace the ir fleet with containerized cars that can be mounted and dismounted from the
train and then delivered to the customer. They are striving for what they call, Door-to-
Door Delivery. The fleet of currently available freight cars includes; Bogie Covered
Goods (BCG), which are covered wagons for all cargo (for protection from weather
elements) with two sliding doors on each side of the car; Bogie Flat Low Sides (BFL),
which are open wagons that transports bulk materials such as iron, granite, etc; these cars
have drop-down doors on the side; Bogie Container Flat (BCF), which are flatbeds that
can facilitate intermodal transfer from ocean ships onto the trains; Bogie Log Wagons
(BLW), which are flatbeds used for carrying logs; 7 and finally, Domestic Containers,
which is a KTMB owned container that is permanently mounted onto a flatbed; these are
promoted as ideal for carrying food and pallet cargo.

Note: Logs are considered a seasonal item. In the off season, the log flatbeds are used for carrying

KTMB (and Malaysian railroads in general) does not carry a significant proportion of the
overall freight traffic in Malaysia. It has been estimated at approximately 5% of the total
available tonnage. There are a few reasons for such a low percentage, including the
lower level of volume and distance compared with North America; the average
Malaysian freight railway trip is less than 300 km and truck is very competitive at this
distance range. There is a lack of bulk commodities (such as minerals) shipped. As a
result, much of the freight moved on KTMB is general cargo.

Malaysia is interested in developing an intermodal system of freight movement. There

are five main ports, Port Klang and one each in the North, South, East and the West of
the country. The three major ports on the western coast are all connected by rail and
recently the port on the eastern side of Malaysia was also connected by rail. Most rail
movement is done with containers (using both International and Domestic containers)
and the rail cars proceed directly to the port.

KTMB has a total fleet capacity of 3500 TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units) of cargo.8
KTMB carries ISO standard containers; ISO standard containers hold a capacity of 60.3
cubic metres and is 40 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 9 feet 6 inches high. KTMB carries
containers between four rail-connected ports Butterworth, Port Klang, Pasir Gudang,
and Tanjung Pelepas and inland stations/clearance depots. Service is provided between
Butterworth and Port Klang to Ipoh (which is Malaysias first inland/dry port).

In June 1999, KTMB started its Land-Bridge service from Sri Setia, Selangor, to
Bangsue, Thailand. The Land-Bridge is a partnership between KTMB, road
transportation operators, freight forwarders, and vessel operators that provides 28 weekly
services between Port Klang Bangkok Port Klang, Singapore Bangkok Singapore,
Singapore Surat Thani Singapore, and Port Klang Hatvai Port Klang. Land-
Bridge moves 54 TEUs of cargo (steel, chemical, electronics, consumer goods, etc) per
trip and 1500 TEUs per week. The advantages include shorter travel time: 60 hours by
Land-Bridge versus 57 days by sea or 3 to 4 days by truck. The seamless border;
cheaper freight rates; and guaranteed security is making Malaysias Land-Bridge an
attractive option. In this service the containers are sealed once for the entire trip and
cargo clears both Malaysian and Thai customs at the point of origin.

Table that shows average speed trains in Malaysia

Average Daily Freight Trains 38
Container 16
Cement 10
Others 12
Average Freight Train Speed 16.7 KPH
Container 15.1 KPH
Cement 8.3 KPH
Others 17.5 KPH

Note: TEU is used to express the relative number of containers based on the equivalent length of a 20 ft
container. For example, 100 containers of 20 ft are considered to be 100 TEUs, while 100 containers of 40
ft are considered to be 200 TEUs.

Average Wagons per Train 18
Container 25
Others 20

6.2 KTMB Intercity Passenger Rail and Intercity Commuter Rail

KTMB operates four Daytime express trains (Ekspres Sinaran, Ekspres Rakyat, Ekspres
Kenali and Ekspres Tebrau) and Four Nighttime (or evening) express trains (Senandung
Malam, Senandung Langkawi, Ekspres Wau and Ekspres Timuran).

The following figure shows a map of the passenger services of KTMB

KTMB operates a mixed network. The proportion of freight and passenger service on
that network is approximately equally split. Due to the ubiquity of single line tracks
throughout the network, there is some competition between freight and passenger rail for
line time. Efforts to make a double track network are underway (in 2003) in the hopes of
alleviating some of these problems. Currently, approximately 60% of KTMBs revenue
is generated from freight traffic while the remaining balance comes from intercity
passenger service operations. KTMB has posted losses over the last few years - 2003
(expected) - 100 million ringit, 2001 - 181 ringitt.

Commuter Rail and LRT

Commuter Rail and Light Rail Transit (LRT) are available for travelers in the Kuala
Lumpur region of Malaysia. There are a handful of interconnection points between LRT
and Commuter Rail including the Bank Negara and Banda Taski Selatan stations as well
as Sentral Kuala Lumpur. There are connections to the Kuala Lumpur International
Airport at Nilai and Sentral Kuala Lumpur stations as well.

Commuter Rail (in 2003) reportedly handles approximately 70,000 passengers per day;
with Sentral Kuala Lumpur station handling 10,000 passengers per day. KTM Komuter
serves 40 stations with 213 daily runs Monday through Friday, 218 runs on Saturdays
(Note: Malaysian Saturdays are considered workdays), and 177 runs on Sundays and

A map of the commuter rail

Interval Peak (15 MIN Intervals) Peak (20 MIN Intervals) Off Peak (30 MIN Intervals)

Monday to Friday 5:30 AM 10:00 AM 4:00PM 8:00 PM 8:00PM 12:00AM

10:00AM 4:00PM
Saturdays 5:30 AM 10:00 AM 10:00AM 10:00 PM 10:00PM 12:00 AM
Sundays/Holidays 10:00AM 10:00PM 1000 PM 12:00 AM 6:00 AM 10:00 AM

Kuala Lumpur LRT Map

7. Malaysian Rail and International Issues
Malaysia is committed to international trade and to sound relations with its neighbors. It
cooperates with Thailand in several ventures including the coordinated with the State
Railway of Thailand operation of a daily express passenger train between Butterworth
and Bangkok called the International Express. Both freight and passenger trains can
move seamlessly between the countries; and there is no need to transfer cargo at the
border. There are two borders where traffic crosses into Thailand: Padang Besar, Perlis
and Ranau Panjang, Kelantan. Although there are streamlined customs procedures,
customer forwarding agents are still required at the border.

Malaysia is also involved in a project called the Trans-Asian Railroad; a 5600 km freight
line that originates/terminates in Singapore and Kungming (China). The countries
involved in this project are Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia,
Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and China. The objectives for this project are several
including: building railroads for countries with no rail; completing missing links between
countries and regions; and repairing the railroad network in countries where
infrastructure was damaged from war (specifically Vietnam and Cambodia). There are
several railway gaps on the Trans-Asian Railroad, including Cambodia (Poipet and
Sisophon / 48km) and Vietnam (Locninh to Ho Chi Minh City / 192 km).

The Trans-Asian Railroad, although an international venture, is locally funded.

Specifically, each country is expected to fund its own portion of the rail network. For
some of the poorer counties (such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma), this goal involves
long term horizon planning (and the hopes of international funding); while for the richer
countries (such as Malaysia), this project can be completed faster and with no outside

Some of the borders included in this project are already well developed. For example,
the Malaysian Thailand border and the Malaysian Singapore border are essentially
seamless. Other borders, such as the Vietnam Cambodia border are in their early stages
and have had some trial runs. The goal for the borders between the two terminuses is that
once the physical links are completed on the railroad, the institutional pieces will develop
to the point where all the countries on the network would emulate the seamlessness of the
Malaysian/Singapore/Thailand borders.

The Trans-Asian Railroad (the Singapore/Kungming rail network) is part of a larger

undertaking called the Pan-ASEAN transport network. The pan-ASEAN transport
network plan encompasses 28 major highways totaling 37,000 kilometers, 46 designated
seaports, 51 designated airports and six identified railways lines. Preparations for the
ASEAN highway networks route numbering system and the road inventory of the 28
designated regional routes are nearing completion. ASEAN member countries have
adopted a harmonized highway route numbering scheme consisting of three numeric

Quoted from ASEAN website

While all the countries from the Singapore to Kungming network have 1M gauge rails,
there are some parts in China and other areas that do not. There is a move to standardize
the gauge throughout this greater Pan-ASEAN transport network. Although all the
relevant countries are supportive of this vision, there is not eno ugh funding. Many of the
poorer countries are hoping for the involvement of international agencies to provide
capital. Furthermore, even when money is available, there is not necessarily a consensus
regarding funding priorities. For example, countries such as Malaysia already have a
well-developed network of roads and ports; and can now provide rail funding at a higher
priority. Other countries that are less well-developed, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and
Laos, may not place rail as their highest priority. Often, these countries prefer to funnel
money towards other projects in the hopes of achieving more lucrative returns.

8. Concluding Remarks and Other Issues

Malaysias KTMB railroad is working towards continual improvement. In October 2003,
it received its first shipment (5 of 20) of High Powered Blue Tiger locomotives from
Germany, (manufactured by G.E. Transportation Systems, Kassel, Germany). The value
of the contract was $64.45 million (US) and was repaid with counter trade of 194,935
tons of palm oil products. The remainder of the 15 locomotives will be delivered by
December 2003. While the current fleet hauling capacity is 1500 horsepower, the Blue
Tiger hauling capacity is 3300 horsepower. Blue Tiger can carry 2500 tons @ 120 KPH,
pull 30 wagons (instead of the current 16), haul 8,400 tons per day versus 4,400 tons per
day, and can pull 80 TEUs versus 40 TEUs.

While the new locomotives are a very positive step for the KTMB, there have been some
negatives in other areas (more so a government problem than a problem with KTMB
itself). There was a brief contract dispute regarding some of the projects to double
certain tracks. Originally the contract was awarded to firms in China and India.
However, the government later rescinded those contracts and awarded them to a
Malaysian firm. Eventually, the government decided not to proceed with the project.
How much this double rail controversy has hurt international relations for Malaysia is not
yet clear. However, Malaysia has awarded other contracts to Chinese firms. For
example, KTMB is planning to contract with China for the delivery of 20 units of high
powered locomotives for 220 million ringit.

The needs to expand the infrastructure and modernize operations loom large but
significant positive steps have been taken up to now. The KTMB can and should provide
a sustainable transportation alternative and to do so it needs to identify and stick to its
strategy: becoming a transportation provider that offer door-to-door services but most of
all providing a reliable and fast service with special focus on the international land-bridge
service where freight rail has to offer advantages over both competing modes: truck and
ship. On the passenger side, it remains a mode of choice that will increase in significance
if mobility levels should increase in the rapidly growing KL area.

Appendix Railroad Statistics in ASEAN