The KTM Komuter has found itself in the news for poor service in recent years. But with a new batch of trains on the way, commuters can look forward to more efficient travel.
Starting with an original fleet of 64 Electric Multiple Units (EMU), KTM Komuter’s service has deteriorated considerably over the years.
Breakdowns due to poor maintenance and limited spare parts has resulted in most coaches being left in the depots, thus affecting frequency of service.
Initially the trains were travelling at 15-minute frequencies and then started to deteriorate to 30 to 50 minutes. By early last year, there were only 21 trains in service travelling in and out of the Klang Valley.
Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) president Dr Aminuddin Adnan, who took over in 2009, agreed that spare parts and maintenance were not given much attention in the early stage and if the trains were maintained properly, they could last up to 30 years.
“I was told that there was no periodic maintenance and it took a long time to order the spare parts.
“In the end, the rate of deterioration of the trains was much faster without proper maintenance. That is how train life became shorter and after 10 to 15 years, a complete overhaul is needed,” he said during an interview.
Aminuddin also said lack of funds and expensive spare parts led to the deterioration of service.
He said it sometimes took about six months to buy the spare parts.
“When you cannot get the spare parts, you start getting components from inactive trains. It’s inevitable because it is the only way to get the trains running. That’s the domino effect,” he explained.
The use of non-genuine parts also played a role in frequent train breakdowns.
“Trains break down faster if they run with non-original spare parts. Sometimes some trains are underpowered because they run only with three motors instead of four.
“Yet we have passengers filled to the brim, exceeding capacity, and that’s when the train stops because it cannot handle the load.
“We cannot tell the passengers not to board the trains because it is overloaded,” he said.
Aminuddin said due to lack of spare parts and cannibalisation of inactive EMUs, KTM Komuter was left with about 20 trains only.
He admitted that depots break-ins had also resulted in the loss of spare parts.
“At the time, there were no CCTV cameras to nab the culprits and eventually K9 dog units were brought in and break-ins have reduced. Now with CCTV cameras we have better control,” he said.
However, with the recent purchase of 38 sets of six-car EMUs from a Chinese company, Zhu Zhu Electric Locomotive Corporation, that is expected to arrive later this year, KTM Komuter hopes to start afresh.
“In fact we have already done some improvement by upgrading train frequency from 30 to 20 minutes during peak hours from Sungai Buloh to Sentul and Shah Alam.
Aminuddin said re-organising and rescheduling the frequency to high demand routes had improve service.
“We had limited coaches, so we had to find ways to enhance services since we cannot get new ones fast.
“With limited resources and constraints, we have still managed to improve services by focusing on important areas,” said Aminuddin.
He added that they had also managed to come up with hybrid trains, which could add five more coaches to the existing 21.
Over the last few years, more inactive units have been repaired and there are 31 working units today.
In April last year, a coach for women only was introduced and was well-received. The Electric Train Services (ETS) was also introduced from Seremban to Ipoh.
Aminuddin said there were plans to send some of the trains to Britain or refurbishment because KTM would be introducing a commuter service in Ipoh, Johor and Penang in the next five years.
He said the trains were structurally good but needed internal wiring work.
“Once we obtain the new trains, we will be looking at activating the old sets. Rather than selling the trains as scrap, we might as well repair and use them,” he added.
A new technical specialist, Neville Krogh from Australia, is also on board to help EMU and ETS maintenance.
On a project to overhaul inactive EMUs that took off a few years ago between Korail and MKRC, Aminuddin said the project managed to overhaul 20 EMUs, however, it came to a stop due to an internal problem.
He said the first of the newly bought EMUs was expected to arrive in November and would be in service by January 2012.
“We will need about three months for testing and commissioning, but subsequent trains will take a month to be ready.
KTM Komuter is already training drivers for the new fleet. Preparation also includes building a new depot and stabling yards to park the trains at night.
It is also improving on the signalling system to improve frequency and safety operations. With the introduction of the Automatic Fair Collection (AFC) system, transaction would be faster, too, as it will enable transaction using Touch n Go and the new Smart cards.
“With that we hope to introduce 10-minute frequency, and with a bigger capacity, we hope there are no overcrowded trains,” said Aminuddin, adding that two more coaches for women would be introduced when the new trains arrived.
Commenting on the controversy surrounding the purchase of the 38 EMUs, Aminuddin said the tender process and buying were properly done.
“There were certain requirements to tackle the problems we faced. We wanted European components and that is why the price was different compared with the earlier tender. This time around, we know the problems and altered the specifications.
“The earlier coaches had problems as the structures will crack. This project is like being given a second chance to improve our services,” he said.
Kuala Selangor MP Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said the cost of RM1.8bil was RM500mil more than the original tender of 38 sets of three-coach EMUs.
“In the earlier tender, the cost of one set of a three-coach EMU was RM13.7mil. Now with doubling the coaches it should work up to about RM28mil. Even if we put it at RM35mil for a set, it still would not come up to the additional RM500mil. That means it is like RM48mil for a set now. There is an issue about the pricing of course,” he said.
A rail improvement
The sentiment on the KTM Komuter service among users in the Klang Valley seems to be somewhat positive, although there are complaints of delayed trains and breakdowns.
Users agree that the service has improved in terms of frequency and punctuality over the last seven months.
S. Karuppiah, 60, who often travels from Pantai Dalam to Kuala Lumpur, said the train service had improved over the past months because he no longer had to wait for about 30 minutes as how he used to before.
“Now it takes only about 10 minutes. Even if it is late it is only about five minutes,” said Karuppiah who has been taking the train for five years now.
However, he said the train stations could do better with arrival announcements.
He added that although smoking was prohibited in the waiting areas, many smoked at the Pantai Dalam station, causing inconvenience to other commuters.
“It is well-monitored at other stations but not at Pantai Dalam.
“There are many people smoking especially in the morning,” he said.
Nuramrina Amirku, 21, who takes the train daily to commute from Cheras to Klang for work, said she would still take the train rather than drive as it was still cheaper.
“There are no traffic jams and less stressful. I only spend RM10 a day to travel by train,” said Nuramrina who endures two hours of travelling each way to work by train.
V. Devi, 64, feels that the trains break down often and it was also crowded during peak hours.
She said having a supervisor in the train would be helpful.
“The common problem now is that passengers refuse to move in to make way for other passengers who are just boarding a train.
“It inconveniences those who are boarding.
“Also, the announcements in English are unclear and difficult to make out what they are saying,” she said.
Another commuter Yuzaida Yunus, 43, who is been using the commuter service since its inception in the mid-90s, said the service could be improved and there should be an employee to manage the crowd.
“Although the service has improved over the months, it can be further improved.
“Sometimes, there are no announcements, so we may miss our stops if we are not alert,” said Yuzaida, who often travels with her children from Rawang to Subang Jaya. - Stories by Jayagandi Jayaraj