Thursday . September 19 . 2019
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The need for speed
S Puvaneswary, Greg Lowe, Prudence Lui, Shekhar Niyogi

Governments are realising that investments into high-speed train networks must be made



S Puvaneswary

Linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the high-speed rail link will reduce travel time to 90 minutes, compared with the current six hours or so by regular train. This is targeted to be operational in 2020.


Given that the technology employed will be different from existing rail services, there will be an independent railway alignment with new stations in Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor before connecting to Singapore, said Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission CEO, Mohd Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal.



He added: “The project is still in very early stages, and a Joint Ministerial Committee between Malaysia and Singapore has been tasked to work on the details of the project.”


After the announcement was made in February, there have been opinions on whether Malaysia would be better served by an interstate rail link, as well as whether the country would be sending more tourists to Singapore at its own expense.

Who it will benefit
World Avenues Malaysia executive director, Ally Bhoonee, said that the service would be ideal for programmes that include Singapore. “Currently it is difficult to get seats for large groups on a single flight on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route. The group usually has to be divided,” he explained.


Diethelm Travel Malaysia managing director, Manfred Kurz, said: “Tourists in Singapore can use the rail service to extend their stay in Malaysia and opt for round trips and beach holidays.”


Tina Travel & Agencies managing director, Adam Kamal, added: “The new service will provide an opportunity for us to target travellers with transit time in Singapore exceeding 18 hours, as it will give them a chance to visit Malaysia.”


Who it will challenge
Malaysia’s TA Securities Holdings research analyst, Wendy Thiam, said that the impact on air travel would depend largely on how the rail tickets were priced.


A source from AirAsia was unfazed, pointing out that passengers from Singapore were using Kuala Lumpur as a transit point to connect to the rest of its network.


Tina Travel & Agencies’ Kamal also felt many would still prefer coach services as they “provide door-to-door transfers from hotels in Singapore to hotels in Malaysia”.



Greg Lowe

Thailand’s parliament approved in March the first reading of the 2.2 trillion baht (US$74.3 billion) infrastructure bill, which has earmarked more than 780 billion baht for high-speed rail along four routes.


The southern Bangkok-Hua Hin and eastern Bangkok-Rayong routes are due to be completed by the end of 2018, while northern Bangkok-Chiang Mai and Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima in the lower north-east are scheduled for completion by the end of 2020.  


Later phases are planned to extend the network to Nong Khai, which borders Laos in the north-east; Trat, which lies close to Cambodia in the east; and Padang Besar in the south at the Malaysian border.


While the opposition Democrat party has tried to obstruct the infrastructure bill, both the bill and the budget for high-speed rail developments are expected to be passed by parliament later this month.



Who it will benefit
The plans have been received positively by the industry despite any turbulence the new services may cause for existing transport operators.
Travel time from Bangkok to Chiang Mai will be slashed from more than eight hours to four, for example.


Suparerk Surangura, managing director of Trans Asia Express and former president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said: “The network will also open up north-east Thailand, which is mostly a rural area where attractions are quite spread out, so high-speed rail will make travel times shorter.”


Travel to and from neighbouring South-east Asia as well as China (by way of Laos) will also be made easier.


Who it will challenge
Coaches must adapt from transporting travellers around the country to opening up access from new train stations to surrounding hotels and attractions, said Suparerk.


A spokesperson from Thai AirAsia said: “There will still be demand to fly as long as fares remain competitive and flight frequencies to the destinations allow for flexible and convenient travel. In Europe, low-cost carriers are actually cheaper than high-speed trains, and there is still demand to fly despite the excellent infrastructure.”

Hong Kong-China
Prudence Lui

The construction of Hong Kong’s 26km section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) running from West Kowloon to the boundary of Hong Kong and Shenzhen started in January 2010. Set to complete in 2015, the XRL will connect with the 16,000km National High-speed Railway Network (HSR).


With maximum operating speeds at 200km per hour, estimated journey times between Hong Kong and Futian in Shenzhen will be 14 minutes; 23 minutes between Hong Kong and Shenzhen North; and 48 minutes between Hong Kong and Guangzhou South.


MTR Corporation faces different challenges for a project of this scale. Besides the comprehensive planning required for resource allocation and coordination with different contractors, it also has to factor in the needs of the community by minimising the environmental and traffic impact to the neighbourhood.


Who it will benefit
FIT travel into China will grow even more, according to Ng Hi-on, director of China Travel Service (CTS) International Science-Technology and Culture Exchange. He explained: “Fewer Hong Kong people are joining group tours to visit China due to the improvement of transportation. In fact, CTS has rolled out high-speed rail packages with hotels and attractions. Popular routes are Xiaoguan in Guangdong and Wuhan after high-speed rail services were launched.


“The high-speed train crash in Wenzhou in 2011 dampened the desire to travel as people worried about safety. But now consumer confidence is building up gradually.”


Similarly, Vigor Tours general manager, Edward Chan, predicted that more Hong Kongers would opt to travel by rail to China.


Who it will challenge
Despite the industry predictions of air traffic loss, a Cathay Pacific spokesman said: “The Cathay Pacific Group has a fundamental advantage as a hub carrier. Passengers from (other) countries will likely prefer an aircraft-aircraft transfer at Hong Kong to reach their secondary destination in the mainland rather than an aircraft-HSR transfer at a mainland gateway point.” She added that there were also good intermodal opportunities for flights from Hong Kong to feed passengers into the HSR network at points on the mainland.

Shekhar Niyogi


Government subsidiary High Speed Rail Corporation of India was incorporated on July 25, 2012 after the decision was taken to start high-speed train operations.


In order to achieve speeds of 250-350km per hour (trains now run at a maximum speed of 120km per hour), new tracks will have to be laid. Six potential lines were identified, but only three are likely to take off due to the high cost.


In February, the Ministry of Railways and the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français – the French national railways – announced that they would cooperate on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail project. If successful, it will cut travel time from eight hours to two.


Meanwhile, the other routes being considered include Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna and Howrah (Kolkata)-Haldia.


However, roping in financial partners will be challenging. No date has been set for completion although the plans come under the Railway Vision 2020 programme.


Who it will benefit
Debjit Dutta, director, Impression Tourism Services, said the high-speed rail link between business cities would not only help corporate travellers but leisure tourists who did not like long waits for transit flights after landing in New Delhi and Mumbai.


“A fast-train connection to their final destination will save one night’s hotel stay each way,” he said.


Sanjay Kumar Jain, group general manager, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, said: “High-speed trains will help cater to the business travel segment effectively. An increase in tourist traffic on such trains will be the icing on the cake.”


Who it will challenge
Jaal Shah, director of B2B global reservation system, said: “High-speed trains in the Ahmedabad-Mumbai sector will surely impact the low-cost carriers as most people will prefer trains, especially if the comfort level is on par or better. Hotel room nights will also suffer as many people will be able to finish their business during the day
and return by night.”

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