PADANG BESAR: Just months ago, a train ride from Kuala Lumpur to Padang Besar in Perlis would have taken a good 10 hours or so.
On road, it would take at least seven hours to complete the more than 500-kilometre journey, without taking into account the time spent for meal stops and some rest and relaxation.
North-bound travellers now have a new rail option to get to Padang Besar in half the time it used to take, and minus the weariness that comes with driving all the way to the northernmost part of the peninsula.
FAST AND COMFORTABLE
Five-and-a-half hours – that’s all it takes to travel from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Padang Besar, thanks to KTM Berhad’s (KTMB) new electric train service (ETS), which it introduced in July.
So whether one is heading north to “balik kampung”, visit relatives or friends or for a holiday in Padang Besar – a small town on the Malaysia-Thai border dubbed as a haven for shoppers – one can be assured of a comfortable and reasonably-priced trip in a spanking new modern train.
A one-way ticket from the KTM station at Kuala Lumpur Sentral to Padang Besar costs RM80, while a similar ticket from Gemas in Negri Sembilan to Padang Besar is priced at RM102.
Not surprisingly, public response to the KL-Padang Besar ETS has been overwhelming.
KTM Intercity Marketing and Customer Relations Senior Manager Mohd Noordin Kimi said on the day the service was launched on July 11, only 85 passengers came aboard. The number swelled to 220 the following day.
From the third day onwards, the tickets started selling like hot cakes and it has been “full house” since then, he said.
“Since the launch, about 100,000 people have taken the KL-Padang Besar ETS…in view of the response, we are now confident of hitting our target of more than a million passengers this year,” he added.
Recently, a group of local journalists got to sample the KL-Padang Besar ETS ride during a media trip to Perlis organised by Information Department. The ride on the high-speed train, travelling at 140 kilometres per hour, is both comfortable and delightful, and before long we are already at our destination.
A captain and three stewards or stewardesses are at hand to attend to the passengers throughout the journey.
For those who do not want to catch forty winks, there is no lack of breathtaking landscapes for them to feast their eyes on. As the train swiftly makes its way out of the city limits and whizzes across the rolling countryside of Selangor, Perak, mainland Penang, Kedah and Perlis, traditional kampung houses, padi fields, hills and mountains come into view.
“The ETS to Padang Besar offers a new experience to our passengers…it not only departs on time and is comfortable and offers friendly service, it is also very safe,” Mohd Noordin told reporters who participated in the media trip.
SAFETY AN IMPORTANT FACTOR
He said passengers travelling on KTMB’s trains could be assured of a safe journey as its transportation services were among the safest in the country.
“Safety is the most important factor…the last train accident (in Malaysia) occurred in 1991, which claimed one life. Overall, we have a good track record on safety,” he said.
Besides the daily ETS from KL-Padang Besar-KL, KTMB also offers a similar service from Gemas-Padang Besar-Gemas daily, which was launched on Oct 10.
The ETS departing from Kuala Lumpur sees the train stopping at 12 stations – Tanjung Malim, Tapah Road, Kampar, Ipoh, Kuala Kangsar, Taiping, Parit Buntar, Bukit Mertajam, Butterworth, Sungai Petani, Alor Setar and Arau – before coming to a halt at the Padang Besar station. The brief stops at the various stations enable passengers to disembark and embark.
The six-carriage train, which can carry up to 312 passengers at any one time, leaves Kuala Lumpur Sentral at 9.30am while it departs from Padang Besar at 4pm to return to the federal capital.
EXTRA TRAIN SERVICES
Mohd Noordin said an extra ETS departing Kuala Lumpur at 11am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday has been introduced to meet the higher demand from weekend travellers.
“During peak seasons, KTMB will offer extra services using the older Korean-made ETS carriages, which are currently being used for the KL-Ipoh ETS sector. Two more carriages will be added to the trains if the demand is overwhelming,” he said.
KTMB uses trains made in China for its new ETS routes. It had ordered 10 train sets from China, two of which have already been delivered and are operating now. The remaining eight sets will be delivered in stages next year.
“While the first five train sets are built and assembled in China, the second five sets will be assembled in Batu Gajah, Perak.
“After the delivery and commissioning of the new trains next year, KTMB will reschedule its ETS operations by increasing the frequency of the services, including trips from the south to the north.
FULL RANGE OF FACILITIES
The new trains are not only sophisticated but are fitted with modern vacuum toilets, surau, as well as facilities for Muslims to perform their ablutions. All carriages are equipped with closed-circuit television cameras and have space for storing baggage. Also available are LED screens for television viewing and a mini bistro, which serves all kinds of food and drinks.
The disabled-friendly carriages also have power sockets for those who want to charge the batteries of their mobile phones, laptops or other electronic gadgets.
“The facilities in the new ETS trains are much better than those in the trains used for the first ETS between Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, which became operational on Aug 12, 2010.
“At the same time, KTMB also wants to make its ETS operations more people-friendly by not classifying the coaches (as ‘first-class’ or ‘second-class’) because our passengers consist of people of different races, and also students,” he said.