By A. Jeyaraj
The most popular public transport between KL and Ipoh is the ETS train service. This is the safest and fastest mode of transport at a reasonable cost which makes the Railway Station an important gateway for visitors to Ipoh and for residents, a convenient access to Kuala Lumpur. On most weekends the tickets are sold out. There have been compliments and complaints about the train service and the railway station. Ipoh Echo set out to investigate the good, bad and ugly about the ETS service and the Railway Station and its surrounds.
State-Of-The-Art Service but Poor Infrastructure and Support Services
Comments from regular passengers
K. Sagadevan, Secretary, Malaysian Indian Business Association, Perak Branch, uses the ETS frequently for his business trips and said that everything is fine with the train service itself. The hostesses are polite and greet the passengers. As for the toilets, he said they are clean. At times the electronic door gets damaged because people do not know how to use it. He informed that the toilet in KL Sentral is free and clean, however, at the Ipoh Station there is a charge of 30 cents and the toilet is dirty as most passengers travelling by ETS use the toilet before they board the train.
Shafruddin Nasution, Chairman, Rukun Tetangga, Lim Garden travels by train regularly and has only good things to say about the train service. However, parking is a nightmare. Hawker stalls are operating next to the Town Hall at night causing traffic jams.
My relatives staying in Ipoh and in KL who use the service regularly also did not have anything negative to say about the train. Occasionally the train is late but announcements are made to inform passengers and sometimes the train makes up the lost time. According to them, since embarking and disembarking from the train is from the first platform, there is less walking. Even if the escalators and lifts are not working it does not affect the passengers.
Sagadevan said a few of the ticketing staff are not customer friendly. There are complaints that the service is slow especially during peak hours and passengers have heated arguments because of a long wait to buy tickets.
On a Sunday morning, I was at the station before noon and noticed that out of the four counters only two were open. This needs to be rectified as Sunday is a peak traffic day.
The waiting hall is inadequate for accommodating all the passengers and is often over crowded. Seats are not available and senior citizens have to stand. Only about one third of the ground floor is being used; the other section is closed. It should be opened up.
The first floor of the station is vacant and unutilised. Taking a leaf from KL Sentral, they could move the waiting hall to the first floor and leave the trains to run from the ground level.
There is only one stall selling a limited variety of food and it is too pricey. There should not be a monopoly where the stall holder can charge outrageous prices because passengers have no other options from which to purchase food and drinks. Ipoh is a food haven and tourists come to Ipoh to enjoy the food. The unused space of the station can be turned into a food court serving the special dishes of Ipoh. Passengers can taste the delicacies of Ipoh in the station itself.
There is no tourist booth and tourists cannot get any information on popular tourist spots or how to get there. In fact a couple of times I have met tourists who wanted to go to Kellie’s Castle and complained about the high taxi fare. They wanted a one way trip and to walk around. I informed them that other than the Castle, there is a Hindu temple which is associated with the Castle and nothing else. I advised them to ask the taxi to wait and bring them back. There must be a tourist booth in the station to provide this type of information. While travelling in India I noticed that railway stations had manned tourist booths with English speaking staff.
The pickup area is not clearly demarcated and the place is jammed. Few of the cars are parked without drivers and double parking is common. A canopy must be built to protect passengers from the rain and sun and security personnel must be stationed to control the flow of traffic.
Public Transport/Taxi Service
There is no public transport and many passengers walk to and fro from Medan Kidd bus station to the railway station. Passengers have to rely on taxi services. There is no scheduled price and the drivers charge as they please. The fare to popular destinations needs to be displayed as is being done in Amanjaya Terminal. There should also be a shuttle bus service between the railway station and Medan Kidd bus station. Buses travelling along Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab should pass through the station. There is a parking space reserved for buses adjacent to the Cenotaph.
I spoke to the taxi drivers about the charges and they said that they have to pay RM800 per month to get registered with KTMB to operate at the station. Their taxi fares reflect this as they have to cover this cost. The fare to my house which is about three kilometres away is RM15. KTMB must look into reducing the fee or allow all taxis to operate in the station.
Everyone I spoke to complained of the shortage of parking spaces. The problem is aggravated as parking in front of the building is reserved for KTMB staff. An increasing number of passengers are making day trips to KL and park their cars for the whole day. The car park is used by people going to the railway station, Post Office and the courts.
Each train can carry about 300 passengers and currently there are 20 arrivals and departures on weekdays and 24 on weekends. There is an acute shortage of parking space. My suggestion is to use the vacant piece of land next to the Magistrate’s Court and convert this into space for parking.
No U-turn to Return to Station
The road in front of the station is one-way traffic and after dropping off a passenger, if a person has to return to take care of senior citizens boarding the train, he must drive all the way to the front of St Michael’s School and make a U-turn. It would be convenient if a mini roundabout is built at the junction of Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab so that motorists can return to the station.
Rear Entrance to Station Not Used
Commuters are using the front entrance, unaware of the entrance from the back of the railway station from Regat Tun Perak (Jelf Road). This entrance is not being used. There is a passageway leading to the front of the station. The entrance to the passageway is a small building with no signboard. Regat Tun Razak is a bypass road and few vehicles use it and parking space is available. Even at Platform 1 in the station there is no signboard pointing to the passageway.
Residents living on the other side of the railway station can use this entrance and avoid the traffic jam. People are afraid of using the passageway as it is deserted so it is advisable to place security guards and cameras at both entrances and it must be well lit to encourage passengers to use this route. It is up to KTMB to promote this entrance to alleviate congestion at the front entrance.
Traffic Nightmare at Night
At night Jalan Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab is jammed from Medan Kidd roundabout up to Tun Razak Library. It is acute during weekends. Many passengers have missed their trains due to the jam. It is a common sight to see passengers getting out of cars and running to the station. The taxi drivers complained that during puasa month there was a pasar malam along Jalan Maharajalela next to the Town Hall and they had to take a roundabout route to reach the station. This restricted the number of trips they could make and reduced their earnings. Traffic police must be on standby to control traffic. As a result, people are also avoiding booking the Town Hall for private functions because of the jam and parking problems.
New and Planned Services
KTMB has introduced new ETS services from KL to Padang Besar and from Ipoh to Padang Besar. For a start there is only one service per day in either direction. This would be an increase of the existing passenger load. There is also a plan to introduce commuter service between Kampar and Ipoh, which will further exacerbate the congestion and traffic flow.
We have a state-of-the-art train service, but the infrastructure is lacking. As a gateway to Ipoh the first impression we give to tourists upon arrival is important. A survey must be carried out on the traffic flow.
I urge our new Mayor, Dato’ Zamri Man to turun padang and see for himself the situation and come up with a permanent solution. To get a true picture, he must visit the Railway Station without forewarning at different times with his entourage.