By Jerry Francis
The combination of the iconic Ipoh Railway Station and its Dataran KTM has often been affectionately described as the “Taj Mahal of Ipoh”.
It is because the Moorish architectural Railway Station and the once beautifully landscaped garden with fountains located in front of it had always presented a picture postcard sight to visitors.
This is no longer so. The Ipoh City Council decision to redevelop the site instead of restoring it has created “a boring and barren sight”.
It has also failed to meet the need for more parking spaces and ease traffic congestion. The estimated 100 parking bays in the area are insufficient as the railway station is increasingly becoming busy as the frequency of the electric train service increases.
Vehicles parked at the far end of the railway station are having difficulties to get back to the main entrance to pick up passengers, especially the underprivileged and senior citizens and their luggage. There is also no proper taxi stand.
Much emphasis was given to open space, and this encourages youths to skate-boarding and cycling around the Dataran ground causing damages to the tiled flooring and plants.
What’s more, at one stage it was like a “pesta ground” at night until the city council stopped enterprising folks from setting up stalls for hiring skate-boards and battery-operated mini cars and motor-scooters.
Now, hardly five years since it was redeveloped, the new-look Dataran KTM appears to have been neglected.
The wall of the raised platform around the Upar Tree (Antiaris Toxicarial) from which the city got its name, was superimposed with pictures and inscribed with information of all the tourists’ attractions in Perak has faded.
I wonder whether even its main attraction, the multi-coloured-lights-synchronised-fountain, which had been drawing spectators nightly, is functioning.
This is the result of our culture of poor maintenance. Unlike most public parks outside the country, the city council has failed to ensure that they were being continuously maintained and preserved.
It appears that every five to 10 years, the city council has to source for funds to redevelop its public parks as most of the features would have stopped functioning or are damaged. It is not because of the shortage of manpower, but poor maintenance.
In a hasty effort to spruce up the Dataran KTM, the city council had pathetically erected six mini theme gardens. The gardens, which include a Winter Theme complete with a snowman, appear like misfits and are slowly being neglected.
The city council should look into appointing a consulting professional landscaping company to turn the Dataran KTM, which is surrounded by a war memorial, and Colonial-style Town Hall and High Court buildings, into a beautification project of which the city can be proud.
The Dataran is the first place that visitors to the city will see on their arrival by train. This is also the first image they will record with their cameras and the starting point of the “Heritage Trail” of the city. Therefore, it is important that the city council maintain a good “first impression” of the city.
Even the railway station building needs a major facelift. Apart from the a renovated platforms, the rest of its areas is not being utilized for useful economic purposes.
If KTM has no other development plans, the state authorities should step in to make good use of the building. The state authorities should explore the idea of converting the unoccupied space into a restaurant cum hotel, tourists’ information centre or an art centre, etc. It’s a sheer waste of economic space if this heritage building is not put to good use and spruced up.
The image of Ipoh will be tarnished if the city council continues to ignore the up-keep and utilisation of the Ipoh Railway Station and its Dataran KTM as a beautification project.