Cover Story: Ipoh Railway Station: On the Right Track?

By Nabilah Hamudin and Tan Mei Kuan
Pics by Luqman Hakim

The Electric Train Service (ETS) Ipoh-Kuala Lumpur has become very popular. This makes the Ipoh Railway Station crowded and busy every day. According to Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB), Ipoh Railway Station is the second busiest station in the country, after KL Sentral. On an average, 3500 to 4000 people travel to Ipoh by train daily.

With the increase in passenger traffic, has the quality of the service improved proportionately? Is it true that many of those using the service faced unpleasant experiences each time they use the train? Or are these the ramblings of some disgruntled passengers who are at odds with KTMB?

In this issue, Ipoh Echo examines the facilities and services provided at the Ipoh Railway Station.

Facilities and Services of Railway Station

Insights into Commuter Experience

Associate Professor Dr Richard Ng, president of Ipoh City WatchIpoh Echo spoke to regular commuters, from all walks of life, to obtain their thoughts about the facilities and services available at the Ipoh station. Most of their complaints, however, revolve around train punctuality and reliability.

“I am a regular traveller and commute between Ipoh and KL almost every weekend and sometimes on weekdays since ETS was introduced in 2010. As an Ipohite, working in KL and having a house in Ipoh, the service was a blessing. We can now travel without the hassle of driving and avoid the traffic jam, especially over weekends,” Associate Professor Dr Richard Ng, the president of Ipoh City Watch said. Having taken both the morning and the night trains, he has seen the good and the bad of ETS and KTMB services.

“In the early days the ETS lived up to its slogan of “On Time All Time”. Daily there were seven trips from KL to Ipoh and seven trips from Ipoh to KL. Additional trips were added during weekends and public holidays. Coaches were clean and services were excellent. Passengers were served by young stewards and stewardesses,” he recalled.

Unfortunately, over time the services deteriorated. Punctuality was the main problem. On many occasions the ETS train does not arrive on time although it departs on time.

“The problem started in 2015 after five years in operation. Coaches used were not maintained properly and no new coaches were added except for the new Intercity ETS connecting Padang Besar to Seremban. The trains very often experience engine failure midway which sometimes can take between 30 minutes to 2 hours,” Richard said.

Pui San, a 26-year-old Ipohite who also commutes weekly between Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur since 2010, shares Richard’s sentiments. During Chinese New Year, she was stuck mid-way for three hours as the train ran out of electricity. The passengers were told of the problem after an agonising hour of uncertainty. With all the passengers still inside, the train needed to be pulled to the nearest charging station. However, there were other stalled trains and the queue was long. The festive food she brought home turned putrid in the stifling heat.

Kate AwKate Aw, 26, who works in Kuala Lumpur makes it a point to return to Ipoh at least once a month. She opts for the 5.05am train from Ipoh to KL. “Last month, my train was delayed without any warning or prior notice. When we asked the staff at the counter, they had no idea too. It was really frustrating. Next, when I made a complaint to the relevant authorities via email, I only got a very general reply one week later,” Kate lamented.

“The worst part is that ETS staff are not trained in crisis management. For example, in one of the 7pm trips I took from KL Sentral, which normally arrives in Ipoh at 9.20pm, reached Ipoh well past midnight. It was due to power failure at Batang Kali. None of us were told what was happening and how long we had to wait. The ETS staff hid in the cockpit to avoid us. After waiting for over an hour, we decided to hop onto an oncoming ETS. Space was limited so we had to cramp into the limited coaches and stood throughout the journey. No apology was forthcoming from KTMB,” said Richard.

“I recall another incident when an ETS train rammed into an oncoming train at Batang Kali. Passengers, including senior citizens, were made to walk down the embankment with their luggage. It’s unbecoming,” he decried.

Other issues relate to a ticketing system that is down frequently, dirty toilets, non-functioning escalator, traffic jam, insufficient benches in the waiting hall, stuffy waiting area, especially in the afternoon, and a lack of pick-up space.

Ipoh Railway StationIpoh Railway Station

An Ipohite who wished to remain anonymous said, “Once, the ticketing system was down so I couldn’t buy my ticket online. Even the digital numbering system was not working. We had to queue and the line stretched to the station entrance.”

“During heavy downpour, we noticed water dripping from the ceiling and this problem has persisted for many months now. Pails were placed to collect the rainwater. During peak periods, over 300 people would crowd the station, which has seats for only 50 people. The air conditioners need to be changed, as they have broken down for many months now. Five fans are being installed temporarily. This is grossly insufficient,” Richard highlighted.

Pui San suggests that ATM machines be made available. “There’s only a cafe, a newsstand and a waffle/sweet corn stall. Shouldn’t there be shops selling our iconic Ipoh food?” she opined.

Hector Netto, a retired Ipohite said, “While waiting at the railway station for my brother, I wanted to use the gents. I had to pay 30 sen to enter. The toilet was smelly and not clean. In contrast, the toilets in KL Sentral are well-maintained and are free.”

There is a subway connecting the Buntong side to the railway station in the form of an underground walkway. Not many are aware of this back entrance located near a temple. “I heard it from my neighbour. It’s faster to get to the train station compared to the front entrance, as I stay in Taman Merdeka. Parking space is plentiful, as there are only a few cars parked whenever I’m there,” Pui San told Ipoh Echo.

“A security guard should be stationed at the back entrance for safety. I doubt anyone will hear you if you shout for help when in the tunnel,” she exclaimed. When Ipoh Echo checked out the subway recently, we spotted a vagrant begging at the entrance. The walkway was dimly lit with only a single CCTV camera fixed on one end of the entrance. We wonder whether it is working.

What Do the Authorities Say?

In order to get a better perspective of the complaints by passengers, Ipoh Echo spoke to KTMB’s Head of Corporate Communication, Ridhwan Arshad. According to Ridhwan, KTMB is now upgrading its e-ticketing system for ETS in order to better serve the passengers.

“We’re now in the midst of upgrading our online ticketing system and it’s 70 per cent completed. The new sophisticated system is expected to be operational in September. He added that the Prime Minister has ordered KTMB to resolve the numerous complaints regarding the faulty ETS online ticketing system.

“We admit that our old system is problematic, user-unfriendly and sometimes inaccessible but, the problem had arisen due to the significant increase of online transactions. The existing Internet capacity can’t accommodate the increasing traffic. A new and more compatible system is needed and we hope it is available by September. However, no major hiccups have occurred on our online ticketing system service so far, unlike before,” he insisted.

Ipoh Railway StationIpoh Railway Station

On the subway issue, Ridhwan said the subway has not been used as frequently as before.

“It was built years ago when, the area where it’s connected to, was a busy business centre. But today, the area is not like before. KTMB has insufficient budget to upgrade the subway by installing more closed-circuit television cameras. As an alternative, we hope for the public’s goodwill. “We advise passengers to be alert and report any suspicious activity to our auxiliary police,” he explained.

He urged passengers to be wary when using the subway and not to use it alone.

Commenting on another issue, Ridhwan said the toilet-cleaning job is being outsourced to appointed contractors. “The appointed contractors are not being thorough with their job. If this happens, we’ll terminate their contract or issue a show-cause letter as a warning. Therefore, it’s imperative for the public to report directly to us rather than use other channels to resolve the issues. We can’t take action if they don’t report to us,” he reasoned.

He reminded that the passengers too are responsible for the cleanliness of the toilet and the waiting area. “They shouldn’t throw rubbish indiscriminately. They have to use the toilets prudently.  Must they stuff diapers and sanitary pads in the basins? The public want world-class infrastructure and facilities but their mentality is still third-world. They should be responsible too,” he said.

When asked about the escalator problem, Ridhwan said that the breakdown was never frequent. “It happens because of maintenance works. We’ve to stop the escalators when the works are in progress. The public have to understand that the maintenance works are for their safety and convenience. They have to look at the positive side.

“We’ve minor and major maintenance works for the escalators. For minor issues, we’ve maintenance crew to check but for major issues, our appointed contractors will do the repair works,” he added.

Regarding traffic congestion in front of the station, Ridhwan said the power to act against errant motorists lies with Ipoh City Council and the Police.

“We’re working closely with both the Police and Ipoh City Council to overcome the problem,” he said.

Ipoh Railway Station

Suggestions and Efforts Done by the Authorities

Ridhwan encourages the public to log on to KTMB official website at or call its hotline number: 03 2267 1200 if they have a complaint regarding KTMB’s services.

“We wish to apologise for any unpleasant experience faced by passengers. We’re truly sorry. We’ll upgrade our facilities from time to time for the betterment of the paying public.

“Hopefully, the public will be patient with us while we upgrade our e-ticketing system and other services. Things do happen and when they happen, there’s little we can do,” he remarked.

Ipoh Echo was informed by the KTMB that efforts to provide more ETS coaches are underway. KTMB aims to provide an additional 19 coaches by 2018 to meet the high demand.

“The first nine are expected by the end of this year. The remaining 10 by next year,” he said.

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