October 10, 2008 Categories: News
A whopping RM200 million was spent to buy 20 China-made Class 29 locomotives that were supposed to pave the way for a smoother rail service. Yet, less than three years later, only five are in service.
The rest? Lying abandoned in various Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) yards across the country, all mothballed because of a laundry list of technical problems.
This is the grim reality of the Malaysian transportation system. Poor decision-making, a disregard for key technical advice and lack of foresight have led to observers labelling the China deal as akin to an "economic train wreck".
The locomotives, commonly referred to as "Dalian loco", were bought in 2005 by the government from China Railway Communication Company Ltd for RM20 million each. The high-powered diesel electric locomotives, capable of hauling 2,500 tonnes of cargo, were supposed to have complemented the previous purchase of 20 units of Class 26 Blue Tiger locomotives from General Electric, Germany.
With the China purchase, KTMB in 2005 had 40 locomotives at its disposal.
However, an industry source said the number has now whittled down to almost half. This, he said, was because the Dalian locos had severe technical problems and broke down within months of use.
This is in stark contrast to the German-made Blue Tiger locomotives, which have been proven to be relatively problem-free despite being in service for more than five years.
It is understood that a locomotive's average lifespan is between 20 to 25 years.
"The breakdown of the Dalian locos had nothing to do with the country's infrastructure or existing trains," said the source, adding that the Dalian locos were of inferior quality and required more frequent maintenance.
He claimed that within months of use, at least 11 had to be repaired daily, leading to the disruption of cargo and passenger services. This forced KTMB to rely on 15 locomotives leased from India, reportedly at a rate of US$1,000 (RM4,787) per train daily.
It is alleged that the original quality assessment reports had recommended against buying the Dalian locos, but the authorities nevertheless pressed on.
"The mess could have been avoided had the authorities taken heed of the advice. It is a total waste of public funds," the source said.
He added that KTMB played no part in the decision to purchase them. "However, as a result of this, it is KTMB's image that has taken a beating."
The debacle has also drawn flak from Railwaymen's Union of Malaysia (RUM) president Abdul Razak Md Hassan who believed that, by right, 80 per cent of the Dalian locomotives should be in operation.
"Unfortunately, the reality is that only 25 per cent or, specifically, five of the locomotives, are serving our needs," he said.
The government, meanwhile, has acknowledged that the Dalian locomotives were non-operational.
Transport Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat, in confirming that the trains were currently not in use, said he has since ordered KTMB to account for them.
"Since they were brand new, KTMB has been directed to do so. They have to take stock of these idle units," he said.