Possible Malaysia-Singapore ‘Shinkansen’ excites world rail body

Datuk Seri Najib Razak visits the KL-Singapore HSR Gallery at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre in Kuala Lumpur October 17, 2017. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Seri Najib Razak visits the KL-Singapore HSR Gallery at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre in Kuala Lumpur October 17, 2017. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 22 — The possibility of Japan’s world-famous Shinkansen bullet train system making its debut in Malaysia and Singapore has created some excitement within the International High-Speed Rail Association (IHRA) with a senior official making a strong pitch for its adoption.

IHRA Vice Chairman Torkel Patterson said countries that previously had zero high-speed rail (HSR) working experience had proven that they could achieve the same level of success as Japan in operating the system despite initial scepticisms.

He cited Taiwan and New Delhi as examples.

Shinkansen’s Total System Approach to HSR seamlessly integrates technology with the infrastructure and signalling system, with its key advantage being the approach to training and maintenance and the way of performing among the employees.

“The hardware and software technology embedded in the total system provides the outcome Shinkansen is famous for - safe, fast, reliable, on-time and frequent service,” he told Bernama via an email interview.

He said the “most fascinating” thing happened with the Delhi Metro, and despite many sceptics, the subway is clean, runs on time, safe, reliable and frequent and later it became desired by every large city in India.

“The factors that made the Delhi Metro a success are the same that made Taiwan HSR a success and that will make the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR a success,” said Patterson when asked to comment on Japan’s bid to win international tenders to be called soon for the proposed two-city bullet train link, billed as South-east Asia’s largest ever infrastructure project.

American-born Patterson listed three characteristics that led to the success of the Shinkansen system when exported out of Japan — training, great local leadership and public support and encouragement.

“The secret sauce in Japan’s training methods is treating every employee with respect and valuing their opinion during the intense and repetitive training process. Through this process, ordinary men and women become ‘railway men and women’ in the highest sense.”

For years now, Taiwan had a 100 per cent Taiwanese run and operated railway with world-class (that is, Japan-class) safety, reliability, on-time performance and service with its ridership exceeding even many of Shinkansen’s lines in Japan itself, he said when asked how the Shinkansen system would step up to the challenge given the distance between Japan and Malaysia-Singapore where the personnel to be hired would have zero HSR working experience.

“Many people wonder whether it is possible to deploy Shinkansen to other countries and whether those countries would be able to achieve the same level of success as in Japan. The answer is a resounding Yes,” added Patterson.

On local leadership, he said the strong Malaysia-Singapore leadership of the system was imperative because, without commitment, vision and a positive outlook, nothing significant could be achieved while with it, everything was possible.

Alluding to public support, he said: “The public, once they have a chance to experience HSR, falls in love with it and clamours for more. This support will assuage politicians who may not feel they can make risky decisions in the beginning. Having popular transport also fans ridership and helps bring transit-oriented development (TOD) as well.”

In Japan, TOD makes up a significant 20-40 per cent of overall businesses, boosted by the fact that the railway companies own the land immediately around the stations and can develop it above, below and surrounding the stations.

Patterson reckoned that in Malaysia, the proposed terminal stations at Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Iskandar Puteri in Johor and Jurong East in Singapore would be successful from the very beginning, while other stations would grow with the growth in ridership.

“Almost all of the expertise for TOD already exists in Malaysia. The key is for their leadership and key employees to visit Japan and see the standards of construction, cleanliness and maintenance and make these high standards, Malaysian standard,” he said.

A former Raytheon International Inc. President, Patterson previously also served in a variety of posts in the US government under three administrations, including Special Assistant to the President for Asia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Senior Country Director for Japan in the Office of the Secretary of Defence. — Bernama

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