Interview: Jean-Bernard Lévy
What potential do you see in region-wide rail integration projects in South-east Asia?
JEAN-BERNARD LÉVY: A major potential integration would be to link the current double-tracking project in Malaysia to the Thai network. The last section of this double tracking project, from Gemas to Johor Bahru, is expected to be awarded in 2014.
Once completed, this will allow trains coming from Singapore to pass all the way through Malaysia and connect to the Thai network, which has the same gauge as the Malaysian one, making it a very interesting trip for passengers.
The following step for future railways in South Asia is the construction of a high-speed line from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. This project was agreed upon in principle by the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore in February 2013. It would enable train travel between these two vibrant South Asian cities to take only an hour and a half. Looking further ahead, there is potential for this line to be extended from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, which in turn could be extended northward and ultimately to Thailand, should the need arise.
There was also a plan to link Europe and Asia using a freight railway network from Singapore to Istanbul, with possible connections further into Europe. However, this ambitious plan did not materialise concretely for various reasons, one being that different countries use different gauges, which make the interoperability between railways very difficult.
How will the Rail Centre of Excellence (RCOE) address the skills gap facing railroad professionals within Malaysia and the greater region?
LÉVY: Malaysia is currently implementing a substantial number of new railway and metro lines over a short period. To manage this rapidly expanding network, Malaysian experts have determined that the country will need a fivefold increase in the number of engineers. The RCOE’s principal aim is therefore to support the Malaysian railway industry in developing its human capability. To do so, a group of Malaysian railway engineers, who are supported by Thales experts, will first carry out a review of the existing skills in the signalling domain. The objective is to ensure that future engineers will carry out 100% of their training in Malaysia. After this so-called audit phase, tailored training proposed by Thales and specifically adapted to the Malaysian environment will be provided on a simulator.
Developing the local human capability and skills is the first priority expressed by our Malaysian partners and therefore this is what we are focusing on. Hence, we may envisage that research will be carried out at RCOE in future.
What are the current issues facing Malaysia’s railway network, and what lessons do you think can be learned from the West?
LÉVY: One of the principal issues that Malaysia is currently facing is an ageing mainline railway network, which was built in the early 1920s. The electrification and double tracking of the north-south link is ongoing, and it should prompt some people to shift from road to rail travel.
An approach that could be of interest to the Malaysian Railway is the use of the European Train Control System (ETCS) as a standard for all their new lines. The ETCS would increase safety, optimise costs and would enable cross-border operations with foreign countries that also apply ETCS technology, while increasing rail travel attractiveness.
The other benefit would be to set-up open competition between suppliers of ETCS, resulting in both cost and quality effectiveness.
It took many years for Europe to finally reach an agreement to use the same standard, and even today not every line on the continent is equipped with this system. The advantage for Malaysia then would be to benefit from the existing standard right away.
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