Thursday 22 Feb 2024
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on March 6, 2023 - March 12, 2023

A video of several individuals walking on a platform between train tracks, believed to be passengers of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s (KLIA) aero­train, went viral last week. 

They were believed to be among the 114 passengers who were left stranded on the tracks on Wednesday, when the aerotrain they were on suddenly halted midway while ferrying them from KLIA’s main terminal building to the satellite building, which handles international flights departing and arriving at the airport.

On Thursday, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) issued an apology to all the passengers involved, while explaining it had dispatched a second train to take them to their destination. But that rescue train, unfortunately, also experienced technical difficulties.

The aerotrain is the only way to travel between the two buildings. Yet, it seems that MAHB, despite all the downtime it had during the pandemic, has done little to maintain its assets, including the ones used for emergencies. It awarded a contract to Pestech International Bhd to build a new aerotrain system and associated works for RM742.95 million in 2021 — which Pestech had said would take three years to complete, starting from March 2022. In the meantime, the aerotrain service was to be “maintained under minimal interruption during all phases of the project”, according to Pestech’s bourse filing. So, what happened?

It is hard not to contrast with what our neighbour just across the Causeway, Singapore, has done. Not only did it refurbish its Changi Airport prior to the pandemic’s outbreak and added a stunning conversation piece — the iconic Jewel waterfall — it said in August last year that it would start work on a fifth terminal there with a revised “pandemic-proof” design — one that would allow it to adjust capacity during an outbreak and to isolate passengers from different flights to limit cross-infection.

Dear MAHB, please show our foreign visitors Malaysian hospitality, not the embarrassing “first class infrastructure, Third World maintenance” culture, which this aerotrain breakdown episode has proved is very much alive here — just as our Transport Minister Anthony Loke was reported as saying three months earlier, when he expressed his disappointment with the constant disruptions affecting the light rail transit service run by Prasarana Malaysia Bhd.

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