Malaysia’s transit system ain’t that bad

Metro station in Washington DC

I’m a proponent for rail public transportation. Not the biggest fan of driving because you can never depend on other people to be good drivers, I prefer urban rail that is far more orderly and usually on time.

I’ve taken many urban and intercity railways in my lifetime – Rapid KL LRT, KTM Komuter, Singapore MRT, Washington DC Metro, Denver RTD, New York MTA, Taiwan TRA, Hong Kong MTR, Bangkok BTS, UK First Great Western, Sydney Trains, TrenItalia etc.

There is a reason why homes built near railway stations almost never lose their value. Connectivity is such a big deal in modern times, I can’t imagine what life was like before mass public transportation options were made available.

There are most certainly downsides to being too reliant on a railway system for your work as I’ve discovered over the years working in Washington DC.

You see, I’ve been spoiled by Malaysia’s LRT system that has improved by leaps and bounds over the years I’ve rode on it.

From increasing the number of coaches to four from the usual two, to being always generally clean, to extending the lines to the suburbs where more new housing developments are concentrated, to the very fact that the LRT actually hardly breaks down.

But the WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or locally known as the Metro) that services the greater Washington DC metro area that includes parts of Virginia and Maryland has been the bane of many commuters – me included.

The WMATA continues to be a loss-making enterprise, despite having a monopoly on the rail and bus system in the DC metro area. Plagued by poor maintenance, union strikes, weak management and safety concerns – it is just a matter of time before it goes bankrupt.

Any kind of breakdown in one station can mean major gridlock to one’s morning commute. Despite having its own police force, there have been reports of phone theft and even rape on the Metro.

In 2015, a malfunction on the track filled the train tunnel and the train that was nearest to it, in heavy smoke. It killed one woman and caused respiratory problems for over 80 other passengers. The Metro is being sued for US$50 million by the deceased woman’s family.

The latest scandal to dog the Metro is the faulty concrete used for Phase 2 of the Silver Line project that extends the trail to reach Dulles International Airport.

The US$2.7 billion project in Virginia is one of the largest public transportation projects in the region (think the MRT in KL when it just started) and connecting travellers to the airport will score major wins win for both residents and the Metro.

However, a whistleblower report revealed that the contractor falsified data on the durability of the precast concrete that was used. Lawsuits are now being thrown and further delays are expected.

Despite all this, I’ll still take the train. It remains the most convenient and cost-effective method for my lifestyle. I guess all take my chances.

So when I hear people complain about Malaysia’s transit system, my response is always:

”Bro, you haven’t been to the s***show that is DC”.

My next piece will be on train etiquette. Stay tuned!

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