goTaiping.com 

     Brings you to the fantastic heritage town
                                                    Taiping, Perak, Malaysia

 
 

Heritage Tourism: Chugging into oblivion

 
SINCE its early days, the consolidation of various State railways and subsequent privatisation of Malayan Railways, the nation has yet to see a dedicated and complete railway museum.

This would include its steam and diesel locomotives which are rusting away in many places without roof and weather protection. There is also no known railway-turntable existing when it was once an engineering marvel.

Tourists, especially rail enthusiasts from overseas, have often lamented both on the Internet and when visiting Malaysia, that there is nothing to see of the old railway. For instance, no steam locomotive tours are available in Peninsular Malaysia.

Instead, they are encouraged to go to Canada, the Americas, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, continental Europe, India and Sri Lanka for such experiences, such as the steam-run Hill Railways in India which is among Unesco's World Heritage Sites.

The most sought-after rides include the Indian cross-continent route on the ‘Viceroy of India’; the China to Tibet railway ‘Journey to the Roof of the World’ right up to Lhasa; the Great Canadian railroad experience in the Canadian Rockies; and ‘The Orient Express’ train from Singapore to Bangkok.

There are no such touristic rides Malaysia despite the general rail infrastructure being widely available.

There was once such a heritage steam locomotive rail tour service in Malaysia using refurbished steam locomotive No. 564.36 named ‘Temerloh’, but this ride operated by the Peninsular Line service has since been discontinued.

In Sabah, there is the North Borneo Railway by Sutera Harbour Resort and Sabah State Railway Department which operates steam locomotive tours but it has been suspended for upgrading works.

Malaysia has no dedicated heritage lines as even the Port Weld-Taiping line — the nation's first railway — and the Seremban-Port Dickson stretch have not been declared as such.

In other developed countries, rail heritage tours are packaged and sold globally to tourists interested in seeing a nation's interior for scenic views that even off-road travel and jungle-trekking would not afford them.

With the double-tracking system being installed, I wonder how many historic stations and bridges across rivers and hillside tracks would be bypassed, abandoned or scrapped. Even the historic Bukit Berapit tunnel may not be preserved.

The nation was recently shocked to read about the 'missing' colonial-era iron bridge over Sungai Kerian without any plan to restore or rebuild it. It should have been classified a historical site under the Heritage Act 2005 of the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry.

Other railway bridges requiring heritage classification and protection are the Victoria Bridge in Karai, Perak, built in 1897, and Guillemard Bridge in Kelantan opened for use in 1925.

In fact, the Railway Administration headquarters building itself is also under threat of being sold to the private sector.

Another heritage pearl set to be lost for good is the Penang Hill Funicular Railway system in operation since 1923 which has been mentioned as one of the world's existing historic hill railway systems.

Almost every nation in the world has a funicular hill railway system and Malaysia has lost its own and probably for good, all because of a worn-out cable that needed replacing.

It has not even been considered under the Heritage Act 2005 list.

Perhaps the Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd, Tourism Ministry, Transport Ministry, Muzium Negara, Badan Warisan Malaysia, and local universities' history, social science and engineering schools can do something about this, and plan and coordinate coherently to preserve our rail history and assets as well as to begin operating a steam-train service to the interior, modelled on Sabah’s North Borneo Railway, before it is too late.

It has been reported that Malaysia will host the Railway Tourism 2010 Conference in December and that studies have shown that the nation’s tourism revenue may increase by RM100 million annually if this sector is fully tapped.

As a supporter of heritage rail tourism, I look forward to the gathering and that all matters highlighted in this letter be looked into, including commencing the operation of steam and diesel locomotives on scenic railway routes in the country and the Heritage Act 2005 being invoked to protect heritage railway lines.

The heritage railway tours can be easily integrated with connecting coach travel to our local world-class tourist resort destinations to ensure the rail services' economic viability and increase tourist arrivals.

To achieve this, it is vital that there are active governmental measures in place. It is also necessary that the chronicling and recording of the way of life and daily experiences of our railwaymen, including pioneering railway-building workers and their families, by our local universities social science and history faculties be undertaken.

Conservation efforts must be taken by both the public and private sectors before it is too late for the nation to act.

Heritage Rail Tourism Supporter
Petaling Jaya, Selangor

 - The Malay Mail -