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July 28, 2011

5 Grand Old Stations to live on

SHAH ALAM - They stand testament to a part of the nation's history, tangible proof of the romanticism of a bygone era, have stood the test of time and are still used today. And, chances are they will still be standing -- and used -- in decades to come, thanks to Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB).

The national railway service intends to preserve five old stations -- at Batu Gajah, Bukit Berapit, Taiping, Alor Star and Padang Besar -- for their historical significance and sentimental value, as well as to promote certain destinations to tourists.

Sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, for whom the Batu Gajah station particularly holds a personal nostalgic value, was said to have come to the station's rescue when almost 14 stations between the Ipoh and Padang Besar line were initially slated to be destroyed to make way for KTMB's electrified double-tracking project (EDTP).

He, however, consented to the building of a new station at the royal town of Kuala Kangsar replacing the old, nostalgic station instead.

Meanwhile, the Taiping and Alor Star stations were designated by the National Heritage Department as national heritage sites.

Now, the old stations can be appreciated by future generations.

KTMB president Dr Aminuddin Adnan told the New Straits Times that the Batu Gajah station under the Ipoh-Rawang line would also be preserved as a possible site for a train museum.

He said the oldest and longest rail tunnel in the country, the Bukit Berapit rail tunnel would also be preserved even though new twin-bore tunnels were being built alongside the old tunnel under the new railway project.

Currently the EDTP, which is contracted to MMC-Gamuda Joint Venture Sdn Bhd has destroyed several old stations to make way for newly designed and more efficient stations to cater to commuters within the region.

The fates of the 10 remaining old stations such as Sungai Petani and the rest had already been sealed despite protests from residents and local authorities.

In the case of the Sungai Petani station, it is understood that the Sungai Petani Municipal Council (MPSPK) had appealed to KTMB officials and the Ministry of Transport to spare the station prior to the commencement of the double-railway track project.

However the plea was turned down as the station, located at the Sungai Petani town did not fall under the National Heritage Department's heritage buildings category.

The station nevertheless is being spared due to a commendable effort by its local council's move that struck a smart partnership with a private company to shift the structure to Taman Jubli, a public park less than a kilometre from its original site.

The issue behind the preservation of the old railway stations is that it constraints government agencies to preserve them with the hefty cost involved and maintenance as well.

When asked about the fate of the antiques within the stations that were destroyed, Aminuddin said that currently all antiques and significant artifacts had been moved to the railway museum in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru respectively by KTMB's Heritage Unit.

"We are now looking at our Batu Gajah International Complex and the old Johor Baru station as possible locations for a train museum to commemorate these items as well.

Currently, the EDTP between Ipoh and Padang Besar is 52 per cent complete.

The RM12.5 billion (S$5.1 billion) project kicked off on Jan 8, 2008 and is slated for completion in December 2013.

The EDTP, which covers 329km of double tracks, is the largest ongoing infrastructure project to date.

The railway lines run across the northern states of Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis. It is designed to cater to electric trains capable of speeds of up to 160kph, which will boost inter-city rail transportation.

Works on a 27km land viaduct, 3.5km Bukit Merah marine viaduct, Larut tunnel and Berapit twin-bore tunnels in Perak, and the new Prai Swing Bridge in Penang are in various stages of completion.

Various soil treatment methods are being carried out at all open locations, depending on the soil conditions while utility and drainage works are also being done.

The project will consist of two sections, a 171km stretch from Ipoh to Butterworth and another 158km stretch from Bukit Mertajam to Padang Besar.

It is expected that the Ipoh-Butterworth section will be given a higher priority as it is a continuation from the Rawang stretch, and will eventually shorten the travel time between Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth to three hours instead of the normal seven hours.

The project will also feature a 3.3km tunnel in Bukit Berapit, Perak, which will become the longest rail tunnel in Southeast Asia once completed.

-- New Straits Times