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Heavier penalties needed for errant rail operators
FocusM team | 30 Mar 2018 00:30
In the first-ever case against a railway operator, Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) was fined RM60,000 recently by a Sessions Court in Temerloh, Pahang, for failing to ensure proper maintenance of its train tracks and coaches. 

KTMB failed to ensure the coaches used by its Express Senandung Wau train and the tracks between the Kemayan and Triang stations were in good condition and safe for use. This led to the derailment of its train near the Kemayan station, Pahang on July 8, 2014.  There were no injuries or loss of life.

The rail operator was charged under Section 101(7)(e) of the Land Public Transport Act. While the court found KTMB culpable, meting out such a low fine will definitely not be a deterrent against similar incidents in the future. A heftier penalty should have been imposed. 

The 2014 incident was not the last derailment. A cargo train derailed at Batu Gajah, Perak, in October 2016, with total losses estimated at about RM33 mil. In November 2017, another cargo train derailed near the Bank Negara station in Kuala Lumpur.

The derailments have a bigger impact on the economy than most people realise, with the snowballing effect disrupting commuter trains, causing people to be late for work and appointments, indirectly affecting productivity. They also disrupt the services of other goods trains, delaying delivery of goods to clients, which will have its own set of consequences.

Following each incident, the Ministry of Transport will demand the usual investigation to determine the cause of the derailment. However, whatever penalties imposed by the authorities do not seem to be able to minimise or eradicate such incidents. 

As such, the authorities must come down harder on rail operators, be it KTMB or operators of the Light Rail Transit, Mass Rail Transit and Monorail services. Do we have to see a mega derailment or accident involving passenger trains, leading to massive loss of lives, before acting more sternly?

Non-financial penalties should also be considered, especially if the derailments are caused by negligence. For example, the section heads or staff directly responsible can be suspended, demoted or terminated to instill better discipline among the workers.

The authorities should also ensure that low-level staff are not made the scapegoat and held responsible.