GAINING SPEED

Malaysia 2017 | TRANSPORT & INFRASTRUCTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Noormah Mohd Noor, CEO of Express Rail Link, on the KL-Singapore high-speed rail, the company's preferred status among riders, and areas of growth.

Noormah Mohd Noor
BIOGRAPHY
Noormah Mohd Noor joined ERL in October 1997 as General Manager of Finance, and was instrumental in the development of the MYR2.4 billion high-speed rail link between KL Sentral Station and Kuala Lumpur International Airport. As a specialist in infrastructure projects, Noormah played a critical role in redoing the financing package in order to put the ERL project back on track following the Asian Financial Crisis. After a two-year stint away, she came onboard in 2007 as Advisor to ERL on corporate financing matters and the company’s growth plans. She was appointed its CEO in June 2009.

It looks like the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project may finally happen. Are you ready to participate?

Our past experience speaks for itself. Our air-rail link between Kuala Lumpur and the city's international airport (KLIA) was the first, and is still the only, HSR facility in Malaysia. We are fast, reliable, and safe, and we now have a solid 14-year track record of operating a world-class, award-winning service. Since 2002 we have been operating two lines: the KLIA Ekspres, which gets air travelers directly from KL to KLIA in 28 minutes—the quickest way to move between those two points—and the KLIA Transit for commuters, which stops at three intermediate stations. In August 2016 we transported our 75 millionth passenger. Our on-time performance for KLIA Ekspres is 99.7%, making us the second-best performing airport express operator in the world after Hong Kong Airport Express. If we were given the opportunity to be involved in the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR, we would be more than ready.

Why do travelers continue to choose Express Rail Link when there are cheaper options to get to the airport?

Besides the speed, reliability, and safety of our trains, connectivity is another big plus. We are well connected with other transit systems in Kuala Lumpur, especially via KL Sentral Station, where one can transfer easily to the Monorail, the LRT, the KTM Komuter, and the soon-to-be-launched MRT system. At Bandar Tasik Selatan Station, there is a large bus terminal for north-, south- and east-bound intercity express buses out of Kuala Lumpur. The Bandar Tasik Selatan Station is also connected to the LRT Ampang Line and KTM Komuter. For travelers headed from KL Sentral Station to the airport, we have partnered with a number of airlines to provide flight check-in services at our in-town check-in facility at KL Sentral Station, one of very few city check-ins available in the world. If you take Malaysia Airlines, Etihad Airways, or Cathay Pacific, you can check in your luggage at KL Sentral. We check in around 1,000 bags per day, and we have not lost a single piece of baggage in our 14 years of operation.

How has KLIA Transit benefited from the growth areas along the corridor, and vice versa?

The KLIA Transit stops at three intermediate stations. Since our launch in 2002, there have been plenty of developments along the corridor, especially in and around Putrajaya, the administrative capital of Malaysia. Traffic through Putrajaya was initially low, but with the tremendous growth in the area and neighboring Cyberjaya—with its many multinational companies and universities—we have seen the number of passengers triple over the years. The area around Salak Tinggi Station was once an oil palm plantation, but it has seen rapid development in recent years. There is now a large residential area around the station, and early in 2016 the new Xiamen University Malaysia—its first branch campus outside of China—opened its doors. The connectivity factor via our transit line is definitely one of the reasons it opened there. We are happy that the stations we built have spurred growth in the surrounding areas.

What are your ambitions for the HSR connecting KL and Singapore?

This has remained our greatest aspiration ever since we mooted the idea in 2000. But perhaps because of the sheer size of the project and the fact that it would entail a great deal of intergovernmental interaction, the country was only ready for it recently, when the Land Public Transport Authority (SPAD) was formed a few years ago and started a feasibility study. There is a lot work to be done on issues such as immigration, land use, and shared operations; however, we are happy to note that MyHSR and Singapore Land Transport Authority have been working hard on this. There will be an international open tender and we are definitely keen to participate. We are hopeful about our prospects in view of our expertise.