GUA MUSANG: As early as 4 am, a local train service, Shuttle Timur, started its operation from the Tumpat Station across the remote areas in Kelantan to its last stop at the Gua Musang Station daily.
The eight-hour journey, covering 227 kilometres with 22 stops in between 11 stations for a one-way trip, is manned by over 100 employees of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB).
When the Movement Control Order (MCO) was imposed in the country last March 18 following the outbreak of COVID-19, and now the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), the train service is “authorised” to continue to operate for the benefit of the rural community.
“This public transportation is considered an essential service for those in the remote area for them to go out to the towns to get their daily supplies, as well as to the Kuala Krai and Gua Musang hospitals for treatment.
“The Shuttle Timur is a very important service for these people. So, we operate everyday, even during the MCO, to provide transportation for them as travelling by road is difficult as there are only dirt roads,” said KTMB eastern region manager Redzuan Abdullah when met recently.
He said the Shuttle Timur service is also popular among school teachers and students to commute to their school daily.
During the first phase, there were as low as only five people on board, he said, adding that as the government eased regulations with the implementation of the CMCO, the number of passengers has increased to about 50 people daily.
“We understand the situation because the people adhere to the t Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and only go out to get their basic needs such as food and for health treatment,” he added.
Redzuan said no matter what, the KTMB workers were proud to serve the country even during the COVID-19 movement restriction period.
Since MCO was implemented, he said passengers of the train service are required have their body temperature scanned, as well as wear face mask and use hand sanitiser before boarding the train.
“We also practice social distancing by reducing the number of passengers in one coach into half. For instance, we only allow 30 passengers in a 60-passenger-coach,” he added.
Meanwhile, a KTMB railway guard, Zakaria Hitam, who has been with the Shuttle Train service since 1986, said working during the MCO is a special experience for him.
“While others could work from home, we are happy to work from dawn to dusk to serve the people in the interior area,” he said.
He said throughout his 34 years of service, there was never a time the train was not full.
“During the early stage of MCO, there was a day when there were only five people and it was the lowest number of train passengers I have even seen,” he added.
Redzuan said he missed the normal atmosphere in the train with the noise of students and traders, who have become his friends, and hoped the COVID-19 outbreak would end soon.
A passenger Fauzi Mat Daud, 62, said he felt safe to board the train because of the KTMB’s compliance with the SOP on passengers.
“The passengers are also required to sit apart from each other, so, I feel safe riding on this train,” he said.
A retailer Salmah Abu, 47, expressed her gratitude to the government for allowing the train to continue its operation during the MCO as it allows her to continue to get supplies for her shop.