By Zabidi Ishar and Azimah Mohd Fathi
KUALA KRAI, June 19 (Bernama) -- Waking up from sleep at about 4 am is routine for 13-year-old Mohamad Hakim Hakimi.
But why a Form One schoolboy needs to wake up so early when a school's morning session only starts at 7.15 am? The reason is that Mohamad Hakim has to be at the Bukit Abu railway station before 6 am and take a ride on a train to the town where his school is located.
Otherwise he would not be able to attend school for the day.When his urban peers are still in bed, the Sekolah Menengah Dabong boy and the other students have to trudge for 2-4 km from their respective homes in order to get to the station.
Dabong is located some 40 km away from Bukit Abu, based on the railway distance.
Upon reaching the railway station, Mohamad Hakim and the other students have time to perform the Subuh prayers there. Later, in the train, Mohamad Hakim killed the time by revising his schoolwork while some of the children would slump into a snooze.
The train ride takes about one hour and upon reaching the Dabong railway station, more than 200 students would stream out from the coaches and head for their respective schools that are located nearby. That is the 'hard life' experienced by school students staying in areas like Kuala Bukit Abu, Temangan, Ulu Temiang and Kampung Baru Sungai Mengkuang in the heartland of Kelantan.
NEW LIFE FOR 'MARKET TRAIN'
However the school children have one loyal companion, which is the southbound 'market train' that leaves Tumpat as early as 3 am.
(Tumpat is the northernmost railway station in the East Coast).
Despite the train being considered as the slowest form of public transportation as compared to either the bus or taxi, it is the only transport available for people in the state's remote areas in order to get to towns like Kuala Krai, Tanah Merah and Pasir Mas. To these people, the train's snail pace is no bother and each day, the train's coaches are filled to the brim by passengers including the school children.
However the train operator, KTMB, has initiated the upgrading of these old train coaches that used to be without air-conditioning apart from the poor lighting. KTMB general manager Datuk Abdul Radzak Abdul Malek had wished that the train journey for passengers, particularly the students, would be more comfortable.
"They had to sweat it out in the hot and humid coaches and were not able to revise their lessons as the light was dim. Furthermore, the coaches were cramped with other passengers including the traders.
"Therefore I have directed (KTMB) to upgrade these market train coaches and also to provide a special shuttle service to ferry the students home in comfort," Abd Radzak told Bernama here recently. The upgrading exercise, that began early this year, has brought smiles to the passengers and boosted the image of KTMB.
The specially introduced shuttle train plies the Tumpat-Dabong-Tumpat route and is designed to ferry the students home from school. The train pulls away from Tumpat station at 10.45 am and its stops include the railway stations and halts at Wakaf Baharu, Pasir Mas, Tanah Merah, Temangan, Kuala Krai, Manik Urai, Bukit Abu and Dabong.
For the return trip from Dabong, the journey begins at 2.10 pm with stops at Kuala Gris, Bukit Abu, Kampung Baru Bukit Abu, Ulu Temiang, Kampung Baru Sungai Mengkuang, Manik Urai, Kuala Krai, Temangan, Tanah Merah, Pasir Mas, Wakaf Baharu and Tumpat.
The shuttle train goes by the number 85 for the trip down from Tumpat to Dabong in the morning while on its way back, the train bears the number 86.
"Before this, the students returned on another train that left Dabong at 3.10 pm. The shuttles service cuts down the waiting time by one hour," said Abd Radzak. For Mohamad Hakim and his friends, the train ride home is much comfortable as compared to previously due to the presence of air-conditioned coaches.
"Before, we have to wait until 3.10 pm for the train to go home. It was so exhausting, compounded by the hot and humid interiors of the coaches.
"Now we can even revise our school work while being in the train on the way back as the coaches are comfortable due to the air-conditioning," he said.
According to the Senior Assistant (Student Affairs) for Sekolah Menengah Dabong, Hazama Ismail, the present generation students are fortunate when compared to those of his time. Hazama, a son of Dabong, said he is thankful of the KTMB's introduction of the shuttle service, which is the main mode of transport for students in the interior areas.
"The move should be commended as the service helps the students to return home early and they now no longer have to fight for seats with the other passengers.
"This train also benefits the school teachers who use the service to commute to work," said Hazama.
CHEAP KTM FARE
On the train fare, Abdul Radzak said it is still much cheaper when compared to the other modes of public transport. The students were given 30 per cent discount on the train fare, he said, adding that KTMB encourages the people to use the rail services as they would be safer and more comfortable.
Abdul Radzak also called on the students not to vandalise the shuttle train's coaches as the service is for their own good.