KL Sentral train station – which has a train connection to the city’s airport (Simon Roughneen)

To some, it’s part of the vibe of travelling in South-east Asia: hustling and haggling with a taxi or tuk-tuk driver at the door of an airport.

For anyone bleary-eyed and jet-lagged and already leaching sweat as the air-conditioned terminal gives way to a scorching blast of heat and humidity, it’s probably the last thing wanted after a gruelling flight.

But for arrivals to some of the region’s more popular hubs, such as Ngurah Rai, the airport on Bali, there is often no alternative. According to a new report by the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Aviation Studies Institute (ASI), only around 1% of the region’s 800 million air passengers can commute by rail from airport to city.

While the region’s four biggest and busiest airports – Singapore Changi, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Kuala Lumpur International and Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta – have trains taking passengers to the heart of the cities, travellers to Manila, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Penang and Phnom Penh face getting stuck in heavy traffic while heading from airport to hotel.

Of the region’s 24 large or medium-sized airports, just seven have train links, while connectivity is further impeded, according to the ASI, as the dozen airport trains across the region often terminate at different downtown stations to those that have long-distance or inter-city trains to elsewhere in the country.

Even new rail connections in Laos and the Jakarta-Bandung line Indonesia – the latter the region’s first high-speed rail link – do not connect to airports, the ASI said.

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