The recent launch of the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit Project’s proposed Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT line received mixed responses from the public.
Many of us think that the start work order was given too soon without consulting the public, especially those directly affected by the construction works.
I strongly feel that there is a need to assess the surrounding issues before rolling out the project. These issues affect the people and should be given utmost priority.
Among the surrounding issues are:
1) Dubious tender process
There was a serious lack of documentation and specifications before the tender was awarded to Gamuda-MMC. From the website of Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat (SPAD), we can only see limited information about the Project Background, Noise Level Table, Station Facilities, and Technical & Safety Features.
I personally do not call it a specifications as they do not elaborate in detail the Building and Engineering requirements. There is a joke about this, calling it a ‘build first, plan later’ approach. It makes you wonder how the tender company can calculate and quote for the total project cost without referring to any specifications.
SPAD is also risking its credibility by not doing their homework in identification of potential locations and budgetary planning, but instead asking vendors to propose and compete amongst themselves using the ‘Swiss Challenge’ approach.
This approach tends to give the upper hand to the spec-in company. Unless the full specification is disclosed, other vendors are left in a black-box competition with a high chance of losing the bid.
This is not a fair deal as the final evaluation is NOT really comparing apple with apple. Choosing Gamuda-MMC’s proposal directly as a spec-in benchmark without open tender is one of the worst examples of favouritism from the SPAD commission. It will also reflect very badly on the governance of the project.
2) Environmental issues
A proper EIA assessment needs to be done on the areas affected by the construction of the MRT. This will ensure that the development does not have an effect on the environment and eco-system and create hazards like flood and landslides. Furthermore, the affected areas and their surrounding communities must be given a fair chance to voice their concerns on the MRT project.
3) Unrealistic design
I am also against showing the fictitious station views or artist impression without proper architectural information because it is like a tool to deceive the public into believing that the project is viable.
A nicely drawn station may turn out to be of limited use after all. We want to see the actual station design, the capacity, as well as for planned passenger flow needs to be carefully examined to remove any potential inconveniences to the commuters.
Some ERL and LRT stations have became the laughing stock of the people because of their many flaws and impractical designs.
A good example is the nice-looking Tasik Selatan ERL station, which has a very narrow entry and exit path and thus cannot cater for a large crowd.
Furthermore, to enter or exit the station to either Tasik Selatan or TBS, one has to go up, down, up and down again. Imagine the hassle a traveller with heavy luggage will face having to drag the bag up and down the escalator or lift. The lift is also very slow despite only serving Level G and 1.
Another example is the Salak Tinggi ERL station. Despite a fantastic shell-like design, the waiting platform has a store room located just in the middle of the waiting and commuting area, thus forcing people to walk near the yellow line in order to pass through to the other end. This exposes the traveller to unnecessary risks.
4) Service coverage and focus
It seems the project aims to cover three different needs – the general public, tourists and businesses. However, there seems to be disproportion in these areas.
a) Tourist Spots
The emphasis on tourist spots is lacking. If tourism is really at the fore, then we would expect the following stations at the country’s top tourist spots:
- Between the Parliament, Taman Tasik Perdana, National Monument, Carcosa Seri Negara, National Planetarium, Asian Sculpture Garden and many more.
- Between Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Istana Budaya and National Library
- Batu Caves, FRIM, Templer Park etc*
- Zoo Negara*
* As these are far away from the main line, we will have to wait and hope that it will be built it in future.
b) Densely populated areas
The focus on areas with dense population is also not clear. Some stations are questionable in nature as they do not reside in areas of huge population. It is hoped that the story of underutilised stations like Abdullah Hukum station will not be repeated. Among those one can identify are Taman Koperasi and Taman Mesra. These two are definitely not commuter hotpots.
- Taman Koperasi station is the inner most housing area after Taman Lingkaran Nur and Taman Rakan. Instead of Taman Koperasi, why not a station between Taman Rakan, Mahkota Cheras or Sg Long? Those areas are more densely populated and it has two universities around the vicinity. It is strange why the densely populated areas have no stations leaving the majority of the people who need the MRT to travel a few kilometres to reach the station.
- Taman Mesra station is only useful to two adjacent housing areas - Taman Delima and Taman Mesra, and hence is economically unfeasible. It can be postponed until later when the need arises. Furthermore, Saujana Impian station is also in the vicinity. There is still a need to add an access road to Kampung Sg Sekamat and Taman Sri Sekamat to Saujana Impian to facilitate access.
- The distance between the stations at Cochrane (PPR Cochrane) to Pasar Rakyat seems a bit far. By right Pasar Raykat is not a popular hotspot and hence a station there will be of not much use. There is no station to cover major areas where there are many schools near the following: (A) SJK(C) Chin Woo, SJK(C) Kung Min, SK(L) Jln Pasar 2, SK(L) Jln Pasar 1, SK Jln Pasar and (B) SMK(P) Bandaraya, SJK(C) Jln Imbi. A station near Jalan Davis is more desirable than the one in Pasar Rakyat.
Public convenience should be the top priority, but unfortunately this does not seem to be the emphasis in certain areas.
c) Business areas
Probably the only thing that we can applaud on the proposed MRT map is on its extensive coverage of business areas in PJ, Damansara up to Sg Buloh. The only area that is far from its reach is Mont Kiara and it would probably be covered by a feeder bus.
5) Operational issues
a) Slower long distance travel
Given the long distance of the line coverage of 60km and 35 stations, it would have train stops on average every 1.7km. This will limit the train speed to an average 45km/h, plus a waiting time of 10 - 15 seconds per stop.
Calculating from this, the travelling time end-to-end (Kajang - Sg Buloh) on the MRT would be approximately 1 hour 30 minutes. A person driving on Sprint highway (47.8km) will need just 48 minutes. Similarly, a person driving on the North-South expressway (46.3km) will need just 47 minutes.
Travelling via the MRT on long distances does not help to save time at all. People will still prefer to drive as the duration is shorter! Short distance travellers and people going into or out of the city centre will probably benefit more than those travelling longer distances.
b) Connecting journeys
From the diagrams supplied by SPAD ( http://media.kvmrt.com/pdm/Alignment_Map.pdf and http://www.kvmrt.com.my/media/pdm/MapKVMRT-B_opt.jpg ), the linkages to other modes of transportation relies on two stations - Maluri and Pasar Seni.
One can’t help but to ask why is there no main interchange station at KL Sentral to monorail and Putra. Having looked at the monorail line, there seems to be no way to connect from monorail to Putra LRT without exiting the station and walking for some distance.
The connecting stations must be carefully planned so that it is convenient for users to change trains. The disjunction between Putra and Star LRT interchange at Masjid Jamek has long been ridiculed by locals and foreigners alike, and we cannot afford another joke like this.
c) Poor maintenance and support
Presently, the existing LRT stations and their surrounding areas are badly maintained. The Central Market station, in particular looks good on the front, but at the backyard leading to Menara Dayabumi, you can see mould, sand, patches of water and vandalised walls.
I don’t suppose the SPAD officers have ever visited the LRT station from Dayabumi. It is really shameful if a foreign visitor sees it. I sincerely hope that the current LRT and the future MRT infrastructure will be properly maintained.
Frequent power failures of the Putra LRT system is also another major concern as it causes service disruption that affects the people, especially the working class.
Missing/confusing signage is also another problem area to look into. Some stations does not even have a station name written on the pillars so that commuters can easily recognise the current station. The announcement prompt is sometimes too weak and can be drowned out by the loud squeaking sound of the rail tracks.
In conclusion, if we were to build world class transit system, we will have to go back to the basics first. Jumping steps and taking the easy way out will not help us to go far. Planning and debates should be held before the specs are discussed.
We do not have to travel far to learn how to plan a good and effective transit system. Have a look at our neighbours, Bangkok and Singapore. These are good examples of well planned mass transit systems. More information can be found on the web .
The writer is chairman of MCA Youth cheras public services and complaints division