Again, Melaka gov’t railroads its way to nowhere

TRANSIT is not too surprised to hear the latest news on the award of 40km tramway project to SAAG Consolidated. The local oil and gas player, which we doubt has any experience in transit projects (let alone trams), has its share price almost doubled in a week preceding the bid award.

The Melaka monorail, which remains nonoperational till this day, seems to have attracted attentions not only from humans, but one particularly look-a-like creature as well. (TRANSIT's photo taken in December 2010)

TRANSIT Says: After RM16 million of taxpayers’ money wasted on a monorail system that went kaput during its launch and slept straight into comma (till this very day), the state government chooses to splurge 15 times more money to build a transit system without any public transport masterplan, without transit – land use integration planning, and most importantly, without any public consultation.

SAAG secures RM239.5m rail project in Melaka

KUALA LUMPUR: SAAG Consolidated (M) Bhd’s subsidiary has secured a US$78 million (RM239.54 million) contract from Mrails Tram (Melaka) Sdn Bhd to design and build 40 km of tramway in Melaka.

SAAG said on Monday, Jan 10 its overseas subsidiary OGS Asiapac Ltd had secured the design, engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) contract on Dec 23 last year.

Mrails Tram is incorporated in Malaysia and it had signed a principal agreement with the Chief Minister of Malacca (Incorporation) on March 3 last year for a 25 year concession with the Malacca government to provide 40 km of tramway in the state capital to enhance the public transport facilities.

We wonder what kind of a tram system that can be built with a mere RM6 million per km? Even the ‘bare-bone’ TransJakarta BRT system with 8,000 pax/direction/hour capacity was built at around RM4 million per km, and the world-renown metro-like Transmillenio BRT system with more than 50,000 pax/direction/hour capacity at RM20 million per km. Like we’ve said before, this tramway project announcement is a complete sham.

We know tram systems with moving block signaling and right of ways can achieve maximum capacity of 25,000 pax/direction/hour, but they costs more than RM100 million per km. Even the cheapest mode of Light Rail Transit (tram with at grade tracks and operating on shared infrastructure with cars) costs more than RM50 million per km.

Why the government refuses to secure enough public transport funds to establish an organizing authority, say the Melaka Public Tranport Authority, and award contracts to existing and external operators to operate based on a fair, transparent and accountable set of criteria and incentives.

Rather than taking ownership of what is within the state’s hands to improve public transport, the government yet chose to repeat the same mistake it has done with the monorail (and give concession to companies with no track record, and risk jeopardizing the public’s interests in the long run in return for quick and short run profits to private entities), and railroads its way to nowhere.

If the Melaka government really wants to boost up transit share in the city, it should have first focused on existing (lack of) support systems, such as safe walkway for pedestrians (such as portrayed above) and priority lanes for buses. (TRANSIT)
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21 thoughts on “Again, Melaka gov’t railroads its way to nowhere”

  1. I’m not surprised at all! The federal and state government are nothing but brainless, useless and full of cronies to make sure the rakyat (people) are penniless!!! Surprise, surprise!!!

  2. Melaka should focus on building a Singapore-style bus system with interchanges, trunk routes, express routes and feeder routes. Melaka Sentral is a model bus interchange and should be emulated.

    Much cheaper and more effective. Only Penang and KL really need LRT/monorail.

    1. Hi @Chia

      Thank you for the comment. We agree, so do our friends in transport planning and the PMBOA.

      Unfortunately, improving the bus system doesn’t make money or generate publicity for anyone.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  3. At least you get to drool over bus lanes being drawn and yes, you do get fanfare – over the interchanges.

    But I do get your point that buses are not sexy at all. They’re not politically correct.

    Melaka isn’t Penang. Penang seriously needs rail to save it. (I’ve made comments on this before too… Not sure if it was here tho’) Melaka isn’t cramped onto a turtle’s shell.

    1. @Chia

      The first step, no matter where you are, is to get a good reliable bus system going.

      The next step is to make that system “rapid” – which involves separation from mixed traffic.

      Whether that system is bus-based or rail-based depends on a lot of factors – money being a major one.

      Rather than suffering from LRT envy, Penang and Melaka (and JB and Kuching and KK) need to find solutions that work for them.

      For Penang, RapidPenang has taken steps to make the service more reliable. The next step is to really make it “rapid”.

      One of the biggest issues is dealing with the drivers who come over the Penang bridge – giving them other options (like bus rapid transit or bus expressway transit) would be a great way to get people to give up their cars (or at least, leave them in the mainland).

      In the long term, Penang would need a rail system, but the other fact that must be considered is that growth is limited because it is an island.

      Hence, a very flexible tram system that can operate inner-city and suburban and rural services (and cross the straits) would be the best solution for Penang’s needs.

  4. I realise that the Penang bus system needs more work. It still is essentially a radial system centred on KOMTAR. This is gravely flawed because it means everything goes into the congested central area.

    I therefore certainly support anything to boost the rapid Penang system. The problem is that 1, Penang’s roads cannot hope to cope with so much bus traffic, plus all the drivers, and 2, people in Penang will not take a bus unless they absolutely have no choice. Rail has an attraction to people that a bus system will never have. It’s perception.

    Again, I would propose a Singapore-style network like I usually do. The advantage is that as well as being relatively efficient, it can also adapt to a rail system.

    Obviously, building a monorail system in Penang cannot solve the problem alone. We need the buses to support it.

    What I have said all along is that you can improve rapid Penang all you want, but unless a monorail/LRT is built, the problems will simply stay and grow once more.

    I don’t dispute your opinions regarding getting a rapid system going; I just wish to emphasise that Penang will not survive on pure buses.

    “Growth is limited because it is an island” is true if and only if the island does not become any more efficient. Saying that Penang shouldn’t have a rail system is ignoring the fact that the rail system can improve the efficiency.

    The biggest problem is that politicians have made roads and cars politically correct. Everyone wants to drive. This has carried so far that in Penang and KL, buses will not be able to pull people out.

    Now, trams will not work at all in Penang. The roads are simply too narrow. Sure, if you emptied the roads, they’d work like a charm, but we must be realistic. To reduce 4-lane roads to 2-lane for exclusive transit lanes is political suicide.

    The system has to be built before it can have an effect. If we aim to have trams solve the traffic misery, it means we also need the traffic misery to end before the trams can work. Bit of a situation, no?

    Penang’s rail absolutely must be grade-separated. That is undeniable. Monorail would be better due to it being easier to fir into Penang’s cramped corridors.

    Surface will not work. Underground would be ideal but is just far too costly. The only way is up, over the roads.

    In any case, for a system based on local lines (tram, bus, etc) you will need multiple service levels (local, FastForward, express) and trams cannot provide this without triple- or quad-tracking, unlike buses which can do so simply by overtaking.

    If, on the other hand, we go for rapid transit, then the corridor is that much more efficient.

    Penang’s “long term” is the next decade. Penang needs a Ten-Year Plan to save it. First, improve bus service and have a more distributed system ala Singapore. Then, get the elevated system going. So long as there is the will, the money and the plan, it can be easily done in ten years.

    I agree with enough of your post but I dispute your opinion that Penang’s best solution is trams. I sincerely believe it is the worst solution possible.

    1. Hi @Chia

      Thanks for the comment. We did not strictly support buses or rail in this context. Our priority is to develop a reliable, frequent rapid transit system that meets the current and projected needs of Penangites, both on the island and in Prai.

      We are not ‘against’ rail but we have to consider the strengths and drawbacks of the various available technologies.

      Monorail may not require massive changes to the roads, but the cost is higher (approximately RM150 million per km if not more) and these costs have to be justified by existing and projected passenger numbers. If the numbers do not justify the construction of the monorail, then resources that could be used in other parts of Penang would be wasted.

      After all, we have to consider that Penang is not just the island – most of the growth is and will be in Seberang Prai and the public transport system for Penang must suit both the Island and Prai and provide strong connections between both areas.

      The current proposal for the BEST system, combined with expanded bus lanes, BRT, and passenger ferries would help significantly to reduce the number of vehicles crossing the Penang bridge. So would a Komuter Utara service from Sg. Petani and Bukit Martajam.

      This is where a tram system has advantages – the flexibility to travel at grade, above grade, or below grade, in mixed traffic or in separate lanes. Imagine a tram with 1m gauge and 25kV AC overhead line, that can operate in Penang town, along the Jelutong expressway, cross the Penang bridge and interline with the KTM rail tracks.

      Buses and monorail cannot do that.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  5. My main solution would be to form multiple interchanges at the city fringe, i.e. at the city end of Jl Sultan Ahmad Shah (using the currently dead Shih Chung school land) for northern buses, one next to Times Sq on Jl Datuk Keramat for western buses, and the current Jetty terminus to be rebuilt with a better layout for everything else. The city would then be served by local lines, with 2-digit route numbers.

    For the northern area, the buses should be trunk lines till Island Plaza/Straits Quay, where there should be a smaller interchange for the feeders.

    The western side interchange would be best near Rifle Range; for the south, Gelugor (near the big roundabout of Jl Jelutong, Masjid Negeri and Sultan Azlan Shah) and Bukit Jambul town centre should have one each.

    1-digit numbers for inner-city lines, 2-digit numbers for trunks and 3-digit numbers for feeders.

    Apply a similar concept to Melaka and JB. I’m currently unsure about KK and Kuching.

    1. The Penang government attempted to implement a ‘hub and spoke’ bus system on April 1, 2006. On April 15 they gave up. This is now referred to as the “April Fool’s Joke”.

      Currently, the existing bus operators follow the old system of direct, one seat trips driving around housing estates then into the Central Business District.

      Only RapidPenang offers some additional feeder and city shuttle bus services and these are limited in capacity as the bulk of the services are carried by the trunk buses.

      Rapid Penang might be capable of introducing a more reliable feeder/trunk/shuttle bus system now that they have GPS tracking for their buses, which would help eliminate some of the confusion associated with transfers/connections between buses.

      However, they cannot make the buses much more reliable until they get bus lanes and find ways to reduce traffic congestion on Penang roads.

      Hence, this kind of system will not be able to work in Penang at this time but is likely to be more successful in the future.

      Regards, moaz for TRANSIT

  6. I totally agree on your stance on the bus system.

    How often do you go to Penang? I am 100% fixed that nothing at-grade will work in Penang even if you improve the bus system. The space is just not enough.

    I like trams. I really do. They would work excellently in large, open spaces like Putrajaya. But not Penang.

    Now, monorail costs can be kept under control. I am quite sure that the higher cost can be offset by the fact that under the monorail (and around it during construction) interferes less (on the whole).

    Thus, compensation costs are lower.

    In any case, please do not suggest 25 kV AC. Power is far too high. 750 V DC is the usual for this sort of application.

    Now, the problem is this: do we really want them to? I’m not really for such a network.

    Komuter Utara sounds good, however.

    1. @Chia

      When space is constrained as in some parts of Penang (or Malacca) then choices have to be made. Choosing public transport, cycling and pedestrianization will allow more people to be moved than using cars.

      Saying that public transport at-grade is not going to work is an anecdotal conclusion. Saying that there is not enough space is also anecdotal. To take emotions, ‘perspectives’ and politics out of the discussion, we prefer to look at capacity and costs only.

      Trams have capacity advantages over buses and bus rapid transit. They can also be constructed narrower and occupy a smaller profile than buses. Multiple-articulated trams (3, 5 or 7 segments) have a tighter turning circle than buses, and have a strong traffic calming effect. They are working excellently in tight spaces and wide open spaces all around the world. The same cannot be said for buses.

      Trams also have flexibility and cost advantages that monorail and LRT can never match. There is no way that a monorail or LRT can be constructed at grade and transitions between above-grade and below-grade have to be immediate. Trams can share traffic where necessary (which monorail and LRT cannot do) and have less of a traffic impact than buses.

      It would be very costly to build a monorail or LRT that would serve both Penang Island and Seberang Prai and a new connection across the straits would be absolutely necessary. A tram could take advantage of the existing space on the Penang bridge (perhaps sharing the median lane with urban buses).

      With the proposed Komuter Utara, we have the opportunity to decide if a more frequent network of ‘light’ tram-trains might be a better choice for use in Penang and the Northern Corridor, as compared to the existing ‘heavy’ Komuter system of the Klang Valley.

      Frankly, if Komuter did not have to share the rails with freight and intercity trains, tram-trains would be a better, more flexible solution for KTM Komuter along the KL-Klang corridor.

      Think of a network of 1m gauge trams operating 750V DC on the island and sharing the KTM alignment and power system in Prai. It would allow greater movement of passengers in both areas and across the bridge without the transfers that are so unpopular and inconvenient to many passengers.

      Once the electrification and double tracking reaches Sg. Petani, commuters can also be accomodated on ETS trains to Butterworth – another option to consider.

      I’m looking forward to some more discussion on public transport options for Penang with future posts.

      Right now we have to figure out solutions for more ‘hopeless’ cases like Malacca, Ipoh and the Klang Valley.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  7. I do not dispute that public transport is more efficient than cars.

    The problem with your approach is that perceptions and politics are hostile forces that we have to work around and defeat. We cannot simply state, “This is the ideal solution.” while ignoring the reality that the ideal solution requires ideal circumstances, something no city in Malaysia can be said to be in possession of.

    I don’t dispute that trams are great. However, in the current situation, trams won’t work. Not until cars are removed, attitudes change and so on will trams be remotely feasible on the streets of Penang.

    In the event my idea of a monorail does get built (I have some very definite and complete ideas that I am willing to share; how about you?) it would most certainly be all-elevated, negating your argument.

    Furthermore, if a monorail is indeed built, it would be a system with no intention nor necessity to run at-grade, negating that too.

    Now, I think that for once you’ve missed something. Why go to the expense of building fixed transit on the Bridge(s) when you can encourage people to change to the ferries? The current ferry service is not perfect; faster ferries would make for a good connection. (Yes, that means a separate Seberang Prai system, one possibly on trams, tram-trains or trains.)

    Another problem with Penang is that the road system routing is horribly complex with one-way roads, split/merge intersections and all. This would make for a disaster of a road-based system, even for trams (no, don’t say having two-way lanes will help; the lanes will run out).

    To be frank, Moaz, the entire country is a hopeless case.

    I live in Penang so I know what it’s like.

    1. Hi Chia

      I do not believe in the word ‘hopeless’ as I am a student of history and know that many things will change over time.

      Cars will find their way out of Malaysian cities (as they have in many other cities) and they will be replaced by public transport, active transport (cycling and walking) and hired transport (yes, the trishaw will come back).

      This will happen because the financial, economic and social costs of private transportation (and making space available for private transportation) will be greater than the public and governments can afford (or afford to lose).

      And in Malaysia, Penang will be at the forefront of this change.

      This situation is inevitable and if the government and the public are not prepared for these changes the results will be quite terrible.

      A big issue in Penang is the number of private cars coming across the bridge. Having better public transport connections in Sebarang Prai and across the Penang Bridge (and the Penang Straits) will reduce the number of cars crossing from the island to Prai (and vice versa).

      Passenger ferries are part of the solution but they are not as reliable or as fast or as convenient as you would think. That is why it is necessary to make public transport across the Penang Bridge better and more reliable. B.E.S.T. is a start but at some point there will have to be a greater commitment to public transport.

      As for monorail, my point is that public transport solutions for Penang will have to encompass both Prai and the Island. Monorail can only service the Island and will not reduce the number of cars crossing the bridge. Meaning, parts of Penang Island will get the monorail but other parts will continue to suffer from traffic congestion without any public transport option.

      In contrast, a more complete rapid transport network that services the main corridors (Island-Bridge, Bridge, and Bridge-Butterworth) and other destinations (Bukit Mertajam, Sg. Petani, Kulim, Penang Airport), will have a positive impact for the whole state.

      Remember these two points: solutions for Penang must benefit the whole state, and that anything that was done in the past to allow cars to move more freely can be undone if necessary.

      An example for the last – 10 years ago no one could have imagined that Broadway, longest, most continuous street in Manhattan New York could have sections turned into patios and sitting out areas and pedestrian malls. But it happened and New Yorkers are embracing the changes with open arms.

      You have a progressive government in Penang that can make these positive changes possible. They just need to start looking at the bigger picture and stop trying to please everybody.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  8. You seem to be labouring under the impression that only one mode of transport can be selected.

    Quote to the contrary. For example, I firmly believe that monorail is best for the Island, but not for the Mainland. There, fast trams could work quite well. So long as you have intermodal connectivity, it’s quite okay to have a few modes, each specialising.

    In the outer areas, buses still are the most feasible.

    Obviously ferries are not perfect; BEST is only a start. Perhaps an express tram crossing the bridge would be good, but it would need to have an integrated terminus to disgorge everyone onto the monorail.

    This allows for the suitable tech to be applied rather than try to fit something to the whole state and suffer the price.

    I agree, however, that Penang can, and should, be the leader in changing the nation’s transport habits.

    1. Chia, as I have stated before, we are not wedded to a particular technology at TRANSIT. We are aware of all the advantages and disadvantages of the various public transport technology options, the history of implementation of these different options, as well as challenges facing the communities in Malaysia that need public transport.

      All those factors are put together to give us an understanding of what form of public transport is most effective for each community.

      In the case of Penang, the advantages of trams are greater than the disadvantages, and similarly greater than the advantages of monorails.

      Trams can do what the monorail can (elevated or underground rapid transit service) as well as what the buses can (local service in mixed traffic) with a great deal of efficiency. The opposite cannot be said for either buses or trams.

      Another advantage of tram technology in Penang is that it allows for a single set of infrastructure serving the whole state, rather than separate systems for the island and mainland which would require some sort of transfer and additional infrastructure (such as a monorail tunnel or bridge).

      This will give opportunities for cost savings and economic scale (which can result in greater cost savings and increased efficiency) as well as convenience for the public transport users.

      Malacca, on the other hand, has little need for tram technology because it does not have the density or the need for a higher-capacity cross-straits linkage (as Penang does). Hence, a local feeder bus system, bus rapid transit system on the larger corridors, and a city centre shuttle bus would be more suitable to meet Malacca’s current and projected public transport needs.

      In the case of KL, bus rapid transit running on expressways in the median lanes is a viable option for the existing expressway corridors. Mass-transit rail systems are necessary because of the larger population, and monorails have their place as people-mover and circulator trains in the urban centre.

      Trams can operate in the Klang Valley on existing higher density corridors and ‘jalan utama’ that have numerous bus routes – like Jalan TAR, Jalan Ipoh, Jalan Kepong, Jalan Genting Klang, Jalan Puchong or Jalan Klang Lama – but they would only be effective if the various routes are consolidated.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  9. I am not saying you’re wedded to any particular tech. I know you’re not; you like BRT, trams, etc. All quite different.

    What I am saying is that you are thinking that only one mode can be chosen for the whole state. This is not so.

    What works best on the Island will not work well on the Mainland and vice versa. That is why different modes must be selected and integrated with each other.

    The reason I object to this when I would normally not is that the Island and Mainland have very different patterns.

    However, I agree with your Melaka proposal, which is basically mine with BRT rather than main trunk/express/FastForward services.

    Monorails aren’t just circulators; in Japan they form trunk lines and also an airport express line. Still, I realise that they have limitations and are not ideal for Greater KL.

    I agree mostly with the Klang Valley tram system, but that would not be practical for anything beyond PJ or so, when the ride becomes too long.

    Consolidation can happen now with multiple trunks being streamlined and new small terminals built to enhance bus-bus connections.

  10. I believe Edinburgh in Scotland majority of its roads are old, narrow and not so wide, because Edinburgh is a very old city with a lot of old valuable beautiful buildings and roads built during “ancient” time. The Scottish government tent to keep it that way but they are able to build a tram system around it, especially on the busy Prince Street. I took a look at the tram in last November. I went into the tram and have a sit. It was comfortable and wonderful (although it was not operational yet). The feeling was simply wonderful!

  11. Edinburgh has the benefit of having a populace rather less averse to taking public transport, has Lothian Buses and has had a proper tram system up till the postwar pro-car era.

    Glasgow would do even better.

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