TRANSIT has taken note that the Ministry of Finance has created two new companies to handle the MRT project, taking it away from Prasarana in an interesting about turn.
MRT Co. is the government company responsible for the management of the entire MRT project including planning & costing, while Dana Infra will be responsible for raising funds to finance the entire MRT project.
MRT Co. will also be the asset owner for the MRT project. It is not known what will happen to the assets once the MRT project is totally completed.
The other government related stakeholders in the project are:
- Prasarana (The National Infrastructure Company/Group), which will be responsible for integrating the assets of the MRT with the LRT, Monorail & Bus system – but will not own the assets of the MRT (the infrastructure (pillars, guideways, tunnels, tracks, signalling system, power system, depots, workshops and stations) & rolling stock (trains) – at least for now;
- RapidKL, Prasarana’s subsidiary company, which is responsible for public transport operations in the Klang Valley, and;
- SPAD, the Land Public Transport Commission, which the regulator for land-based public transport in Peninsular Malaysia.
Finally, MMC-Gamuda will still be the Project Delivery Partner for the MRT project, and responsible for making sure that the entire project is delivered on time, at or below cost projections (which of course are not firmed up yet).
Confused? Don’t be … it’s all perfectly clear if you are familiar with the financing & planning schemes behind mega-capital projects.
See interesting images plus commentary from TRANSIT after the jump!
Here is a list of the articles about the new plan for the MRT project:
- Putrajaya puts MRT under new project owners (The Malaysian Insider, 18 August 2011);
- MRT Co takes over project from Prasarana (The Star, 19 August 2011);
- Dana Infra to raise funds for MRT (The Malaysian Insider, 19 August 2011);
- New MRT Co will not affect status of pre-qualified contractors (The Malaysian Insider, 19 August 2011);
- MRT Co takes over (Business Times, 19 August 2011);
NOTE: There is an error in the Business Times article, where they state that “MRT Co’s immediate tasks will be to improve the current light rail transit services and line expansion projects, as well as expand monorail capacity and existing bus services, and resolve congested routes.” – it should say “Prasarana’s immediate tasks…”
What can we say, that the government knows what they are doing? Well, actually, it seems that they do know what they are doing and they have chosen a very clever way to ensure that the MRT is a separate project from the existing LRT system – with separate financing, separate project management, even separate infrastructure.
MRT Co will have a project management and technical team comprising experts in mass rail projects and will include expertise seconded from the current Prasarana MRT team.
The [MRT Co.] team’s scope of responsibility involves project monitoring and tracking of the construction of all elevated structures, stations, depots as well as underground works including tunneling and stations.
What they have not yet done is properly explained why we need to have an “MRT” along the Sg. Buloh – Kajang corridor, rather than any other form of public transport – such as an expanded LRT network using an more modern version of the technology used by the Ampang line trains.
“MRT” carriages are wider (3.0m) than the “LRT” carriages that we are familiar with (2.7m), but this is not necessarily a restriction. If the government were planning a 6-carriage MRT using train carriages that are 3.0m wide and 22+ m long that might make sense, but the 4-carriage MRT at (approximately) 89m is only 5m longer than the 6-carriage Ampang LRT trains (approximately 84m) – as you can see from the image below:
Click here for a larger version of the image above which will allow you to compare the length of our existing LRT trains as well as the future MRT train.
So what is the difference? The big “claim to fame” of the MRT is that it will have higher capacity but the capacity of each individual train will not be that much higher than an Ampang LRT train, new or old.
TRANSIT guess-timates that the larger capacity of the MRT train will amount to perhaps 150 more people – not that huge a difference.
In any case the real difference will be in line carrying capacity, and that is more affected by service frequencies than the capacity of the individual trains (as we can see from the high line carrying capacity of the Kelana Jaya line).
If the Ampang LRT were run at higher frequencies similar to the Kelana Jaya line (150 seconds – which will be possible once the Automatic Train Operation/Control project is completed), then the capacity of the Ampang Line would be much better. Indeed, we could see a fully-automated Ampang line in the near future with frequencies (110-150 seconds between trains) similar to the upgraded Kelana Jaya LRT & proposed MRT.
SIDE NOTE: Actually, if you take a look at the LRT & monorail frequencies on the RapidKL website, you can see that we have a long way to go to even get our LRT lines at high frequencies (less than 2 minutes & 30 seconds) and maximize the capacity of the trains. Part of the problem is that our stations would face challenges in accommodating the numbers of passengers exiting trains every 2.5 minutes.
The other factors that have to be considered are the costs of construction. MRT requires wider tunnels & stations, necessitating more land acquisition & higher construction costs. MRT trains carriages are longer, meaning that the turning radius must be a minimum of 300m. Since the LRT carriages are narrower (2.7m) in width and shorter in length – at approximately 14m for the Ampang Line (28m for each married-pair x 3 pairs = 84m) and 16800mm for the Kelana Jaya line (33700mm for the married-pair or “2-carriage” MRT train) – they have a smaller turning radius. That means that the line could be built more easily using LRT technology than MRT.
In addition, using the existing LRT technology would keep maintenance costs lower by matching an existing technology, rather than a new one which would require additional training for engineers & technicians.
Unfortunately, no one in the government – neither Pemandu nor SPAD nor Prasarana – have clearly explained why we must have MRT rather than LRT. They claim that more capacity is needed but we clearly are not taking full advantage of the capacity that the LRT lines have – and ironically, we will not have enough trains (at 58 originally proposed) to take advantage of the capacity that the MRT line will have.
Without those explanations and data to support them, what can we say about the MRT project except that it is a lot of hype & general information without a lot of substantive answers to tough questions?
Now, looking at the project itself, we can understand the reasoning behind the creation of MRT Co. & Dana Infra. Basically this helps to free Prasarana from the majority of the planning & debt burden associated with the MRT project.
Remember, Prasarana is responsible for planning the extension of the LRT lines (which use two different rail technologies), funding those extensions, managing both projects, and also integrating the LRT & Monorail systems.
And while doing that they still have to improve service on the LRT lines, expand the Ampang LRT & KL Monorail with new trains & signalling, and expand on bus services – all while keeping customers happy – which is a huge challenge in Malaysia.
Not to mention, Prasarana is already holding the debt for the STAR & PUTRA LRT lines as well as the KL Monorail, and will be responsible for the bonds used to pay for the LRT extensions.
So with that existing burden, why would Shahril Mokhtar want to take on the responsibility for the MRT project?
“With the incorporation of MRT Co Prasarana will now be able to give undivided attention to its role of fulfilling an efficient and reliable public transportation service for the Klang Valley.
Among the immediate tasks for Prasarana will be to focus on improving the current LRT service and line expansion projects expanding Monorail capacity improving existing bus services on high demand and congested routes and ultimately achieving profitability in the near future ”.
Good luck with all of that. But still, we worry that Prasarana will be stretched even without having direct oversight of the MRT. Why? Because their best employees who are working on these various projects will be seconded to the MRT project team – meaning that the planning of the necessary improvements to public transport (beyond the MRT that has been deemed “absolutely necessary”) will be delegated to other employees.
Of course, with every crisis there is an opportunity. In this case, maybe this is an opportunity for some of those employees to assert themselves and call for more improvements to public transport, resolving some of the existing issues that have continued to plague the industry.
By the way, the public has often said that we should look to Singapore’s MRT as an example of how to build a public transport network. Well if you do not know by now, the head of the project management team at MRT Co. will be Marcus Levon Karakashian, who has been involved in Singapore’s North-East Line and Downtown Line projects as well as London Underground Jubilee Line extension.
Considering the hassles that former RapidKL CEO Rein Westra (an airline industry specialist) had to deal with, we wish Karakashian well and hope that he can bring the project forward properly.
We also hope that he has the presence of mind to speak clearly to the government & Pemandu, without fear or favour, and tell them where they might be wrong about the MRT project.