THIS year marks the 10th anniversary of RapidKL Sdn Bhd, a division of Prasarana Malaysia Bhd and it is an apt moment to relook its achievements and plot its way forward.
In this regard, RapidKL had undertaken to publish a limited-edition coffee table book that looks at the three core lines (excluding KTM Komuter) that form the backbone of the Klang Valley’s passenger rail transport –known respectively now as the Ampang line, Kelana Jaya line, and the monorail.
Malaysia proposed the inaugural urban rail system known as Sistem Transit Aliran Ringan (Star), the predecessor of the Ampang line, in the 1980s.
The 27km-Ampang line opened on Dec 16, 1996, and serves the Ampang and Seri Petaling areas by connecting commuters all the way to the Sentul area and now serves 25 stations.
This was followed up very soon by the Projek Usahasama Transit Ringan Automatik Sdn Bhd (Putra LRT), which opened in stages beginning Sept 1, 1998 when trains ran from the Lembah Subang depot to Pasar Seni, slightly less than a fortnight before the 16th Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur that year.
The 29km Putra line eventually became known as the Kelana Jaya line, serving 24 stations.
Elsewhere, KTMB unveiled its Komuter in 1995, with the network now covering Sentul to Port Klang, as well as connecting areas between Perak’s Tanjung Malim and Sungai Gadut in Negri Sembilan.
The underground portion of Kelana Jaya line from Pasar Seni until the Putra Terminal commenced service on June 1, 1999.
Joining the two LRT lines was the 8.6km monorail that opened on Aug 31, 2003, with 11 stations.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Projek Usahasama Transit Ringan Automatik Sdn Bhd was wound up by Kuala Lumpur High Court on April 26, 2002.
Five months later, Putra LRT came under the management of Syarikat Prasarana Negara (now Prasarana Malaysia Bhd) as part of the first phase of the restructuring of Kuala Lumpur’s public transport system that also included Prasarana taking over Star LRT and renaming it Starline.
The second phase of the restructuring process took place in November 2004, when the operational aspects of the two lines were transferred to Rapid KL, though ownership of the assets remained with Prasarana.
The most outwardly visible aspect of the restructuring was in July 2005, when the name Putraline was dropped in favour of Kelana Jaya line.
Name changes means little for commuters, who had to put up with the lack of a common cashless ticketing system for a few years. But some good news came on Nov 28, 2011, when the Masjid Jamek station of the Kelana Jaya and Ampang lines became fully integrated in the truest sense – both physically and ticketing-wise – a good 12 years after the trains started running.
In the ‘bad old days’, a commuter had to tap out, walk in the sun or rain cross busy Jalan Tun Perak, and buy a new ticket in order to switch between the two lines.
Today, the three lines collectively carry an average of 500,000 riders a day, giving an annual ridership of nearly 100 million, and the number is projected to grow about 5% each year.
At the launch of the book, former Kuala Lumpur mayor Tan Sri Elyas Omar said former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave him three tasks in 1981.
“The first was the question of a light rail and aerobus system for Klang Valley. Second, the beautification of Kuala Lumpur, and third, the cleanliness of the city.
“At the time, he (Dr Mahathir) said my predecessor could not decide which system to use – aerobus (monorail) or light rail. I said why not both?” said Elyas, who was mayor from 1981 to 1992.
“We decided to have the LRT when the roads were starting to get choked up with cars.
“We didn’t want trams like in Europe but chose an elevated system instead to avoid obstructions, and so that there would be no stoppage of trains due to passing traffic.
“It was a good decision, made at the right time. Kuala Lumpur was growing. The city had become quite big and travelling distances had become much longer. Our only concern then was whether the people would be receptive to the LRT. Like everybody else, I was worried that we could have made a mistake.
“When you introduce a new system, people are hesitant. It takes a bit of time. But now, it’s obvious that the LRT line has been fully accepted, so much so you need longer trains with more frequent schedules.
“From a population of 300,000, today the LRT serves Greater KL, which has almost seven million people, and has played a big role in Kuala Lumpur’s rapid development. Only with the ease of travel can a town or city grow. When towns grow, businesses flourish, jobs increase, and people have better incomes,” said Elyas, who said he did a lot of research into other countries’ examples before advising the country to go for elevated LRT and monorail systems.
“But I didn’t do too many on-site overseas visits. Mahathir didn’t like that – he had confidence in my own knowledge to do things. Still, I went to see different systems. I checked out the French Metro (the Paris Metro is now 115 years old, and is mostly underground). I also went to Japan and then to Belgium to study their LRT system. From there, I crossed over to the Netherlands. And that’s how it all started,” he mused.
Since the launch of the book, the Sunway Bus Rapid Transit had commenced operations, and by October 2016, the Line Extension Programme of the two LRT lines should be open for passenger service.
All these are expected to bump up ridership significantly, though no one is guessing by how much as it is highly dependent on the success of the Stage Bus Transformation Programme initiated by the Land Public Transport Commission in cooperation with Prasarana.
The objectives of urban rail cannot be fully met when people have to drive to get to the train stations.
Even with the building of the MRT as well as the Federal Highway Bus Rapid Transit, much work remains to encourage people to give up driving totally, so that public transport as a whole can succeed.