Flashback #Star50: Why drive? Get on the MRT line

A WEEK from now, the MRT Kajang line (formerly known as the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line) will mark its fourth anniversary following its full opening for passenger service in the Klang Valley.

With construction formally launched on July 8, 2011, the completion of the country’s first MRT (mass rapid transit) line denotes a new era for urban rail in the country, following the successful LRT (light rail transit) extension programme in 2016, where the Kelana Jaya and Ampang LRT lines were joined at Putra Heights in Subang Jaya, Selangor, on June 30, 2016.

The MRT Kajang line was the ninth rail transit line, and the second fully automated (driverless) rail system in the Klang Valley, after the Kelana Jaya LRT.

The planning and construction of the MRT Kajang line was fraught with many challenges, with objections including from NIMBY (not in my backyard) dissenters who did not want the line to pass near their homes, or did not want any train station in their neighbourhood, as well as those who objected to an MRT tunnel passing underneath their feet.

With the government handling all these issues, the project development partner of the project, MMC Gamuda, focused its attention on overcoming the engineering challenges of building the 51km line with 31 stations within the budget and timeline.

The Kajang line heralded successful tunnelling of large bore tunnels through highly weathered limestone – a difficult material to tunnel through – following the completion of the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART), also by MMC Gamuda, through Kuala Lumpur’s karstic underground terrain from 2003 to 2007.

The Kajang line quickly became a hit with commuters in the Klang Valley, carrying around 200,000 riders on an average working day in 2019, before the arrival of Covid-19 ravaged ridership to less than half of that.

The line is the first of the three planned MRT lines that form the backbone of the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit project that was overseen by Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Sdn Bhd, which took over the role from Prasarana Malaysia Bhd on Sept 1, 2011.

Under the original plan formulated more than a decade ago, all three MRT lines were supposed to be built simultaneously in order to quickly achieve the critical mass needed to push people away from private vehicles and onto public transport.

The operation of three MRT lines, plus all the ensuing developments surrounding the stations, was envisaged to eventually provide a catchment yielding 500,000 passengers daily.

That plan did not pan out and instead the three lines were built one by one.

By mid-November this year, phase one of the Putrajaya Line (or MRT2) will open for service before phase two (the full opening) takes place in January 2023.

The Putrajaya line will have 37 stations, passing through areas like Sri Damansara, Kepong, Batu, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Jalan Tun Razak, KLCC, Tun Razak Exchange, Kuchai Lama, Seri Kembangan and Cyberjaya.

The completion of the Kajang line was important as it set the standard for all subsequent urban rail lines in the country in terms of carrying capacity, integration with surroundings, quality of the rolling stock and passenger comfort, among others.

More importantly, the impressive ridership within such a short time validated the selection of the alignment, which ran through a corridor – Kajang to Sungai Buloh – that was previously underserved by public transport.

Regular user Kelvin Khew said the Kajang line has transformed the way he travels.

“It has been a huge convenience to me. As a regular commuter between Kajang and Kuala Lumpur (up to Muzium Negara), I’m able to stop halfway for shopping and meet my friends (pre-pandemic).

“The wait is a short time and the fare affordable, with unlimited journeys for not more than RM30 a month,” said the executive who lives in Kajang, Selangor.

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