Designing a world class MRT

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 30 May 2017

I came across an interesting reply by Datuk Najmuddin from MRT Corp (The Star, April 22) which led me to an earlier complaint entitled “So near yet so far for MRT” (The Star, April 17) by A.S.

I worked in TTDI, studied engineering in the UK and have frequently used various metro (MRT) systems in the world. The issues on MRT1 are not limited to poor feeder buses but dig deeper into the alignment and accuracy of station locations.

For one, the alignment between Pusat Bandar Damansara to Bandar Utama should avoid running beside a golf course. There should be a station in Universiti Malaya as well the residential area of Section 17.

Stations should not be all located nearby a mall or commercial area. There needs to be a balance with the residential catchment. The Phileo Station should be right at the doorstep of CP Towers or Menara Star. The Bandar Utama station does not meet the purpose of serving workers and visitors to 1 Utama mall. Mutiara Station only serves walking users from two shopping malls but not another four.

The Kota Damansara station is best located on Jalan PJU 5/19 to serve both sides of the commercial area. Kwasa Sentral is merely a bus and parking station which is far off from the nearest residence. The Kwasa Damansara station should have been deferred. The Teknologi station near Uptown should have operated instead.

Running underground could have easily solved these problems. Running an elevated MRT means no option but to follow the alignment of the road. Clearly, track and beams cannot be constructed over houses and building. However, building underground gives the freedom to overcome those obstacles of reducing distances and building stations that are strategically located. I recall when residents from surrounding areas signed a huge petition for MRT1 in 2011 to run underground but it was to no avail.

If our current law does not help this purpose, it is time to amend the National Land Act to enable unused underground parcels to be owned and used by government for high impact infrastructure and utilities project.

Some countries define the depth of underground ownership but I prefer more flexibility by using the word ‘unused parcel’. Construction of the MRT2 SSP Line posed pro­blems at Ampang Park before it went underground, similar to Bukit Bintang and Chinatown. MRT3 will hurt 10-fold without this law. Simply put, the price-tag of our MRT lines are high because we lack this provision.

With current technology, underground tunnelling can be done easily and safely even with houses and buildings on the top. The safety record of ground structures over 10,000km of underground tunnel worldwide is clear testimony to this. The UK is now building a brand new underground line (Crossrail-Elizabeth Line) under the heart of London by boring through a spider-web network of underground tunnels. There is a place where the space between existing tunnels was so tight (less than a metre), the contractors dubbed it ‘Eye of the Needle’.

Typically, a fully seated MRT train accounts for only 15% of the full passenger capacity. Now we see less than one third seated passengers during peak-hours.

Hopefully we will see standing passengers or 15% occupancy once the line is fully operational. In developed countries, most new metro line launch at between 50% to 80% capacity rate.

MRT alignment should also avoid competing directly with highways over distances. During off-peak hours, using these highways is definitely faster such as the case of A.S. trying to get to UM. However, some highways do not deserve the title as they are constantly slow or jammed, that is, the Federal Highway and Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong (LDP).

With regards to the link bridge across the LDP, MRT Corp should not bow to the TTDI’s Residents Association. The silent majority is either too busy to keep abreast on public transportation or just remain quiet. A residents’ referendum (when the line is fully operational) could be carried out to determine the true strength of the majority.

Being a follower of MRT news and development, I found that public engagement and consultation of MRT1 was kept wide open while MRT2 was more decisive. Public opinion may not always be in the best interest, for instance, shifting the TTDI station from its planned location which was better.

A friend of mine who previously owned and operated a petrol station along the MRT2 alignment was compensated when the land was acquired on the basis of ‘national interest’ (instead of ‘public interest’) and the negotiations were short. This should be continued for MRT3.

My advice for MRT Corp and SPAD is to be steadfast with deve­lopers and contractors. MRT1’s mistake was to conclude alignments based on the easiest option to build, not to maximise public usage.

The option of asking a foreign construction powerhouse to do the impossible for MRT3 should not be disregarded such as in East Coast Rail Line.

Since MRT1 is complete, we can only improvise operational matters. The measures announced by Datuk Najmuddin are commendable.


Kuala Lumpur

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