ANOTHER key milestone was reached in Kuala Lumpur’s rail transit journey on June 16 with the opening of the initial 17.5km phase of MRT-2 or the Putrajaya Line, the city’s second heavy metro.
The first phase of the line runs west-east on an elevated alignment in the north of the city from Kwasa Damansara to Kampung Batu with 12 stations. Malaysia’s prime minister, Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob, took part in the inauguration ceremony held ahead of the start of regular services. He announced 30 days of free transport across the city to encourage passengers to use the expanding public transport network, which has not yet fully recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Use of public transport is essential to combat Kuala Lumpur’s chronic traffic congestion and associated problems with pollution and noise. The population of the city’s central business district has swelled to more than 2 million in 2022 while the surrounding Klang Valley area is now home to 8.4 million people, doubling from 4.2 million at the turn of the century. Such is the rate of growth that the city centre city is often unrecognisable to occasional visitors, with new skyscrapers regularly springing up and the cityscape constantly changing.
Transport authorities have attempted to tackle congestion and pollution by delivering projects included in the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley Land Public Transport Master Plan, steadily building a modern public transport network that they hope will lure people away from their cars and improve the quality of life (see panel below).
“We had upwards of 10,000 people working on the project, and we had to develop a different way of working to deliver the work successfully.”
Bassam Mansour, independent consultant engineer project director for MRT-2
The Putrajaya Line is the latest addition. The Ringgits 31bn ($US 6.96bn) scheme was finally approved by the government in October 2015 and construction commenced in September 2016, nine months before full operation began on the 42km MRT-1, the Kajang Line, in July 2017. Work has been overseen by the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRT) since then, with Gamuda and MMC the turnkey contractor responsible for delivering the various civil packages for the railway. The line is operated and maintained by RapidKL.
The 5.4km westernmost section between Kwasa Damansara and Sungai Buloh opened in 2016 as part of the Kajang Line and three stations have transferred to the Putrajaya Line to support reconfiguration and operational management. The new Kwasa Damansara - Kampung Batu section includes seven stations with park-and-ride facilities with spaces for 2800 vehicles. Interchange is available with KTM Kommuter services at Kampung Batu, Kepong Sentral and Sungai Buloh, while passengers can change to the Kajang Line at Kwasa Damansara. Maintenance and storage of trains for both lines takes place at the nearby Sungai Buloh depot.
Intensive testing and commissioning is underway on the 34.7km Phase 2 and passengers do not have too long to wait as the line scheduled to open in January. Phase 2 extends the metro from Kampung Batu to Putrajaya Sentral with 24 stations, including 11 in the 13.5km tunnel that runs beneath the east of the city centre.
The first phase was originally scheduled to open in June 2021. However, completion was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which according to independent consultant engineer (ICE) project director for MRT Line 2, Mr Bassam Mansour, was the biggest challenge to project delivery.
“For two years we had to endure restrictions on movements of our people who had to undergo regular health checks and a Covid test before they were allowed on site,” Mansour says. “We developed a testing regime internally while our contractors had their own clinics, some of them mobile, which was excellent. We had upwards of 10,000 people working on the project, and we had to develop a different way of working to deliver the work successfully.”
Technology played a role in helping to keep things moving. One application noted by Mansour is the use of drones to support inspection tasks on the railway. He says this was especially helpful for verifying and validating that work had been carried out to the right standards so contractors could be paid.
The second big challenge has been the interfaces between civils and systems. Mansour says this is a challenge on any railway project and is reflected by the relatively large team that has been working on this element, from the integration stage throughout testing where they continually monitor the performance of the assets. “Railway projects are all about interfaces and integration, after all we are building a transport system, not only structures,” Mansour says.
This attention to detail also contributed to finally settling on an opening date. Mansour says the team wanted to be “100% sure” that punctuality was acceptable and the monitoring of service availability was at the required standard.
“There is nothing worse than opening a new railway and it starts experiencing disruption,” Mansour says. “I think it is much better to have a railway that is totally completed and there is confidence in its opening, that it hasn’t been rushed. This is especially important if you want to breed confidence in the system and attract as high a ridership as possible.”
Reflecting on the project as it nears completion, Mansour says the Putrajaya Line is a good example of collaborative working between team members at MRT and the contractors. Essential to this working relationship has been a culture of constructively challenging the design throughout the project.
Mansour explains that his team of ICEs reviewed the designs submitted by the contractors. They were then allowed the freedom to challenge these designs, and if they were not technically convinced by the contractor’s response, the designs were rejected. “This means the contractor has to come back and address the issues,” Mansour says. “We also provide a lot of hints, a lot of design ideas. It is collaborative working but very serious. We demand enforcement of the specification.”
This includes the line’s fleet of 49 four-car trains supplied by the HAP consortium of Hyundai Rotem, Apex Communications and Posco Engineering, 20 of which are now in operation. The consortium won a Ringgits 1.62bn contract to build the fleet in May 2016. The first two trains were manufactured at Hyundai Rotem’s factory in Changwon, Korea, with the remainder assembled at the Apex Communications plant in Rasa, north of Kuala Lumpur, using bodyshells, bogies and other components supplied from Korea. The trains feature open gangways as well as air-conditioning, infotainment systems, and CCTV, both for onboard security and to monitor outside conditions on the driverless trains.
Mansour says his teams went through the train’s design from the wheelbase to the entire onboard equipment, describing the process as like peeling an onion with suppliers required to address concerns as each layer was removed. “It was painful, but it paid off,” he says.
It was a similar story for the CBTC system for driverless operation, supplied by a consortium of Bombardier Transportation and Malaysian firm Global Rail. Under the Ringgits 433m contract, Bombardier provided its Cityflo 650 CBTC solution as well as onboard equipment for 49 vehicles while Global Rail was responsible for the platform screen doors, including the automatic platform gates – full-height underground and half-height at the elevated stations - and installation of the signalling equipment.
“We believe that challenging the design and ensuring the designer’s intentions are clearly understood and communicated is paramount for accurate delivery,” Mansour says. “It will also minimise the risk of delays in the long term. We’ve looked into various issues where we identified certain problems and the design had to be revised: track configuration, the positioning of points and crossings, and the equipment itself, the switchgear type, the traction power supply system. There is a lot to be said for spending more time on the concept and operation and maintenance principles. A lot of time can be saved through intensive work at the beginning of the project to get the specifications and the design right.”
Of course, this culture of challenge requires a level of technical knowledge as well as a high level of capability, competency, and confidence among the project’s engineers. “Without that, there is no way you can challenge the design; that would be unprofessional,” Mansour says.
Mansour says most of the team are Malaysians, who “are very qualified and competent engineers in their own right” having worked on other projects across the country. There is also a sprinkling of British, Australian and other expatriate engineers who add key experience where skills are lacking, Mansour says, particularly in systems, although this is arguably a global issue.
“Over half of my team of engineers are women,” Mansour says. “The power, communications, Building Information Modelling (BIM) and contract engineers are all women. We encourage an inclusive environment, and it has been very enriching because of the different problems we have faced and our responses.”
Critically, decisions are supported by what is happening on the ground. When construction managers visit sites, they do so armed with a tablet with up-to-date drawings and requirements uploaded. They use the device to take notes and photographs, so they are fully informed of the possible issues when they attend their next meeting. “You’ve got to be technically right before you challenge the design,” Mansour says. “You have got to be in the know.”
Mansour says says competent leadership is essential for the success of the challenge culture. After all, nobody likes criticism, and any critique must be conducted from a position of authority and competence to win respect. Often there is an impasse about who is right. In these situations, Mansour says it is crucial for competent leadership to offer “a voice of reason,” and to make the final decision on the best way to proceed.
The emergence of a competent and capable team in Kuala Lumpur is by no means an accident. The steady flow of public transport infrastructure projects over the last 15 years or so has kept these engineers busy and employed. No sooner had work finished on the Kajang Line, engineers were transferring to new teams preparing for MRT-2. And as this scheme slowly winds down, many of the same engineers will switch to MRT-3, possessing even greater levels of experience and knowledge.
This includes working with BIM, which Mansour says has been at the centre of design work for the Putrajaya Line with 3D models used for all the project’s systems. Most of these models are linked to a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) with all equipment tagged within the system.
“Whenever there is a failure, that failure is communicated to the CMMS,” he says. “A work order is then generated for the maintenance teams and their responsiveness is very quick. That’s how you keep the railway running.”
Consistent workflows have likewise led to the growth of a domestic supply industry. An abundance of local suppliers contributed to the Putrajaya Line, providing everything from cabling to lighting and some of the sub-components in the train fleet.
Major Malaysian companies have also led and participated in some of the key contractor consortia. Gamuda even used the project to debut its new artificial intelligence (AI) software for autonomous TBM technology, which it developed alongside TBM manufacturer Herrenknecht and will export to Australia for Sydney’s Metro West project.
The AI software process was conceptualised during the MRT-1 project and is responsible for many of the repetitive tasks conducted by the TBM operator, including steering, operating and monitoring various TBM functions. Progress of these vast machines is also monitored from the surface, reducing risk to construction workers.
Like all Malaysian infrastructure schemes, a review of the project took place after the government of former prime minister, Dr Mathathir Mohamed, took office in 2018. Mathathir sought to reduce spending on large infrastructure schemes, including controversially scrapping the Kuala Lumpur - Singapore high-speed project. While the scope of the Putrajaya Line did not change, the exercise did result in some significant cost cutting according to Mansour, without impacting safety and quality.
Mansour adds that the existence of a strong and competent regulator in Malaysia, the Land Public Transport Agency (Apad), provided the level of scrutiny required to maintain public safety as these cost-saving exercises took place.
He says Apad and MRT staff have worked closely throughout the project, sharing resources and experience where necessary. He notes that Apad’s influence is one area where Malaysia differentiates itself from other aspiring countries in the region and elsewhere in the world, and the result is evident in the quality of project that it is building.
Among the changes were alterations to the scope of the stations, although functionality was maintained, and Mansour is full of praise for the simple but effective design of both the project’s underground and elevated stations.
Possible future upgrades include sustainability improvements, such as the recycling of rainwater from the city’s predictable afternoon downpour for sanitation purposes. There are also plans to install solar panels to generate electricity. These will work alongside traction energy recovery systems already installed and commissioned on the Putrajaya Line.
The impact of the Putrajaya Line is reflected by the fact that more than 2 million people are estimated to reside within the full line’s catchment area, many of whom now have a viable alternative to the car to get around. Around 104,000 daily passengers are expected to use the line when the second phase opens, going someway to easing the strain on one of southeast Asia’s most important cities.
Kuala Lumpur’s expanding public transport network
AN initial flurry of investment in public-private transport infrastructure projects in Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s spawned a 56km two-line network comprising an automated light metro and a conventionally operated light metro line as well as an 8.6km monorail, none of which were properly integrated.
A change in political focus halted construction until 2009 when work on extending the two light metros got underway. An 18.6km extension of the existing 27km Ampang Line was matched by a 17.4km extension to the 30km Kelana Jaya Line, both of which were completed in June 2016 after the phased opening of smaller sections.
A Ringgits 800m refurbishment of the Kelana Jaya Line’s fleet of 34 Bombardier 218 trains to extend them from two cars to four cars is taking place this year while the line will receive 27 new four-car trains to boost capacity. Eight sets will enter service in July 2023 with the remaining 19 due by the end of 2024 under a Ringgits 1.72bn contract awarded to Alstom and local supplier Hartasuma. The fleet will meet the expected growth in demand following the opening of the Putrajaya Line.
Construction of the city’s third light metro, LRT-3 or the Shah Alam Line, is also progressing, with work estimated to be 74% complete in the second quarter of 2022. The line will run for 37km including 2km in tunnel southwest from Bandar Utama station on MRT-2 to Johan Setia, with 20 stations.
LRT-3 is entirely automated, relying on CBTC and ATC supplied by a consortium of Siemens and Rasma Corporation. A consortium of CRRC Zhuzhou, Siemens China and Malaysian partner Tegap Dinamik is delivering 22 three-car driverless trains for the line under a contract awarded in August 2017. The first set was delivered in June 2021 and LRT-3 is expected to open in February 2024.
The decision to build heavy metros reflects the need to maximise infrastructure capacity, and the joined-up thinking on public transport planning and development that emerged in Kuala Lumpur in the late 2000s. This was underlined in the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley Land Public Transport Master Plan, which was issued in 2011 as the blueprint for public transport infrastructure development.
Construction of the first heavy metro line, the 42km MRT-1 or the Kajang Line, began in 2011. The line entered service in two phases, beginning in December 2016 with the 21km Sungai Buloh - Semantan section, followed by the 30km Semantan - Kajang section in July 2017. The line is automated at GoA4 and is operated with a fleet of 58 four-car driverless Inspiro metro trains supplied by Siemens.
The next big project on the horizon is MRT-3 or the Circle Line, which is described as the critical final piece in the city’s urban rail network.
Stretching around the perimeter of Kuala Lumpur city, the 51km line is estimated to cost Ringgits 31bn. It will consist of 40km of elevated tracks and 11km of tunnel with 31 stations on the current proposed alignment, including eight interchanges with existing stations.
MRT was tasked with carrying out technical studies for the project, and tendering for the five turnkey civil works packages worth a total of Ringgits 31bn commenced in May. They comprise two for elevated works, one for underground works, one for integrated rail systems, and a project management consultancy contract to work alongside MRT as the project developer. MRT aims to secure five Tier 1 main contractors for the project, in contrast with MRT-2 which had just one. Six to nine companies are expected to bid and all consortia are required to include local companies. The contracts are expected to be awarded by the end of this year, with construction getting underway in 2023. The government hopes for the first phase of the Circle Line to enter service in 2028, followed by the complete line in 2030.
One element to keep an eye on is the financing for the project. Rather than being entirely financed by government as past schemes have been, the government is pursuing a public-private partnership model where contractors are expected to assume some cost burden to support the funding of the projects. These upfront payments would be reimbursed as deferred payments as the project progresses.
The Ministry of Finance has reportedly secured a Ringgits 50bn bond to cover project costs, which as well as construction includes Ringgits 8bn for land acquisition. However, the extent to which this will be used on MRT-3 - and the amount that the private sector will contribute - is yet to be determined.