KUALA Lumpur's light metro operator, RapidKL, celebrated the opening of the latest addition to the city's growing rapid transit system at the end of October 2015 by offering passengers a month of free rides on the four-station extension of the Ampang light metro line.
The 5.5km extension from Sri Petaling to Bandar Kinrara is the first of a two-phase 18.6km expansion of the original 27km line which will terminate at Putra Heights in the southwest of the city. This seven-station second phase is on schedule to begin commercial operations on March 31 and will contribute to significant falls in road congestion in Puchong.
KL first developed its urban transit system, which consisted of a two-line 56km light metro network and an 8.6km monorail, in the 1990s. Despite the popularity of these services, changes in government priorities meant that promised extensions have taken longer to materialise than expected and the city is still suffering under the strain of limited public transport options and stifling traffic congestion.
However, with current prime minister Mr Najib Abdul Razak, who took office in 2009, returning to an investment philosophy, work has picked up, and the Ampang extension, albeit a year behind schedule, is the first in a series of schemes that will come online over the next few years.
"All of the investments in infrastructure and rail are not things we are doing because we feel like we have to do something new, they are all developed to achieve clear government targets that have been given to us," says Mr Azmi Abdul Aziz, president and CEO of Prasarana Malaysia Berhad (Prasarana). "For us, public transport will have a modal share of 40% by 2030, we are at 20-25% now. This is why the government has approved this infrastructure investment and we are working to complete it so we can persuade more members of the public to switch from their private vehicles to use public transport."
Prasarana, which is backed by the Malaysian government's ministry of finance, was founded in 1998 to facilitate, coordinate, undertake and expedite infrastructure projects approved by the Malaysian government. It subsequently began operations in 2002 and is the asset owner and operator of the city's two light metro networks and the KL Monorail as well as RapidKL, RapidPenang and RapidKuantan bus services.
In addition it has formed three subsidiary companies: Prasarana Integrated Management and Engineering Services (Prime) which offers management and engineering consultancy services, Prasarana Integrated Development (Pride) to undertake commercial and transit-oriented development projects, and Prasarana Rail and Infrastructure Projects (Praise) to focus on major public transport infrastructure projects assigned to the group.
As part of its works on KL infrastructure projects, Prasarana leads rolling stock procurement and is responsible for awarding leading contractor contracts. For example, a George Kent Malaysia-Lion Pacific joint venture was selected for the engineering, procurement, construction, testing, and commissioning contract for the Ampang project in July 2012. GKM is responsible for systems on the line and subsequently awarded a contract to Thales in September 2012 to upgrade the line's fixed block signalling to automated CBTC which it is also rolling out on the extensions.
Delivery is now underway of new rolling stock for the Ampang and Kelana Jaya lines and the sets are currently undergoing 4000km of line testing, which has to include 2000km of operation without reporting a fault, before they are approved to enter service. The order consists of 14 four-car driverless trains from Bombardier for the Kelana Jaya Line, the first of which were presented to Prasarana and RapidKL on January 18, and 50 four-car trains from CRRC for the Ampang Line under two contracts.
The first for 20 sets was awarded in April 2012, with a follow-up order for a further 30 trains placed in October 2014. Delivery began at the beginning of 2015 and two of the new 750V dc trains, dubbed Amy, entered service for use of the Bandar Kinrara extension, with three left in reserve. The remaining 15 trains will be introduced to serve the full extension to Putra Heights, while the rest of the trains will replace the line's existing fleet, which entered service in 1996.
In addition, Prasarana is also overseeing the implementation of a new contactless smartcard ticketing system for the network. "We are on course to encouraging 100% of our regular commuters to switch to the contactless system," Abdul Aziz says. "We have introduced significant discounts on fares for using this, which is making people make the switch."
Delays to the projects following problems with contractors have been a setback for the government's ambitions to improve mobility in KL. However, Abdul Aziz is steadfast that all projects inevitably face challenges, particularly those in dense urban settings, and that Prasarana is doing its utmost to anticipate what these difficulties might be to minimise any potential disruption.
"In certain areas, because of the seasons and the weather we get here, when it rains low lying areas will become flooded and once this happens we will face significant difficulties and delays," he says. "We have put early intervention measures in place to avoid that from happening. We have also employed more security officers and developed a safety-conscious mindset to prevent even minor accidents from happening."
While often disruptive during construction, when they do come online the benefits offered by the new services are substantial. As well as improved mobility for citizens they are also transforming the fabric of the city. Already new and complimentary developments are springing up on the extended Ampang alignment, while many of the line's stations are becoming retail hubs and destinations in their own right.
"Expansion and adding new lines is not only about creating new stations and train services, but creating opportunities for social inclusion," Abdul Aziz says. "Introducing retail outlets where people are travelling can establish our stations as a hub for communities which will also benefit us by providing additional revenue streams. This is where we have to look at planning developments together with the private sector so that the benefits can be shared."
Realising new sources of revenue is an objective for Pride, which is becoming increasingly active in varying degrees in overseas markets.
This includes in Bangkok where Prasarana agreed in November 2015 to provide technical support for the Purple Line metro project by sending six drivers and five controllers from RapidKL to Bangkok for four months. It also signed a memorandum of understanding with Jakarta metro project manager MRT in 2015 under which it will share its experience of planning and operating urban rail lines, with both parties set to explore exchanging technical and operational information and expertise.
However, its most noteworthy overseas project to date is a three-year contract signed in May 2015 to operate and maintain the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah metro line in Mecca, which is operated during the Hajj period. This followed a Ringgits 9m 30-month consultancy contract for phase 1 of the two-line Mecca Public Transport Programme awarded in November 2014, which was the company's first overseas success.
"This is linked to our transformation as a company," Abdul Aziz says. "We have divided the progress of Prasarana from its infancy stage up to 2010, and its formative stage from 2010 to 2015. We are now entering our transformative stage, where, over the next few years, we will transform our performance to become business efficient and financially sustainable. There is a big emphasis on Prime to maximise non-fare revenues from advertising and other sources, and for Pride to continue to explore international opportunities that will boost our revenues. This strategy will help us to become a financially sustainable and viable organisation."
Further work on Jakarta's inaugural north-south metro line project as well as other transit projects in Indonesia are all of interest to Prasarana, while Abdul Aziz says the company is monitoring developments in the Middle East closely.
"Doha in Qatar and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia are all possibilities," he says. "They are still at the technical development stage, and we have applied to prequalify for these projects."
Other projects in Malaysia, specifically the proposed rail projects for Penang, could also serve to expand the company's reach. A detailed execution study into the proposal to introduce five light metro and two light rail lines in the island city and two commuter services on the mainland is set to be completed by project delivery partner SRS Consortium in the next few months. The aim is to increase public transport usage in the city from 11% at present to 40% by 2030.
For now Prasarana's primary focus will remain on developments in Kuala Lumpur and the progress made here is evident for Abdul Aziz in the positive reaction of the public to the new services.
He says that during a recent open media day following the opening of the Ampang extension the smiles on the faces of the passengers using the rail services was a telling sign of their regard for KL public transport offerings, a feeling he only expects will grow as the new services come on line in the next few years.
"There is a reassurance for the public that now they can see firsthand the results of the government's investment," he says.
Kuala Lumpur railway projects
IN addition to the Ampang Line, work is nearing completion on a 17.4km extension to the city's other existing light metro, the Kelana Jaya Line, which is scheduled to open in June.
This 13-station link from Kelana Jaya station will also terminate at Putra Heights, establishing the station as a southwest KL transit hub, and taking the total length of the line to 46.4km. Work on both the Ampang and Kelana Jaya extension projects is budgeted at Ringgit 7bn ($US 1.6bn) with both projects expected to add 310,000 passengers to the network daily.
Design is also now underway of the city's third light metro, LRT-3. This 36km link will run from One Utama to Klang, serving the Shah Alam district of the city, and will have 25 stations with one underground and 24 elevated. The line is scheduled to open on August 31 2020.
Malaysian Resources and George Kent Malaysia were appointed as project development partner under a Ringgit 9bn contract awarded in September, along with a design consultant, which Abdul Aziz says is on course to complete design soon. He adds that prequalification is complete for the contract for the first phase of infrastructure works while prequalification for the systems contract is set to conclude in late February.
Outside of Prasarana's remit, but still a critical addition to the city's transit landscape, the 51km metro Line 1 project from Sungai Buloh to Kajang, the first phase of which runs from Sungai Buloh to Semantan, is on course to open by December, with the Semantan - Kajang section due to open in mid-2017. This project is overseen by Malaysia's Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRT) which selected a joint venture of Gamuda and MMC as project delivery partner in February 2012.
The line will be served by a fleet of 58 four-car driverless Siemens Inspiro metro trains ordered by MRT under a Ringgits 1.37bn contract awarded in September 2012. Services will operate at 3.5-minute intervals and the line is expected to carry around 445,000 passengers per day, bringing 1.2 million residents of the city within reach of the transit network. Bombardier is supplying signalling and train control for the line under a Ringgit 281m contract.
Plans for a second 52.2km metro from Sungai Buloh to Serdang and Putrajaya were also finally approved by the government in October 2015. The Ringgits 23bn line will include a 13.5km underground section between Jalan Ipoh and Kuchai Lama, with the remaining 38.7km elevated. It will have 37 stations, 25 of which will be elevated, 11 underground and one built into a cutting.
Gamuda and MMC were again appointed by MRT as project delivery partners for the project in October 2014, while Arup was appointed as reference design consultant for the underground section of the line in July 2015. The first phase between Sungai Buloh and Kampang Batu is due to be operational by July 2021, and the remainder of the line from Kampung Batu to Putrahaya Sentral by July 2022. MRT forecasts daily ridership of more than 500,000 passengers when both phases are operational.