ON TRACK

Malaysia 2017 | TRANSPORT & INFRASTRUCTURE | FOCUS: PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Investments in transportation infrastructure have begun to reap benefits, with commuters and the economy benefiting from continued improvements in public transportation.

In December 2016, the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line 1 between Sungai Buloh and Semantan started operations. The MYR21 billion-project took five years to complete and is part of a commitment to invest MYR100 billion in public transport in the period between 2010 and 2020, when Malaysia targets achieving high-income status as part of its Vision 2020. The infrastructural transformation of urban Greater Kuala Lumpur is guided by the Land Public Transport Master Plan and is in the executive hands of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD). The rail network has been the backbone of Malaysia's existing public transport system and will be in the future as well. SPAD is also the agency responsible for driving cross-border connectivity via projects such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) and the Rapid Transit System (RTS).

Phase II of the MRT is projected to be operational by July 2017, with 19 more stations in the city and with MRT 3 slated for completion in January 2022, the total distance of the network will be 52.2km, spanning from Sungai Buloh-Serdang to Putrajaya. According to estimates, the two lines together should bring the amount of cars in the city down to 400,000. The current capacity of MRT 1 consists of 24 trains, each with four carriages that can carry 1,200 passengers. MRT Corp, a special purpose body under the Minister of Finance, was set up as the developer and asset owner of the project, taking responsibility for the monitoring and tracking of all construction, ranging from elevated structures, stations, depots, and underground work.
Rail usage is the fastest growing among all modes of urban public transportation and daily ridership for urban rail services rose from 557,921 commuters in 2011 to 631,988 in 2015. PEMANDU is also involved in identifying the bottlenecks in the current infrastructural system, of which the enhancement of the KTM Komuter, an extension of LRT lines, and an expansion of the monorail are the most important recommendations. Other investments in Klang Valley include extension packages of the city's light rail train (LRT). LRT line 3 from Bandar Utama to Klang is projected to be completed in August 2020. Malaysia is a frontrunner in the development of light rails in urban centers, and cities in other countries are now discovering the advantages of building these lighter systems for rapid public transport. The advantages are particularly apparent when compared with the construction of underground lines that require greater investment, planning, and reshaping of urban centers, which is why Chinese interest in similar projects in particular has soared in recent years. Malaysia has this expertise in-house, with companies like Scomi Engineering, which now exports its expertise to Brazil, India, and China.

Outside of the urban center of Kuala Lumpur, the government has injected investments in improving other rail networks in conjunction with national railway group KTMB. The expansion of the Electric Train Service (ETS) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh and to Padang Besar serves as good examples here. Nationwide double-tracking and electrification has been on the agenda for a long time and the final package, from Gemas to Johor Bahru, will be finalized in 2017. The project was awarded to Chinese construction firm CRCC in 2015 and will conclude a north-to-south enhancement of the tracks on Peninsular Malaysia.

The effects of these investments in infrastructure and connectivity will first and foremost benefit commuters and reduce the massive traffic congestion on roads. Unlocking the full potential of public transport will support economic growth as it has the potential to improve production and logistical efficiency, whilst providing an environmentally friendly alternative to driving.