Saturday, August 28, 2010

MRT can boost Kuala Lumpur city

Does Kuala Lumpur need a Mass Rapid Transit system to resolve its congestion woes? StarMetro gets the views of two experts in mass transit systems.

The public transport system in every developed city in the world must be excellent. Without a first-class public transport system, Kuala Lumpur can never stand up and be counted as one of the best cities in the world.

Yet in this age and time, KL-ites still struggle to get out of their houses and get from point A to B.

The government’s initiative to ease the federal capital’s gridlock by building highways and flyovers does not help the situation since it only transfers traffic from one place to another.

The existing LRT, Monorail and KTM lines do help to resolve some of the traffic woes yet there is still plenty of room for improvement, especially in terms of integrating both the systems.

T.C.Chew

When the government announced a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system in the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) recently, many felt that it would overcome some of the key shortcomings of our current rail line.

The proposed MRT system by Gamuda Bhd covers 156km of lines, covering a 20km radius around the Kuala Lumpur city centre with a third of that going underground.

The first radial line, dubbed the red line, will go from Damansara to Serdang and the second one, the green line, will be from Kepong to Cheras.

Both lines will cross the centre of Kuala Lumpur city and will meet at the city centre, at Dataran Perdana near Jalan Tun Razak.

The circling MRT line will connect urban areas and provide connectivity between the radial corridors as well as the existing Ampang and Kelana Jaya LRT lines, their proposed extensions, and monorail and KTMB network.

Kuala Lumpur desperately needs a system that is able to serve and transport large numbers of people and the MRT would be able to do so as it can handle some two million passenger trips per day.

“If one were to look at all the major cities of the world — London, Hong Kong and Beijing — no system can carry more people than the MRT. And from what I have seen of the KL traffic growth, it is no different in any of these cities — so KL deserves to have a system similar to the other cities,’’ said project director of Hong Kong MTR Corporation Ltd T.C.Chew.

Chew has worked with the Singapore Land Transit Authority, the London Underground Jubilee Line Extension Project and Hong Kong MTR, and was also the head of Mass Transit in the Systems Division of Bambardier Transportation. He was in town recently and shared some of his knowledge and experience when building the rail lines in the respective cities.

Much-needed: The MRT system will form the backbone of a sustainable transport system.

Weaknesses of the KL system

Despite the current lines in place, the use of public transport in the KL metropolitan areas has dropped from 34% in 1985 to 20% in 1997 and 18% in 2009.

Unreliable bus service, inadequate rail coverage, poor connectivity, lack of integration, stations in low demand areas and congestion are just some of the reasons behind the low public transport use.

KL needs a seamless transport system that enables one to go from point A to B at a reasonable time with little hassle.

“For most major cities in the world, rail network is the major backbone to move large numbers of people. In Hong Kong, at least 90% of the population use public transport and in China, at least 30 cities are currently looking at implementing the rail network,’’ Chew said.

The Draft KL City Plan 2020 estimates a targeted rail capacity (passenger per hour per direction) of 183,700 is required for its modal share target.

The current rail capacity provision during peak hour is about 60,000 passengers while the proposed fleet expansions and headway reductions under the urban transport National Key Result Areas (NKRA) will only increase to 104,000 passengers.

Clearly, there is a shortfall in the Draft KL City Plan targets and hence an LRT system alone is not enough. A MRT system located in high-demand areas in the city centre is essential to reduce the current high proportion of car users.

Seamless public transport

Imagine coming out of the LRT and going into KL’s underground city of interconected shopping malls (both above and below ground) and jumping into the monorail which is a walking distance away.

That is how it should be. The proposed MRT lines should work with the existing lines and connect with them as much as possible to provide passengers with a seamless journey and as close as possible to one another.

This can be achieved by planning for the whole journey, including walking access or interchange facilities between systems and modes.

For example, in terms of physical integration, there would be interchange stations with close proximity of platforms with ease of access to stations as well as pedestrian walkways to adjacent commercial development.

Safety and sustainability issues

The next question that needs to be asked is if there is space in Kuala Lumpur for such a grand plan?

“Have you been to Hong Kong? asked Chew.

“Hong Kong is far more congested than KL yet they are building rails connecting to buildings and complexes,” he said, adding that in Hong Kong rail lines were being built under old buildings.

“In Hong Kong, developers and building owners are asking and begging to be linked directly to our rail lines. The public are asking their elected reps in parliament to make sure that rail lines run through their neighbourhoods as they are aware of the benefits of a good transport system.”

Much has been said about our soil condition and whether KL can sustain such massive development? According to the proposed MRT system, the lines will include underground tracks and stations at some point, hence digging and tunnelling underneath existing buildings will be inevitable. Will this be safe? In response, Chew concedes that there is always a risk factor involved but it can be managed. He said he had been working with people who build rails in cities older than KL.

MRT will form the backbone of a sustainable transport system. This is part of an integrated network with seamless connectivity between supporting modes to make it the preferred mode and design to emphasise its convenience, reliability, usage, affordability, accessibility and efficiency.

*Taken from The Star Online

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