Home Civil Society Voices Why is the Penang government obsessed with LRT, ex-state transport engineer asks

Why is the Penang government obsessed with LRT, ex-state transport engineer asks

Appoint independent consultants to review and recommend the most suitable transit system for the state

An unsightly large overhead light rail station in Kuala Lumpur

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By Lim Thean Heng

Finally, with funding from the federal government, a tender will soon be called to bid for the first Penang elevated light rail transit (LRT) project.

The project was proposed and pushed by SRS Consortium, which will also reclaim “Silicon Island” off the southern coast of Penang Island.

Remember, the Penang transport masterplan formulated by consultants Halcrow and approved by the Penang state government in 2013 did not recommend the elevated LRT as a mode of public transport. Instead, it recommended trams and buses, which are more flexible and economical.

Recently, we witnessed some discussion over the merits and demerits of the LRT against other much cheaper systems currently available, such as the hydrogen-powered autonomous rail transit (ART), which is currently being implemented in Kuching, Sarawak.

Here, I would like to raise the fundamental question: why is the Penang state government obstinately  sticking to the LRT as the preferred mode of public transport?

A bit of history is in order.

In 2016, transport engineers from Universiti Sains Malaysia were engaged  to do a technical peer review of the SRS proposals.

Unfortunately, the USM team was denied possession of the most critical multi-modal transport planning software that contained the basic parameters and assumptions such as population projections and expected ridership to help justify why a particular transit system was recommended.

Other important reviews not carried out in 2016 were the financial viability study and the long-term operational and maintenance requirements for the three different transit systems proposed by SRS  – LRT, monorail and tram.

READ MORE:  Reconsider Penang LRT: Consider better, cheaper, faster options

The Penang state government – claiming competency, accountability and transparency (its CAT mantra) – should have done what Singapore did in 1980, which was to encourage robust internal and public debates and feedback on its proposed mass rapid transit (MRT) system before implementing it.

Instead, the Penang state government has insistently promoted the LRT as pushed by SRS. Why?

For those in the corporate business world and familiar with how things work, let us review how and why some major projects got implemented in Penang.

The first Penang Bridge was designed to last over a hundred years. Yet, barely 25 years later, its steel cables and box girders were all replaced by a French company at a cost of RM150m because it was claimed the original cables were overstressed beyond design limits.

Also, the first Penang Bridge was already designed for widening from four to six lanes when required. Yet additional piles on both sides of the bridge were added to bring the contract sum to RM580m. 

The new multi-storey car park in Penang airport – Despite knowing that there were plans to locate a public transit system station adjoining the airport, this new car park was built beside the airport, preventing the future location of the transit station next to the airport.

What’s more, the car park was built without linking it to the airport. As an afterthought, a complicated undercarriage steel structure supporting the link bridge is now being constructed.

What about the costly lessons from all the Klang Valley transit systems, which eventually had to be bailed out by the government at a cost of billions of ringgit, shouldered by taxpayers? 

READ MORE:  Projek mega Pulau Pinang tidak harus diteruskan tanpa pelan tempatan yang wajar

We should all be concerned with special projects like the ones above costing millions or billions getting prioritised and implemented at the expense of government bodies neglecting to perform their due diligence competently and consultants failing to carry out their work with professional integrity.

Penang should have learned from both the Singapore and Klang Valley experience. In fact, the Penang state government should have used the lull period since 2016 to perform due diligence – to have SRS’ “Penang Transport Master Plan” (PTMP) reviewed by independent consultants with regard to both the technical and financial aspects as pointed out above.

Now that we have the RM10bn financing from the federal government, I strongly urge the Penang state government to appoint independent consultants to review and recommend the most suitable transit system for Penang.

Why would any right-thinking person object to such an independent review?

Ir Lim Thean Heng is the former chief transport engineer for the Penang state government

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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