KL monorail trains get more enthusiasts
Bambang Nurbianto The Jakarta Post Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia reached another milestone after the big hit of its own national automotive products, Proton and Saga, with the recent launch of Kuala Lumpur Monorail trains.
The launch of KL Monorail trains makes Malaysia the second country in Asia, after Japan, to have the modern transportation system.
The trains, capable of handling around 35,000 passengers per direction, speeding on elevated rails run along 8.6 kilometers of rail plying the route on the busiest part of the capital city of Malaysia.
Since it was launched on Aug. 31, at least 1 million people have been on board. On the 10th day after it was opened, 100,000 people were transported, according to its official website www.monorail.com.my.
After a one-year delay in its operation, the KL residents seemed enthusiastic with the new transport system. It is apparent by the rising number of passengers commuting on the trains that run on rails 12 to 16 meters above the ground.
KL Monorail is the brand of monorail that was developed by M Trans Holdings in 1997. The company invested some RM 1.8 million (US$310 million) in the project.
It has 11 stations whose locations are close to strategic places like office blocks, hotels, shopping centers, recreation points and government offices.
The station starts from Titiwangsa in the north to KL Central in the south, passing through other stations like Chow Kit, Medan Tuanku, Bukit Nanas, Raja Chulan, Bukit Bintang, Imbi, Hang Tuah, Maharajalela and Tun Sambanthan.
Some monorail stations are integrated into nearby buildings.
In Bukit Bintang, for example, the station is integrated with the second floors of shopping centers on both sides of Jl. Bukit Bintang.
The train is also an effective and enjoyable means of transportation for sightseeing in KL's golden triangle.
Safety was once a big concern, particularly after an incident on Aug. 16 2002 when one of the Monorail wheels came off and injured a pedestrian, David Chelliah, a reporter with country's state-owned Bernama news agency.
Because of the incident the operation of the KL monorail was delayed for one year.
"We gave serious attention to people's concerns about safety issues," said Bakhtiar Jamillee, KL Monorail system managing director in Kuala Lumpur.
Jamillee said that although KL Monorail was operated manually by a driver, it was fitted with a fail-safe automatic train protection system.
"With this system, if the driver runs the train too fast, the train is automatically taken over by the system," Jamillee said, adding that KL Monorail was also equipped by advanced and reliable signaling systems and CCTV at all station platforms.
The stations are also equipped with dedicated communications lines with emergency services such as hospital, police and fire departments.
KL Monorail is also equipped with auxiliary power to dispatch all trains to the nearest station in the event of power failure.
Larrry G. Williams, general manager operation and maintenance of M Trans KL Monorail System, said all movements of monorail trains could be observed from eight screens at its control center at Wisma Monorail on Jl. Tebing, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.
"We can communicate from here with all drivers of the Monorail trains," Williams said.
What may be learned from the KL Monorail if Jakarta seriously wants to develop a similar system is that the new escalated public transportation system must be integrated with other existing public transport infrastructure.
Therefore, the monorail is not a competitor to the existing rail-based transportation system. Several Monorail stations in Kuala Lumpur and other big cities like Tokyo and Seattle, are integrated into other transportation modes, including rail-based transportation, buses and taxis.
"Since the beginning, the monorail is designed not to become a competitor for other transportation modes. Monorail stations are integrated with stations of light rail transits (LRT)," Jamillee said.
Beside KL Monorail, there are several other rail-based transportation modes operated in Kuala Lumpur, including Star light rail transit (Star LRT), Putra LRT, Express Rail Link (ERL) and KTM commuter.
Monorail station meets with Star LRT at Titiwangsa and Hang Tuah, with Putra LRT at Bukit Nanas and Kuala Lumpur Sentral, with ERL, which link Kuala Lumpur KL airport at KL Sentral, and with KTM commuter also at KL Sentral.
Jamillee considered monorail the solution for urban transport because of several reasons.
He said it had the smallest footprint among existing tracked transport systems. Second, the vehicle straddles the narrow guideway beam with the side tires hugging the sides of the beam.
And third, the vehicle was wider than the guideway that supported it.
Now, monorail line is also being developed in the Malaysian city of Putra Jaya and is expected to completed in 2006.
The length of Monorail corridor in Putra Jaya is 13.2 kilometers with 18 stations. Some 5.1 kilometers of the corridor was constructed underground. It is equipped with seven stations.
M Trans Holdings, which receives full support from the Malaysian government, is not only happy with its success at home. Jakarta will be the first foreign city to apply the Malaysian Technology.
Another lesson from KL Monorail is that it could curb the ticket prices as financial sources for the operator also came from renting of kiosks at stations and advertisements put on trains, stations and footprints.
The fare of a trip along a 8.6 kilometer corridor starts from RM 1.20 (US$0.32) to RM 2.50. While the city bus fare is RM 0.5 for the first two kilometers and then RM 0.05 per kilometer after that. But it is cheaper compared to a taxi.
"It is a bit more expensive compared with a bus fare, but I can save time as out travel is not affected by traffic congestion," said Imelda, a shop attendant in the Bukit Bintang area.