Elevated LRT best bet for Penang, state govt insists

Lim Guan Eng

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government insists that an elevated Light Rail Transit (LRT) is the most practical and cost-effective solution compared to trams.

In a press conference today, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said despite the suggestion from non-governmental organisation Penang Forum for trams instead of LRT, it would be more complicated to build the former.

He said most utility cables, pipings would have to be relocated if a road-level tram was to be built and that would be costly.

“With limited road and space available, the cost of the elevated LRT is cheaper than trams.

“When we opened for tender, no one proposed for trams because it is expensive. Elevated structures would be cheaper.

“They (Penang Forum) probably advised themselves. The calculations and numbers are correct. I was a former accountant by profession, number crunching is one of my strong points… I am very particular about crunching numbers,” Lim said at a press conference in Komtar today.

Penang Forum, a grouping of influential NGOs, wants the Penang government to build trams rather than LRTs. It said this was cheaper, easier to maintain and would ensure ridership in the long run.

The 22km Komtar-Airport LRT is expected to cost RM4.84 billion, while a tram on the 17.4km Weld Quay-Airport alignment will cost RM1.39 billion. The figures are quoted without taking into account land acquisition cost.

At the same press conference, SRS Consortium, the project delivery partner of the Penang Transport Master Plan — through which the LRT would be built — gave its rebuttal to the Forum via a 15-page slide presentation

SRS Consortium project manager Szeto Wai Loong said the tram plan as laid out in a previous transport master plan, the Halcrow plan, was merely conceptual.

“We have gone beyond conceptual studies. We have conducted feasibility and preliminary engineering design before coming up with the LRT plan.

“When you try to parachute in a rail line on Penang’s roads, a lot of things have to be considered. When you put in trams, you will have only one lane for cars,” he said.

Here are the salient points why trams would not work for Penang, from the presentation by SRS Consortium, as presented by Szeto:

  • Costly land acquisition — to provide pedestrian landing and to build stations; extra land might be required to replace car lanes used for trams.
  • Would interrupt car traffic — every time the tram stops, cars would need to stop. Adjacent roads would be impacted with spillover traffic from stopping trams.
  • Relocation of underground cables — utility pipes and cables would have to be relocated at high cost. After relocation, special foundation treatment for the trams are also required.

Meanwhile, Penang Transport Council chairman and state exco member Chow Kon Yeow said Penang Forum had left out a lot of important information from the Halcrow plan.

“The forum relied too much on Halcrow but chose and picked whatever they like and left out other factors that might prove them wrong.

“It is not an apple to apple comparison. Penang Forum, while claiming to be professional and objective, chose to ignore a qualifying statement in the report,” he said.

Quoting a line from the Halcrow report, Chow read: “Cost estimates are exclusive of land acquisition and have been prepared for the sole purpose of gaining high level of understanding…”

“They are also based on the use of broad-brush unit rates… these unit rates have been derived from examining similar schemes both in Malaysia and elsewhere…”

“The unit cost used to produce these cost estimates should, therefore, not be relied on…” Chow read out page 31 of the Halcrow Report 2.

Halcrow Group is a transport consultant hired by the Penang government to formulate a Transport Master Plan, which was handed over to the government in December 2012.

Chow went on to say that the Forum had also quoted the lower end of the price spectrum on tram prices from manufacturers.

“Besides relying on Halcrow, they have apparently spoke to tram manufacturers to get figures.

“They have spoken to CRRC whose tram system is between Chinese renminbi 60 million and 200 million (RM36 million and RM120 million). They had quoted the lower end of the pricing. They are using points selectively,” he added.

Chow placated the Forum, saying the Penang government was not their adversaries, but partners.

He said the inclusion of key Forum members in the Penang Transport Council (PTC) showed it was serious to garner valuable input from civil societies.

“They are our partners, we want them to buy into our plan. They are also partners of PTC. But even before the whole thing (LRT studies) is completed, they launch a signature campaign. So who is the adversary now?

“We have made classified documents available to them. Tell me, which state government in this country would make available such documents to NGOs.

“They have a preconceived notion that trams are better. We invited them to the PTC, (told them to) give us a viable alternative.They treat the Halcrow master plan as their bible or kitab, although it is not a complete study,” he said.

“I hope that they will go through the PTC. You can demolish our plan, but please come up with a feasible plan to replace it.

“As of now, Lim Guan Eng and I do not want to be associated with a (tram) system that causes accidents in the long run.” Chow added.