KUCHING: Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg says he is determined to press ahead with his plan to construct a light rail transit (LRT) system despite criticism by the opposition that there are cheaper alternatives to improving public transportation in the state.
Abang Johari has proposed to link Kuching, Serian and Samarahan with a railway system using zero emission electric vehicles.
“People have said that I am daydreaming.
“God willing, when I set my mind to something I will not withdraw (from it),” Abang Johari told guests at the 45th anniversary dinner of the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) here last night.
The chief minister said he expected construction of the main trunk line between Serian and Damai, a resort enclave in Santubong, to begin by 2020.
The distance between the two towns, should it pass through the state capital, would exceed 80km.
“I have done (well) in other ministries, I have turned around ailing ministries.
“I took over Housing (Ministry) with a debt of RM30 million and I’ve turned it around and it has become a profitable organisation now.
“With that experience, I am sure the vision for us to have an LRT will be (fully) implemented. Mark my words,” Abang Johari added.
The DAP had earlier criticised the proposal, saying the cost of building and operating the LRT may exceed 20 times that of buying new buses and staffing them to service more routes.
State DAP leader Chong Chieng Jen had said costs for the LRT may reach RM20 billion for the Kuching-Serian track alone, based on calculations of an LRT expansion project in Kuala Lumpur that covered 34km.
That construction, which commenced in 2010, cost RM7 billion.
Abang Johari said the LRT would service residents and tourists, who would visit the Semenggok Park in Serian to see the orang utans or play golf at the many courses in Damai.
The LRT system is expected to be funded by the newly-created Development Bank of Sarawak (DBOS) and will be managed by the SEDC.
He said LRT stations would improve the local economy by providing “business facilities to people along the route”. He also envisioned that new townships could be established along the LRT route.
“Lim Guan Eng has been wanting to do this for Penang. They’re using another model. They’re dependent on the federal government.
“We, not so much,” Abang Johari said at another function earlier in the day.
“DAP said I am full of hot air. Never mind, just wait. Next three years … We will see who is full of hot air. We will deliver what we promise.”
In an earlier statement, Chong attacked Abang Johari’s proposal, saying it would be more cost advantageous to have free bus services than the LRT, which he claimed rural residents may not be able to afford or have access to.
“I call upon Abang Johari to be more down to earth and stop blowing hot air about the LRT line from Kuching to Serian and now the electric buses for Sarawak.
“It is one thing to be visionary, but a totally different thing to blow hot air and build castles in the sky,” Chong had said.