PETALING JAYA: What started off with a tragedy 15 years ago seems to have signalled what is in store for Kuala Lumpur’s Monorail network.
In 2002, a 13kg metal piece fell off a train during a test run, seriously injuring journalist David Cheliah on Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, and resulting in a suit against the government.
Although the service started the following year after delays and there were no reports of a serious mishap since, a series of service interruptions have given the impression that the Monorail service has yet to come out from its bad start.
Users have been taking their complaints to social media, with no solution in sight.
The Rapid Rail system, used daily by some 60,000 people to commute within the city’s busy financial and tourism belt, including the Golden Triangle, has been plagued with breakdowns and crowded stations.
At the heart of the problem is its fleet of trains that has come under pressure as they are forced to operate above capacity, leading to frequent delays.
A transport activist said while Prasarana Malaysia, the government-owned company managing the city’s train networks, must explain the root causes, it was not solely to blame.
“To be fair to Prasarana, they’ve been doing a good job despite the limitations they face and they also do communicate with the public well,” Public Transport Users Association of Malaysia (4PAM) president Ajit Johl told FMT.
“But we have to know what is causing the delays of the Monorail trains.
“Is it purely a shortage of trains or is it maintenance issues?”
The delays are despite an ongoing plan to replace the old two-car trains with 12 four-car trains, under a half-a-billion ringgit contract between Prasarana and Scomi Engineering.
Attempts by FMT to reach Prasarana and Scomi for comment were unsuccessful.
The project, which includes improvisation of station platforms and the signalling system, was supposed to improve the Monorail rides, which cover 11 stations within a 9km circle.
Six years after the deal with Scomi, it is understood that only six of the 12 new four-car trains have been delivered.
Last month, Prasarana said it had grounded all of its four-car train sets due to safety reasons.
Rapid Rail said that Scomi had identified 26 modifications which need to be carried out on the four-car trains – 13 of which were safety-critical – before they could be deployed again.
The most recent delay in the Monorail service was last Thursday when thousands of commuters were left stranded, after it had to rely on just four sets of two-car trains.
Such delays add to the misery of regular Monorail users like Jordache Wee, who says Monorail users already have to put up with extended waiting times and extremely cramped conditions.
“Before this, the Monorail had four trains and now its down to two trains. The waiting time is supposed to be eight minutes, but really, it’s more like 15 to 20 minutes.”
Wee, a recruitment adviser, also said the Monorail would get so cramped and hot that it was difficult to breathe sometimes.
“Monorail users also don’t line up; it doesn’t matter if they’re locals or foreigners.
“Everyone just stands in the middle and waits for the door to open. It’s a nightmare.”
Wee said the situation was especially bad during peak hours, between 6pm and 8pm.
He added that at times, he would opt for Grab or Uber to get from his office near the Raja Chulan Monorail station to KL Sentral, though this would cost double the amount needed to take the Monorail.
On June 7, the company suspended the use of the new four-car trains citing safety reasons. Following that, only two-car train sets were operating every eight minutes, double its normal frequency.
To cater to commuters, a special shuttle service is provided by RapidKL buses, plying key Monorail stations during the morning and evening peak hours on weekdays.
But things seem to have been complicated by an ongoing legal battle between Prasarana and Scomi, after the former attempted to terminate the contract.
Prasarana had taken Scomi to court for failing to deliver 10 sets of new Monorail trains by Dec 31, 2015, while Scomi has served four payment claims totalling RM365 million on Prasarana.
Scomi claims it has completed 83% of the project work despite delays which it said were beyond its control.
But a court injunction is preventing Prasarana from naming a new contractor, with both parties now reportedly agreeing to refer the dispute to an adjudication board.
Ajit said the Monorail operators’ key performance indicators (KPIs) should be made public so that the public and NGOs could monitor their performance.