LRT won’t last forever, Penang Forum tells PTMP boss

MPSP councillor and Penang Forum member Cameron Kang.

GEORGE TOWN: A member of the Penang Forum has challenged the argument put forth by the project manager of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) that railway lines are “forever” compared with buses or trams.

Cameron Kang, who is also a Seberang Perai municipal councillor, said no railway infrastructure is “forever” as tracks require upgrades and maintenance like any other mode of public transport.

PTMP project manager Szeto Wai Loong had said the LRT system was likely to last forever, requiring only minimal maintenance such as software upgrades in the long run compared with trams and bus-tram hybrids.

“Szeto claimed the railway infrastructure is forever and only minimal maintenance and software upgrades are required. I am of the opinion that he is wrong,” Kang told FMT.

“Nothing is forever. Tracks are subject to regular and major maintenance such as grinding every week, and tracks must be replaced every 20 to 30 years.

“Sleepers (made of wood or concrete placed under the tracks) last around 30 years and the ballast (stones that form a bed for the tracks) need to be looked after whenever sleepers are changed.”

On Sunday, Szeto had given a talk at a PTMP forum on concerns by the people over the RM46 billion project, which includes a series of highways, an LRT line and other transit systems.

PTMP project manager Szeto Wai Loong (centre).

Critics have said the LRT line is not suitable for Penang as the population is relatively small. They said an LRT line might not be financially sustainable in the long run.

They also said other systems such as the bus rapid transit or Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit, a hybrid of buses and trams, were more appropriate.

Proponents of the LRT meanwhile say it would be “future-proof” for Penang as the population increases.

Kang said a video of how a tunnel will be drilled and blasted, shown at the forum over the weekend, was also misleading.

The drill-and-blast video was played to the audience to show how the contractors would build four tunnels through the Penang Hill range as part of the proposed 20km Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) highway.

The video was taken during the construction of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line, 9.5km of which runs underground.

Kang said in the video, it was likely that the workers were blasting the area to build a station ticket hall or an entrance for a tunnel-boring machine (TBM).

Kang said it was widely reported that the MRT line tunnels were made using the TBM machine, not through the drill-and-blast method.

The PIL 1 will use 4,000kg of explosives to drill and blast through the hills of Air Itam, Paya Terubong and Sungai Ara on the island.

The PIL 1 has been dubbed the inner ring road as it will relieve traffic from the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, the main thoroughfare on the east coast of the island, connecting the two bridges which cross over to the mainland.

When contacted, Szeto said LRTs were longer lasting as the foundation for the rail infrastructure was more durable.

“We only need to change the rails every 20 years, depending on the maintenance.

“Systems software can be upgraded when new versions come into the market, usually under the regular system maintenance contract by the operators.

“Rolling stocks (train sets) are the ones that change with new technology. But we don’t really need to change them as long as they can still carry the required capacity, like Kuala Lumpur where the rails are now 20 years old,” he said.

On the issue of the video, Szeto said while it was true that TBMs were used in the MRT project, drilling and blasting were sometimes needed when the boring machine hit a hard rock or other obstructions.

“Sometimes, you encounter hard rock at the portal for the TBM to start moving in. It’s faster to do blasting.

“Usually, a controlled drill-and-blast method is used when we hit a massive rock. This was the case at the Penchala Link tunnel in Kuala Lumpur, Menora Tunnel in Ipoh and KTMB double track tunnel in Berapit, near Kuala Kangsar. Blasting was done beside the existing old tunnel at Berapit without any sign of a collapse,” he said.