While tomorrow’s passengers sleep, LRT’s maintenance wizards battle against time

The maintenance crew loosens screws from the rail joints with an impact wrench before replacing the old rails.

BUKIT JALIL: Up to half a million people use the Kuala Lumpur Light Rail Transit system every day.

Few of them spare a thought for the men who work through the night to ensure their trains runs smoothly during the day.

Shortly after midnight, when most of the lights of Kuala Lumpur are off and the city slumbers, Rozali bin Abdul Rahman, a senior technician for RapidKL, begins work. An expert thermite welder, the 12-year veteran is a legend in his vital track-repair field, as he is skilled in every step of the process.

“I’m used to the workload and the timing of nights. I have been doing it for so long, it’s second nature now,” he told FMT recently.

Every night, once the electricity has been shut off, and earthing devices ensure there is no current flowing, Rozali and his team take to the tracks to start their repair and maintenance work.

The team of 13 starts replacing worn out rails by sawing them with a rail cutter, creating firework-like sparks, then installing new rail sections, bolting them in place with impact wrenches.

To join the electrical conductors for each of the rail joints, the workers brew up a molten metal solution in a mould that will be patched with clay.

Once this has hardened, they shear off the excess and clean up after every section, leaving no potentially dangerous debris behind.

“The hours are hard for my family but they try to understand,” Rozali said. “After all, work is work, right?”

“I feel proud of my work because when the trains operate smoothly every day, I know that I’ve contributed my part.”

Senior track executive and foreman for rail replacement works, Chairil Syarna Mazlan, worries about the limited time the workers have to do their job.

“We only have from 1am to 4.30am to get all the scheduled jobs done, so making sure that the team is focused and ready when we start is my responsibility.”

His ambition is to achieve Japan’s level of maintenance as a standard. A big challenge.

Azmale Amzah, head of Track Network Maintenance for the Ampang Line, is responsible for ensuring the maintenance goes as smoothly as possible.

“Our available engineering hours are very short, because we are working on a metro line. As we can only work when no trains are operating, every step must contain no flaws or mistakes as that could be disastrous when the line reopens in the morning.”

“Even if we have not completed and signed off the job, we must impose temporary measures to ensure every subsystem is safe for use when the power is switched on and the first passengers board. Their safety is always the top priority.”

There is no room for error in such a critical job.

When asked about the frequent delays and issues that sometimes go viral on social media, he said the public does not see the amount of work that goes into every night’s maintenance.

“We accept our faults, and if we are given an opportunity to address an area of concern, we will do our best to improve.

“But the finger-pointing nature of our modern society makes it more difficult to explain what we are doing and why, and it does take a toll on the overall morale of the teams working through the night.

“All we want is for the passengers to be safe and feel comfortable. That’s all we really hope for, every single one of us.”

Most bleary-eyed commuters rattling towards work in the morning are simply concerned with their own lives, as they try to carve a living in the giant metropolis.

However, perhaps a few will spare a thought for these unsung men who have worked through the night to keep the city on track during the day.

The maintenance crew, whose hard work at night keeps trains running during the day.  Abang Rock discusses some final matters with his crew before work begins. The cargo railcar pulls into the Bukit Jalil LRT station, carrying workers at the back.  The railcar leader waits for clearance from the control tower.  The Ampang Line crew at work on the tracks at the Bukit Jalil station. The maintenance crew loosens screws from the rail joints with an impact wrench before replacing the old rails.   Sparks fly as a worker saws at the rail with a rail-cutting machine. A hook, clamped on the rail which is used to lift it onto the cargo railcar.  Senior technician Rozali Rahman measures the gap between the rails. The rails should be 25-30cm apart. Glowing magma is seen on the track after the mould, inserted between the rails, is removed. Safety masks protect the workers from the sparks.  It's hard work, and the workers know it's important to stay hydrated.