‘Why LRT when ART works just as well for a fraction of the cost?’

Penang Forum steering committee member Lim Mah Hui (left).

GEORGE TOWN: A critic of Penang’s transport master plan has questioned the state for not considering the development of the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART), which it says is more suitable and cost-effective than the recently approved Light Rail Transit (LRT).

Penang Forum said ART, a tram-train-bus hybrid system, has been successful in China, and is cheaper to build and maintain.

The group’s spokesman, Lim Mah Hui, also asked the Penang government if the state had refused an offer by a Chinese company to build the ART system in Bayan Lepas as well as in Seberang Perai for a cost of RM1 billion.

The LRT from Komtar to the Penang airport, known as the Bayan Lepas line, will cost RM8.5 billion. It recently got the green light from federal authorities.

Lim also asked if the proposal by the Chinese firm was shot down by the Penang government although it would cost only one-tenth of the LRT.

He said ART could be built in just months compared to the six years needed for the LRT. It would also be cheaper to operate and more flexible for future expansion.

He also said ART’s speed and passenger capacities were not much different from LRT’s.

“So why is the state government choosing LRT? What is their justification?” Lim asked.

FMT has contacted the Penang government for a response.

Lim dismissed the excuse that LRT does not take up space due to its elevated structure.

He said the beams alone would easily take up a lane.

“In any case, ART can also be elevated and can climb steeper slopes, up to 13 degrees incline which LRT cannot. We are not against elevated tracks, but only at critical junctions which the ART can do, too,” he said.

He said the state appeared to have learnt nothing on best transport practices from its study trips to China and Japan.

He called for an audit of all overseas trips so that their results are made known.

“I am not against sending study trips to learn from other countries, or else we’ll become katak di bawah tempurung (ignorant).

“But there must be results, transparency and accountability,” he added.

The Penang Transport Master Plan’s project delivery partner, SRS Consortium, had said ART is still a new system compared to a more mature LRT system.

The company said ART would not be sustainable in the long run due to the growing population.

ART can run on electricity or quick-charge batteries, and has the flexibility of moving around like a bus.

A three-car set-up can carry 300 people while a maximum five-car set-up can take 500 people, with a tight 15m turning radius.

The train usually runs on the median of a road and has the ability to straddle either side of the road, with sensors to guide it through traffic.