TRANSIT is quite surprised to learn on last Saturday’s groundbreaking of the Melaka tram project. Among the claims are:
- World’s first environmentally-friendly tram on NGV
- Cable-free system in line with UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Iconic for Malaysia
- Fare will be among the cheapest in the world
- Collaborative effort by Melaka, Pahang and Terengganu
- 25-year concession by homegrown MRails (80%) and State-Linked Company (20%)
MALACCA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday stressed that despite the nation’s quest for greater modernisation, emphasis must be placed on environmentally-friendly technology to ensure sustainability and low carbon emissions.
He said long-term environmental conservation efforts were important and should not be compromised at the cost of development.
Speaking at the ground breaking for the Malacca tram project here, he described the project as iconic, not only for the state, but for the nation as well.
“This ‘Next Generation Tram’ is the world’s first environmentally-friendly tram that runs on a natural gas vehicle (NGV) engine. What is more special is that though this project was jointly developed with partners in China, the technology is home-grown and developed by a Malaysian, Datuk Jeya Kumar, who is an automotive engineer.”
Najib also said the project was suitable to be introduced here as it was in line with the state’s slogan “Where It All Began”.
Also present were Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, Terengganu Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said, Pahang state executive councillors and Mrails International Sdn Bhd chairman Tengku Abdul Rahman Sultan Ahmad Shah.
“During my ride from Merlimau to here, Ali told me that more than 10 million tourists visited Malacca last year and this year, he expects more than 12 million.
“The tram project is very timely and I am sure it will enjoy a high ridership. The charge is also very reasonable — only RM2 per trip and RM5 for the whole day — making it among the cheapest in the world.”
He said the project was a collaborative effort between the state, Terengganu and Pahang.
“They are all involved in providing the necessary training and other support.”
At a media briefing earlier, Jeya Kumar, who is president and managing director of Mrails International, said they expected the RM272 million tram to be open to the public in May next year.
He said the “Next Generation Tram” would revolutionise the locomotive industry and scrap the traditional “pantograph” system, in line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to combat global warming. A pantograph is a device that collects electric current from overhead lines for electric trains or trams.
The development of the project was jointly carried out by Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI) and Mrails International.
Under the agreement, which was inked on March 3 last year, Mrails International had agreed to design, construct, manage, maintain and supervise the road tramway and operations for 25 years.
The company has also been charged with managing ticket collections for 25 years, with CMI taking 20 per cent of ticket collections.
Jeya Kumar said the Malacca tram corridor would begin from its depot next to the Ayer Keroh toll plaza and head to the heritage zone of Malacca — covering a distance of 40km and serving 11 of 14 major tourist spots.
The tram is a rail-borne vehicle, lighter than a train and differs from other locomotives, as the tracks are embedded in the street and is able to accommodate 120 passengers at a time. It caters to the disabled and will operate at 40kph.
“We expect at least 40,000 commuters daily and are hoping to export our train to other countries, like India and Africa next year.”
TRANSIT Says: While we admire Ali Rustam’s gusto in championing public transport for his home state of Malacca, we are still not happy with the news, especially considering the blunders with past aerorail proposal and Melaka monorail. The monorail blunder is one good enough lesson for the Chief Minister to review its approach in tackling public transport issues.
As a tourist destination, the state has a stake in ensuring the attractiveness of the historical city of Melaka to be sustained. Thus, a working and classy-looking public transport perhaps have an impact in keeping the tourists happy. But on the other hand, the rampant urban sprawl and congestion that follow the fast-paced population growth have made life difficult for the people to live and move around – and this will trickle down to the tourism industry. The priority should be on solving the congestion and urban sprawl problem, not on creating another snazzy-looking train system that suits more to a theme park setting rather than meeting the mobility demand of the public.
Tourists will be happy with a public transport mode that is easy to be understood and goes to where and when it says it will go. The demand for the average commuters are higher; they want the same public transport to help them move around according to the way they live (in other words, they don’t what their lives to revolve around strict timetables and weird, rigid and squiggly travel paths) . That’s why in other ‘easily commutable’ cities with heritage attractions, public transport is built to meet the requirements of the people first, and are complimented with transit services that are aesthetically enhanced for the convenience of tourists.
That’s why we are surprised to hear the distance traveled by the tram will be 40km. Door-to-door journey from Air Keroh to downtown Melaka rarely takes more than 20km. That is enough reason for this project to be further scrutinized and responsible parties to be grilled. But we will still look at these proclaimed facts:
World’s first environmentally-friendly tram on NGV (dubbed as CNG in most literatures)
Non-electrified light rail has been employed in Disneyland theme parks (trams use CNG), and publicized by Parry People Movers of UK, but both systems involve journey not more than 15km per trip (the Melaka’s cable-free, non-electrified tram’s covered distance is at 40km!).
PPM technology allows cable-free operations that do not need electrification. On board, in the tram boogies, the batteries are charged when the trams stop at stations. The company’s website states that “For low-emission, high fuel efficiency and quiet self-powered operation, an on board LPG-fuelled automotive engine is used.”
Below is the definition of tram (taken from MRails’ website) which we found to be laughable (wikipedia does a much better job). Note the entrances which are designed to be on the left side of the carriages.
A Tram is a rail borne vehicle lighter than a train and differs from other forms of locomotion in that their tracks are wholly embedded in the streets. This enables virtually complete integration with pedestrains and other forms of transport making simultaneous use of the streets. It is able to comfortably accommodate120 passengers at one time. It also caters to the disabled (OKU) because of its ground-level design. It comes with side sliding doors; two on the left and one emergency exit on the right.
We expect many light rail fans in this country will be upset with the tram project announcement being touted as ‘environmentally friendly’. After all, we believe that 99% of trams in this world be supported entirely or partly by electrification, either through cable or cable-free (as posted by youtube video below) design. CNG is still one of the many types of fossil fuels on the market. Perhaps that’s why Terengganu MB was there: he was happy the trams will not consume electricity generated from Paka.
Cable-free system in line with UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change
The flunked and decapitated Melaka monorail, during its launch, was touted as a world class public transport system that catapults the state to be on par with the developed OECD countries. So we should not comment more on this one.
Iconic for Malaysia
The tram model looks as if it is made from an autocratic communist state from the Stalin era. Will that stuck out like a sore thumb among a plethora of national image-pumping images of aerodynamic KLIA Ekspres, KL Monorail and PUTRA LRT that frequently appeared on the media all around the world?
Fare will be among the cheapest in the world
In downtown Portland and Melbourne, the tram services are available for everyone, and they are free of any charge.
Collaborative effort by Melaka, Pahang and Terengganu
With this note, should the state of Perak be mentioned to be one of the ‘collaborative partners’ in the MRT Project for Greater KL? Terengganu MB may be thankful that there will be no green house emission shift from Melaka to Terengganu.
25-year concession by homegrown MRails (80%) and State-Linked Company (20%)
MRails has no experience in managing transit project at this scale before. The state has never initiated any study for the project (which should be transparent enough, together with justifications as to why the particular technology has been chosen, and how the Public-Private partnership will allow greater accountability and competency), let alone an integrated public transport masterplan for Melaka. The sense of ownership in public transport is still lacking, as there has yet to be a local transit organizing authority or committee within the state or the local council levels in Melaka.
There is no authority looking over the scheme (where is SPAD during the groundbreaking ceremony? Shouldn’t SPAD be under the purview of the PM’s office?), and everyone has apparently been taken for a ride by Ali Rustam and his friends in MRails.
Will the residents along Air Keroh – Bandar Melaka corridor agree with the alignment? What level of public participation has been undertaken before the project can be given the green light? Is there any traffic impact on assessment on how the operation of the tram might affect the pattern of existing traffic? Are the trams be given exclusive lanes, and if so, will the system be effective in serving the mobility needs of the people effectively and holistically, so as to recompense the inconvenience faced by motorists?At about RM6 million per km, we suspect there will not be enough funds to build over or underpasses, and that the project will use existing roadways as much as possible.
The concept of yielding to transit vehicles is still new in Malaysia, and we are targeting May 2012 for the commencement of the system, when support systems have yet to be set up and the endorsement process for such system from the stakeholders are not being undertaken in a transparent manner. Failure of integrating the tram with other modes of transit, and with right of ways normally given to private vehicles, may result to an entire lock down of transport systems such as pictured here.