Kuala Lumpur opened the extension to its light rail transit lines late last month and I was pretty excited about it. After years of delay, the system is finally here.
I am excited because I can now hop on a train to Subang with ease. Previously, I would either have to drive, get on a cab or take the KTM Commuter trains. The Commuters are not as convenient as the LRT. Frequency is low and it connects places which I have little reasons to go to. In contrast, the LRT extension also means I now have easy access to the Subang airport too.
Another reason for my excitement is that I really love trains. I try to ride on the train everywhere I go to observe the city and the people. Even in Jakarta when the city rail system is not as mature as those in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. I also regularly read on the read, that is to say I have time for myself in contrast to, for instance, driving.
I rode on the train yesterday and made a loop from the Masjid Jamek Station to the new Putra Heights Station via Kelana Jaya, and back through the Sri Petaling Line. That took me close to 5 hours and I started at about 5PM, running for 40km-50km. The total extension length itself is about 35km.
I could not see the outside half of the ride as it was getting dark by the time I reached Putra Heights. I think I will have to make another loop and this time, probably earlier in the day during the weekends to fully appreciate the view.
So, this is a review by a regular LRT user (yes, I am a libertarian who loves public transport. Sue me).
While the trains themselves are great, so far, I feel the construction of the stations has not been done properly. I got off at several stations and I noticed mediocre finishing. There is a feeling the stations were completed in haste despite long construction delays.
I remember two particular stations with noticeable defects. The escalator at the Lembah Subang Station was creaking, making a loud noise of grinding metals. Mind you, this is a new system and it is already showing sign of stress. With all the escalator incidents elsewhere – some of it deadly – I was not fully sure it was entirely safe.
The escalator at SS15 station was also creaking albeit less loudly. I could feel it straining as I rode down. The descent speed was less than optimum and uneven at times, which possibly has something to do with the straining.
More disappointingly are the washrooms and I am writing specifically about the SS15 station. The faucets open too close to the wall of the basin, making it awkward for me and for anybody with non-midget sized hands to wash up. My fingers would hit the wall easily. I feel the pipes should have extended farther to the center of the sink instead of stopping at the edge, barely.
Several faucets were leaking too, leaving a pool of water on the floor, which turned the whole place disgusting. The dryer also did not work. This might be just a teething problem, but the history of KLIA2 (and the East Coast Highway too?) for instance, it does not inspire confidence. The extension just opened for heaven’s sake. These problems should not exist.
I did not get out of the stations because I did not want to spend too much money. It cost me less than three ringgit to make the ride, because the stations I entered and exited were close by. Neither did I get off at every station. That would the time consuming for a layperson. If I had, I am sure I could find more defects. After all, I randomly got off two stations and the hit rate of finding noticeable defects is 100%. There is a prima facie case to suspect there is a systemic problem with the line.
Who were the contractors of these stations? Given the previous controversies involving contract awards, that question will be important in running a post-mortem on the project. An audit should be carried out and its findings be made public. These contractors should be forced and fined to remedy those defects.
Interchange done right, and wrong
But there is nice stuff to say about the overall system.
The interchange at Putra Heights is done marvelously. If there is an ideal interchange in the whole wide world, this is it. It reminds me of the MRT interchange to Changi Airport in Singapore. You would just have to get out of the train, stay on the same island platform and wait from the next train to arrive on the other side, possibly 10 meters away only. No unnecessary 5 minutes walking is through a mall like in KL Sentral is required.
But I also have to comment about the interchange at Sri Petaling. I do not like it. I had to switch trains and platforms. Sri Petaling has side platforms, which means I had to get on a crossing to get to the other side. More annoyingly, the Putra Heights-Sri Petaling segment is not integrated seamlessly with the Sri Petaling Line, unlike the whole Gombak-Kelana Jaya-Putra Heights segment. I understand why I need to switch trains Putra Heights (Mahathir’s legacy), but less so at Sri Petaling.
Refreshing station designs
I short, I like the design. It feels sleek just like the Kelana Jaya trains.
More importantly, the platforms are huge compared to the old ones. It is just less claustrophobic during rush hour. The situation at stations like KLCC and Masjid Jamek can be extremely unpleasantly and packed with people. Worse, they are underground although air-conditioned stations. But things are not that much better at above ground stations like Setiawangsa, Jelatek, Pasar Seni and even KL Sentral. There just is not much platform space to accommodate massive crowd.
The large platform space at the new stations comes with large envelope cover, which is essential to a rail system in a tropical country like Malaysia. At the old above ground stations, rainstorm would make everything wet and since the flooring are marble-like, dangerously slippery too. The new stations, with the way the platforms are designed and covered, are unlikely to have the same problem, although I would think it would get hot and humid quick. I do not remember whether there was an air-conditioning system moderating the temperature but for the old above ground platforms, a simple cheap fan would work.
But the cover also means the glorious view of KL as seen from Wangsa Maju, Setiawangsa, Jelatek, Keramat, Damai, Pasar Seni, Asia Jaya and Universiti among others is not available at the new stations. That is a downer for me.
But I suppose the envelope cover is a blessing for Puchong stations, which are surrounded with ugly landscape.
Perhaps, if the LRT lines are to be improved further in the future, it should involve the expansion of platform space at popular stations.
Politics of credit and blame
With respect to the old station design, I do not blame the old architects and engineers. The earlier LRT system was put in place at a time when KL population was smaller. Najib Razak when launching the LRT extension line blamed Mahathir Mohamad for not investing more in public transport.
This is off the mark by a mile because Najib ignored the reality of the 1990s when Subang was just expanding and Puchong was a wilderness instead of the industrial town it is now. The Klang Valley population size just did not warrant a further train investment then.
It is arguably only now that we have such population to justify further investment into the city rail system, with suburbs sprawling to the west and the south.
Najib happily takes the credits for the completion of the LRT extension project and further expansion of the KL rail network. But of course, what he did not mention is the fact that the project was supposed to be completed in 2014. Furthermore, Najib takes credits more than the completion of the project. He bashed Mahathir for not providing a comprehensive public transport system but the closer integration of the system really happened during Abdullah Badawi’s time. Indeed, the reorganization of the line management occurred post-1997 crisis under Mahathir. These integrations were the foundation Najib built on.
For a system that takes more than a generation to mature, it is hard to take credit and assign blame cleanly. Politicians should realize that.
 — The Kelana Jaya Line Extension will begin from Kelana Jaya station and pass through 13 new stations, including Ara Damansara, Subang Jaya and USJ before ending at Putra Heights Integrated Station, covering a distance of 17.4km. Total length of the Kelana Jaya Line upon completion of the LRT will be 46.4km. [MyRapid. Kelana Jaya Line. Accessed July 12 2016.
 — The Ampang Line Extension starts from Sri Petaling Station and passes through Kinrara, Puchong, and ends at Putra Heights. The extension is 17.4km long with 12 new stations. Combined with the existing line, the total length of Ampang Line after the completion of the LRT Line Extension Project will be 45.1km. [MyRapid. Ampang Line. Accessed July 12 2016.
 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took a swipe at Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today, blaming him for the underdeveloped state of the country’s public transportation network. At the launch of the Kelana Jaya and Ampang LRT Line Extension today, Najib said he made improving public transportation a priority when he became prime minister as the issue had become “increasingly serious.”
“This is because my predecessor who ruled for 22 years did not pay much attention to public transportation,” he said at the launch ceremony here.
“Therefore it created a vacuum, it caused underinvestment, it created a poorly integrated system owned by multiple people that cannot accommodate the needs of a modern city, and the traffic congestion has gotten more serious.” [Aizyl Azlee. Malay Mail Online. Najib blames ‘predecessor’ for current public transport woes. June 30 2016.
p/s — I have also read that there is a problem of access for all the new stations. Pedestrians face barriers to entry either in the form of fence, road or unrealistic walkway. One criticism I have frequently so far is that the stations are designed for cars to drop off passengers. Sigh…
The old stations do not suffer too much of this problem and I think they are quite pedestrian-friendly in terms of access, except, maybe the Abdullah Hukum station. For the longest time and still is, that particular station stops in the middle of nowhere. Hardly anybody uses it. One hopes that would change when the KL Eco City development is completed, linking the station to the Garden and Mid Valley.
p/s — MP Ong Kian Ming has a wider review of the train system in KL.