LRT vs tram in Penang

 |Aug 12, 2016
The proposed LRT project may reduce traffic congestion in Penang island.
Penang government insists on building a LRT system in the state despite criticisms from many quarters.

It’s light rail transit (LRT) for Penang under the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

Never mind if it will cost about RM4.8 billion to build the elevated transport system.

The DAP-government would rather have a LRT than reintroduce a tram system to avoid associated costs of relocation of utilities, land acquisition and social problems related to construction.

According to the state government, at-grade or street running trams would result in rows of shop-house having to be relocated, which would in turn affect the social fabric of the community.

He nodded that cost to build an elevated LRT system would be costlier on-road tram system.

But he showed concerns about environmental and social impacts to be caused by trams.

LRT, for Penang government, would have less environment and social impacts.

Wait a minute.

Since 2008, Penang are said to be suffering from massive hill cuttings and clearings, some allegedly illegal; sea reclamation projects causing destruction of marine lives and badly affecting livelihood of fishermen families; rezoning of lands; construction of posh high-density high-rise buildings in places previously claimed to be untouched virgin rainforest areas; flooding almost everywhere including at areas previously flood was unheard of; surging property prices beyond the reach of Penang-born residents; lack of low-cost and low-medium cost houses; slow but steady flush-out of intangible heritage from the city; transformation of heritage structures from shop-houses to hotels; and finally choking traffic congestion.

Are Penangites shocked to hear that the DAP-controlled Penang government was gravely concerned about environment and social impacts?

Can they be blamed?

A pro-DAP coalition of civil society groups, Penang Forum has produced an alternate PTMP, which emphasis on tram and bus systems against LRT and monorail.

Under Penang Forum proposal, the estimated RM1.6 billion street-running tram system would not include land acquisition, and would be cheaper, faster and better.

The proposed 22km LRT system, at an expected cost of RM4.84 billion, will operate between Weld Quay in George Town and the Penang International Airport in Bayan Lepas.

The estimate does not include land acquisition cost.

Penang government has insisted that LRT would be the most practical and cost-effective solution compared to trams especially since Penang faced severe land scarcity.

Many Penangites prefer a tram system, instead of LRT.
Many Penangites prefer a tram system, instead of LRT.

PTMP project delivery partner (PDP) SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd has estimated that the cost of LRT construction per kilometer is RM220 million, compared with the RM80 million per km for the tram as proposed by Penang Forum.

LRT costs will include construction of stations and the park-and-ride system with minimal land acquisition.

SRS claimed that social impact caused by trams would have greater social and traffic impact due to its on-road infrastructure.

SRS Consortium is a joint venture among Gamuda Bhd (60% stake), Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd (20%) and Loh Phoy Yen Sdn Bhd (20%).

Next month the Penang government and SRS Consortium will meet with the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) to expedite a “conditional approval” for the proposed elevated LRT project.

Not only Penang Forum, many Penangites are against LRT as they foresee a long-term financial hardship for the state.

But the DAP-dominated state government, seemingly living up to its competency, accountability and transparency (CAT) standard of governance, is pushing ahead with LRT.

Never mind if Penang does not need the costly elevated transport system.

Never mind if an efficient, reliable and affordable tram and bus systems were better alternative.

Never mind if LRT is going to burden the people financially for years to come.

Maybe what the DAP-led government wants now is a prestigious project to imprint legacy of its rule in the northern island-state.

And, Penangites are going to be the sacrificial lambs.

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Athi Shankar has been a journalist for past 30 years. He believes that democratic rights come with responsibility.