Is there a better, cheaper, faster alternative to the RM46b PTMP? — Lim Mah Hui and Ahmad Hilmy

AUGUST 7 — The SRS Penang Transport Master Plan at RM46 billion and counting is an over blown project that does not solve Penang’s transport woes, is financially ruinous, and environmentally destructive. An alternative fully integrated public transport system based on modification of the Halcrow Plan can be implemented at less than RM10 billion. The sources of funding can come from cancellation of the Zenith package (RM6 billion), sale of Sungai Nibong state owned land (RM1 billion) and federal funding (RM2 billion). There is hence no justification for the Penang South Reclamation project.

PART II: Replace LRT with ART = Cost saving of RM9billion

Penang Forum consistently demands and fully supports a good public transport system. The main question is, is the LRT system the right choice?

After a “town hall” meeting in September 2018, where Penang Forum suggested the Penang State Government explore replacing the LRT with ART, the government sent a delegation to China in early 2019 to study the ART system. To date, the public is kept in the dark as to the findings of this study mission. We propose that the government should at the least give the public an account of the objectives of such trips, what was learned and adopted, what was not and why? What was the cost? We await their report. Meanwhile, the Sarawak State Government also sent a delegation to study the ART and has announced its intention of adopting this new technology.

Nevertheless, scholars have also visited China to study the ART. Among the most prominent is Professor Peter Newman who was awarded the 2018 Western Australia Scientist of the Year and who has studied train systems for over 40 years. He had this to say. “I went to China to check out the CRRC trackless tram (they call it autonomous rail transit, or ART). I came back convinced it’s a transformative transit technology.”


The ART is cheaper, with researchers estimating construction costs at A$6 to A$ 8 million (RM18-24 million) per km for each set of 3 cars plus a station, a fraction of the LRT which cost at least A$50 million (RM150 million) per km. Penang’s LRT is estimated to cost RM220 million per km, i.e., 10 times more expensive than an ART.

The ART is better, more flexible and with the same, if not higher, carrying capacity. The standard ART system is three carriages that can carry 300 people. It can take five carriages and 500 people if needed. ART’s carrying capacity is estimated at 12,000 to 30,000 people per hour, per km on a single 50km/h lane — higher than LRT which can carry 10,000-20,000 people per hour.”

ART is much faster to install since no tracks are needed. It operates on an autonomous optical guidance system with GPS and LIDAR technologies along invisible tracks. Trackless trams avoid the worst features of LRT — disruption and cost. It would take an estimated to take 6-7 years to build the Penang LRT, causing major disruptions to Penang. According to Prof Newman, ART lines can be painted literally over a weekend. It takes a few months to build the stations, not 6 years. Pre-fab stations can be installed.

ART can travel quickly and smoothly. Professor Newman was on an ART and witnessed kids running up and down the tram aisle while it was going at 70 kph.

Australia is studying new ways of financing the ART where private investors will pay for land along the route, road preparations, construction of tram carriages, and even operate the system in that corridor. In Penang, the Bayan Lepas-FTZ area is densely populated. ART corridors will benefit the private sector. In this regard, Penang can explore joint-venture with private investors to determine the stations and route, build and operate the ART system. “This allows for more efficient use of the infrastructure, new sources of funding, a reduction in car dependency, and increase in economic growth and productivity”.

Table 2.1 below compares the strengths and weakness of an BRT, LRT and ART. Without doubt, the ART comes up on top.

Comparison of BRT, LRT and ART systems.
Comparison of BRT, LRT and ART systems.

Source: Peter Newman,

Penang has a small but strong bus building industry. Given that the ART technology is a cross between tram and bus, Penang should explore with China possibility of technology transfer.

In light of all the above, Penang State Government must justify why it is choosing LRT (latest costing RM9.6 billion) over a technology that is better, cheaper and faster. It cannot hide behind the excuse that LRT is elevated and does not take road space.

Conclusion: ART is better, cheaper and faster. Cost savings RM9 billion.

*Dr Lim Mah Hui is a former professor, international banker and Penang Island City Council for six years.

*Associate Professor Ahmad Hilmy, a transport engineer teaches at the Universiti Sains Malaysia.

* This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 here.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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