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LRT and Monorail?

SRS has replaced Halcrow’s recommended tram systems with LRT and monorails. We argue that monorails is the most inflexible, outdated, and least cost effective of the rail systems and that LRT offers little prospect for expansion and should not be considered at all for Penang.

LRT and Monorail are light rail passenger transport systems running on elevated tracks. An LRT can run on the ground, but its high floor requires raised station platform infrastructure. A monorail on the other hand cannot run on the ground. Obviously, an LRT cannot run on a monorail track and vice versa. Given the nature of its single track, monorails are linear and very difficult to branch off.  These systems cannot work together and cannot be integrated into a seamless network. LRT and monorail are not user friendly and construction, operating and maintenance costs are 3 to 4 times higher than trams. Elevated LRT and monorails are also highly visually intrusive. Imagine the monorail beams running pass windows of your shop houses, blocking sunlight and airflow.

SRS has replaced Halcrow’s recommended tram systems with LRT and monorails.  We argue that monorails is the most inflexible, outdated, and least cost effective of the rail systems and that LRT offers little prospect for expansion and should not be considered at all for Penang. The LRT from George Town to the airport (and on to be reclaimed islands), we argue can be achieved at much lower costs and with greater efficiency with a tram or BRT system.

Why No To Monorails in Penang

Monorails have been around for more than a century (1901 – Wuppertal Schwebebahn) but compared to other rail systems, they are the most inflexible and visually intrusive, least efficient and cost effective, and most riddled with financial problems. Rolling stock is not standardized so owners/operators are totally beholden to the suppliers of the monorail for replacement and spare parts. Prasarana is attempting to terminate a RM494mil contract with SCOMI for poor performance related to the KL monorail.

Many cities with monorails find themselves in financial distress:

  • Mumbai – running at steep loss of R1.5 crore (RM 1 mil) per month;
  • Las Vegas – filed for bankruptcy in 2010;
  • Moscow – costs taxpayers RM63m yearly to run, can’t cover O&M costs;
  • Seattle Monorail Authority dissolved in 2008, cost taxpayers US$125m;
  • Kuala Lumpur – declared insolvent in 2007 and taken over by Prasarana.

The problem is so acute that some cities have either torn down their monorails (Sydney in 2013, and Moscow is considering doing the same); others have abandoned their construction of monorail (Jakarta, Putrajaya and Malacca). In Sydney, the decision to build the monorail over other forms of rail (e.g. light rail) was in the eyes of many a political decision. Light rail would have been $20 million cheaper to build, service more passengers per hour and cost 40% less for a ticket, but the monorail system prevailed.

Professor Leonid Baranov of Moscow University said, “The commission had concluded by then that the monorail is not cost effective, that it does not pay itself off. This form of transport simply consumes money. The consumption of energy is much greater than conventional subway trains.”

The few that have operated successfully are found mainly in Japan where the private operators were given cheap land to develop commercial property around the stations and over 60% of operating revenue come from non-rail business.  There are a host of historical, political and cultural conditions specific to Japan that account for its success that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere.

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