Watch out! They are still talking about monorail and Porr


Let’s face it. An underground rail system would be too expensive for Penang and, with 700,000 people on the island, it is doubtful if Penang has the passenger loads to justify such a heavy investment. They say a subway system would cost many times what a monorail would.

But even a 35-km monorail network would cost RM3.5 billion! I don’t see many cities using a monorail system as an effective people mover. (More often it is a tourist gimmick.) And even fewer heritage cities opt for monorails. KL is not exactly a shining advertisement for an efficient monorail system, is it? Remember how it had to be bailed out? Can you imagine how those ugly pillars will mar the heritage backdrop of George Town. It is for that reason that the city of Milan opted for trams rather than monorail.

And the Penang Outer (or is that “Outta”?) Ring Road (Porr) for RM1.1 billion? Come off it, we don’t need more cars, with oil prices spiralling and tolls skyrocketing and feeder roads already congested.

Monorail and Porr won’t be good for Penang – though it will surely be good for MRCB’s order book! (Don’t they just love such multi-billion ringgit projects!)

The bottom line should be the investment cost per passenger per kilometre compared to expected returns. Trams and buses would win hands down anytime. Not convinced? Ask the heritage city of Edinburgh.

Maybe the main reason a monorail system is so attractive is that the companies involved are politically well connected. Notice the name Scomi in this Edge report. Does it ring a bell? Remember Scomi was also reported as receiving the contract to supply the buses for RapidPenang.

27-03-2008: MRCB: Subway system is several times costlier than monorail
by Jose Barrock

KUALA LUMPUR: While the suggestion from Penang’s new Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to build a subway system in Penang as opposed to a monorail is technically feasible, it will cost considerably more, said Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd (MRCB) managing director Shahril Ridza Ridzuan at Invest Malaysia 2008.

MRCB was picked to build the monorail system by the Federal government.

Engineering-wise it is not so much an issue. At the end of the day, it is whether it meets the requirements of what they (the state and federal governments) are trying to achieve on a technical point, or whether from a cost point of view it is attractive.

A tunnel solution for public transport will cost substantially more, you are talking about maybe a factor of four or five times more depending on soil conditions,” said Shahril.

Lim said recently that a subway rail system could be considered over an overhead structure, as a subway system could also double up as a flood mitigation tunnel.

If the state government led by Lim insists on a subway system and not a monorail, this could trigger a bout of fresh negotiations. The estimated cost for the proposed overhead monorail system, which spans 35km, is RM3.5 billion.

A consortium headed by MRCB (other members include Scomi Group Bhd and Penang Port Sdn Bhd) had been given a letter of intent to build the Penang monorail system late last year. The letter of award, however, is pending with negotiations on the salient features still ongoing.

At this stage, we have been awarded a letter of intent and we are in the final stages of negotiations with the potential client, Syarikat Prasarana (Negara Bhd).

Syarikat Prasarana and the state will have to work together closely to determine the configurations. We stand ready to be guided by our potential client as to how they want to take this further,” Shahril added.

MRCB had recently commenced base level negotiations with Syarikat Prasarana, a company under the Minister of Finance Inc, which is in charge of the country’s public transportation system. However, it is still awaiting the conclusion of negotiations with the state authorities.

In Penang, other than the proposed monorail or subway project, MRCB’s Shahril said the group would also bid for the RM1.1 billion Penang Outer Ring Road project, which was mooted by the Government during the last budget. If secured, these projects would give a strong boost to MRCB’s existing orderbook of RM3 billion.

For the financial year ended Dec 31, 2007, MRCB posted a net profit of RM40.7 million on the back of RM903.7 million in sales.

MRCB closed three sen lower at RM1.36 yesterday. The stock has shed about 50% of its value since the beginning of the year.

In contrast, Edinburgh (pop 500,000) is one of latest cities to opt for trams. And like Penang, Edinburgh is a heritage city, its streets not any wider than Penang’s. The city is looking at trams to complement its excellent bus service. Check out this report. Notice that “every £1 invested to introduce trams provides £1.63 of benefits for Edinburgh. This return makes it an extremely good project”.

Why trams?

Edinburgh has an excellent bus system, and the highest bus patronage per capita of any UK city except London. However, even with the current excellent bus services, further public transport improvements are essential to keep pace with the increasing growth of the city. Trams add a new element to Edinburgh’s existing public transport network and trams are more appealing to car users. Trams will be reliable, fast and will carry about 260 passengers each, reducing the environmental impact of vehicle emissions and helping to alleviate congestion.

The tram has been planned to work with the city’s bus network. Both Edinburgh trams and Lothian Buses will be owned by the City of Edinburgh Council, creating ideal conditions to run the bus and tram network as a truly integrated system. Trams will also work with other bus and train companies to try to achieve integration across the city and the region.

What are the benefits of trams?
Trams are an efficient, attractive and reliable way to get around. They will be easily accessible, particularly to those with mobility difficulties, and will provide level boarding at all stops. Other features will include highly visible stops, real time information, easy to purchase tickets and security measures which include passenger attendants on every tram.The introduction of trams will have a positive impact on the image and status of the city. Benefits include attracting investment, increasing the attractiveness of Edinburgh to business, improving access for customers and staff, encouraging tourists to visit the city and an increase in civic pride and civic status.

Trams enable more people to travel to the city centre and retail areas. For example, Dublin has seen a 35% increase in footfall at an end-of-line shopping mall. In Strasbourg, the number of shoppers in the city centre on a Saturday rose from 88,000 in 1992 to 163,000 in 1997 after the opening of two tram lines.

Trams will help reduce congestion and are aimed to be successful in attracting motorists. Recent research shows that 20% of peak hour and 50% of weekend UK tram passengers previously travelled by car. In Nottingham and Dublin, two other cities which have recently introduced trams, passenger numbers have exceeded expectations. 8.5 million passengers used the Nottingham tram line in its first year, surpassing the predicted levels by around 14%. In the second year, there were 9.7 million trips, a further rise of 8%. One year after opening in June 2004, the LUAS tram system in Dublin had carried nearly 16.5 million passengers.

Also, every £1 invested to introduce trams provides £1.63 of benefits for Edinburgh. This return makes it an extremely good project.
How were the tram routes selected?
The routes were assessed on a number of criteria, in line with guidance from the Scottish Executive. These included environmental impact; economic and employment benefits; integration with other transport modes; improved safety and security; and ease of access to the residential and business community.

The line from Leith to Edinburgh Airport provides direct links from the city centre to the city’s economic growth areas, both commercial and residential, in the west of Edinburgh and Leith. It will also see the creation of major transport hubs at Haymarket, the foot of the Walk, St Andrew Square and Edinburgh Airport.

And how about this BBC report:

‘Trams bring many unique benefits’

Work on the project to bring trams to Edinburgh is well under way. Phil Wheeler, Edinburgh City Council’s transport convener, looks at the benefits he believes they will bring.

Over the past few years Edinburgh’s economy has been booming and all indications are that this period of prosperity is likely to continue.

With forecasters predicting as many as 30,000 new jobs in the next 10 years we have to plan for how a small city manages this type of growth.

We cannot build roads to meet the needs of our future, and present citizens, nor can we create more car parks to accommodate the growing number of vehicles coming into the city.

Edinburgh just does not have the space for this. So we must look for practical solutions and creating an integrated, high capacity public transport system is just such a solution.

Trams are integral to this. While Edinburgh has excellent bus services, buses are not the answer on their own.

They share the road network with other users, and can suffer from the consequences of road congestion, which means less reliability and higher operating costs.

‘Growing demand’

With a dedicated track and many sections off-road, trams are less susceptible to these problems and can carry three times more people than buses.

Without trams, there is no practical way to meet the growing demand for public transport along the booming waterfront to Airport route.

Buses will continue to be a hugely important part of our transport network though and will be integrated with trams.

Evidence from other cities where the introduction of trams has been hugely successful shows that commuters, residents, businesses and visitors enjoy quicker journeys to work and shops, more investment in the city, more accessible public transport and cleaner air.

Trams bring many more unique benefits to a city. People love using trams, so they bring new shoppers and residents into areas.

Critically, businesses know just how popular and beneficial trams are and are so very keen to be sited near them.

Extensive planning

This leads to more investment to a city. This can take the form of new jobs, new shops, new housing and new leisure opportunities.

Of course we’re aware that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs and there will be disruption across the route while construction of the tram scheme is under way.

We do apologise for this, but the work that’s gone on so far has been undertaken with extensive planning and consultation with local communities and our contractors have striven where possible to ensure any disruption to homes and businesses is kept to a minimum and this will continue whenever a new work site gets under way.

It’s taken us a long time to get to this point and the proposals have not been without their detractors.

However, I believe the case for trams has been well made and I look forward to seeing them up-and-running on our streets in 2011.

So how is Penang any different from Edinburgh – though our bus service still has a long, long way to go. The point is why opt for expensive multi-billion ringgit solutions with either questionable returns or environmental problems? Notice that the RM4.3 billion (and rising?) second Penang bridge has already been delayed by nine months before actual construction work can even start. If we go down this path, expect huge cost-overruns, further delays and more disputes between consortium partners. What will happen to the fishing communities? Or are they irrelevant in this age of rising food prices?

Public transport can be improved in several ways:

  • Come up with a state-wide public transport master plan to make sure the system is integrated. Don’t make the same mistakes that KL did with its piece-meal LRT and monorail systems.
  • Get the interchanges right between ferry terminals and trams/buses, between trams and buses, between cross channel over-sea rail link and buses/trams, between KTM rail on the mainland and buses/trams. This is crucial for an integrated system.
  • Think of a cross-channel rail link instead of the second road bridge. The additional lane on the Penang Bridge could be used for rail transport or build a parallel rail link.
  • Expand the ferry service and build more terminals at other locations on both the mainland and the island. Remember, the ferry service has been intentionally neglected ever since the Penang Bridge was built, contributing to the congestion on the bridge. The old ferry terminal (which operated alongside the new one) that collapsed in Butterworth was never rebuilt. In fact, today there are only about half the number of ferries compared to the number plying the channel in the 1970s.
  • Allow for trams and buses to complement each other. For an excellent bus network, check out the Curitiba rapid bus transit system.
  • Appoint independent public transport consultants with no vested interests in large companies selling their monorail/LRT/subway/bridge wares. The prime objective should be what’s good for the people of Penang including local communities, and the state rather than for the order books of giant infrastructure firms.
  • Discourage private vehicle ownership and stop building infrastructure for cars and other private vehicles. This will be easier to do once we have an excellent public transport system so that people have a viable and attractive alternative.
  • Remember pedestrians and cyclists. Make the streets safer for them. Turn some of the streets in Penang to pedestrian walkways with sidewalk cafes.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from Curitiba’s rapid bus transit system and its innovative urban development programme. Small can be beautiful and visionary too!

Curitiba and its visionary mayor

Residents of Curitiba, Brazil, think they live in the best city in the world, and a lot of outsiders agree. Curibita has 17 new parks, 90 miles of bike paths, trees everywhere, and traffic and garbage systems that officials from other cities come to study. Curibita’s mayor for twelve years, Jaime Lerner, has a 92 per cent approval rating.

There is nothing special about Curitiba’s history, location or population. Like all Latin American cities, the city has grown enormously – from 150,000 people in the 1950s to 1.6 million now. It has its share of squatter settlements, where fewer than half the people are literate. Curibita’s secret, insofar that it has one, seems to be simple willingness from the people at the top to get their kicks from solving problems.

Those people at the top started in the 1960s with a group of young architects who were not impressed by the urban fashion of borrowing money for big highways, massive buildings, shopping malls and other showy projects. They were thinking about the environment and about human needs. They approached Curibita’s mayor, pointed to the rapid growth of the city and made a case for better planning.

The mayor sponsored a contest for a Curibita master plan. He circulated the best entries, debated them with the citizens, and then turned the people’s comments over to the upstart architects, asking them to develop and implement a final plan.

Jaime Lerner was one of these architects. In 1971 he was appointed mayor by the then military government of Brazil.

Given Brazil’s economic situation, Lerner had to think small, cheap and participatory – which was how he was thinking anyway. He provided 1.5 million tree seedlings to neighbourhoods for them to plant and care for. (‘There is little in the architecture of a city that is more beautifully designed than a tree,’ says Lerner.)

He solved the city’s flood problems by diverting water from lowlands into lakes in the new parks. He hired teenagers to keep the parks clean.

He met resistance from shopkeepers when he proposed turning the downtown shopping district into a pedestrian zone, so he suggested a thirty-day trial. The zone was so popular that shopkeepers on the other streets asked to be included. Now one pedestrian street, the Rua das Flores, is lined with gardens tended by street children.

Orphaned or abandoned street children are a problem all over Brazil. Lerner got each industry, shop and institution to ‘adopt’ a few children, providing them with a daily meal and a small wage in exchange for simple maintenance gardening or office chores.

Another Lerner innovation was to organise the street vendors into a mobile, open-air fair that circulates through the city’s neighbourhoods.

Concentric circles of local bus lines connect to five lines that radiate from the centre of the city in a spider web pattern. On the radial lines, triple-compartment buses in their own traffic lanes carry three hundred passengers each. They go as fast as subway cars, but at one-eightieth the construction cost.

The buses stop at Plexiglas tube stations designed by Lerner. Passengers pay their fares, enter through one end of the tube, and exit from the other end. This system eliminates paying on board, and allows faster loading and unloading, less idling and air pollution, and a sheltered place for waiting – though the system is so efficient that there isn’t much waiting. There isn’t much littering either. There isn’t time.

Curitiba’s citizens separate their trash into just two categories, organic and inorganic, for pick-up by two kinds of trucks. Poor families in squatter settlements that are unreachable by trucks bring their trash bags to neighbourhood centres, where they can exchange them for bus tickets or for eggs, milk, oranges and potatoes, all bought from outlying farms.

The trash goes to a plant (itself built of recycled materials) that employs people to separate bottles from cans from plastic. The workers are handicapped people, recent immigrants, alcoholics.

Recovered materials are sold to local industries. Styrofoam is shredded to stuff quilt for the poor. The recycling programme costs no more than the old landfill, but the city is cleaner, there are more jobs, farmers are supported and the poor get food and transportation. Curitiba recycles two-thirds of it garbage – one of the highest rates of any city, north or south.

Curitiba builders get a tax break if their projects include green areas.

Jaime Lerner says, ‘There is no endeavour more noble than the attempt to achieve a collective dream. When a city accepts as a mandate its quality of life; when it respects the people who live in it; when it respects the environment; when it prepares for future generations, the people share the responsibility for that mandate, and this shared cause is the only way to achieve that collective dream.’ (

Please help to support this blog if you can.

Read the commenting guidlelines for this blog.
Notify of

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
27 Sep 2010 2.36pm

What none of you seem to grasp is that monorail is perfectly feasible. There is enough space, and proper planning can avoid irking Heritage lovers. Trams simply will not work in Penang. There is no space already, yet you want to add trams. Forget it. First, we need to rescue our bus system. Double deckers are needed, esp on the RapidPG 200 and 300 series lines. We need higher frequencies (at least every 15 min, preferably every 10) and better bus interchanges. Secondly, we need better ticketing. Intoduce Travelcards and make Touch ‘n’ Go standard, like ez-link in Singapore. THEN,… Read more »

20 May 2008 10.29pm

Oh, and don’t just think that Penang Island has only 700,000 people for now. If the infrastructure is laid down now, the population will increase exponentially. With good public transportation, businesses will improve. Anyway, with oil prices going up and up, Penang people will have to depend on public transport soon. What better time than to prepare for it now. Don’t think like the previous Penang Government who had no vision. They beautified Campbell Street with walkways and lighting for our shopping pleasure. That cost Penang people a lot of money. But the Rent Control Act expired a year after… Read more »

20 May 2008 10.10pm

Tram is more a tourist attraction and for some getting around this ghost town of Georgetown. But for moving masses of people, you need something heavy duty that will last a long time. Monorail can only be built above the streets. Ugly! Trams can only move people at road level, that is, if the cars, buses, and bikes obey traffic laws. But then, this is Penang, a lawless town. Penang road users remind me of Vietnam traffic. And they drive like people of this Third World country. The only place to build is underground. Totally free to build there cos… Read more »

20 May 2008 10.39pm

correction :
But not getting approval yet for the PORR has caused the Paragon to create really bad traffic flow when it’s finished. Gurney Drive was never designed for this density of traffic. Gurney Plaza creates this problem 4 days in a week. The PORR, if approved, would have eased the traffic when they build the future extension to Gurney Drive. The previous Penang Goverment, as we know, seems short-sighted.

22 May 2008 6.22pm

penang need monorail more than 2nd brigde n etc.

14 May 2008 11.09am

A smaal island of Penang (not like Singapore) needs tram not monorail or subway. If you build subway for Penang, the company who manage this subway will go bankrupt. If you build monorail for Penang, World Heritage would take out Penang. Look at world class cities not developing or third world cities like Hanoi. World top 30 cities like Melbourne has a good network of tarm service. Melbourne is world most liveable city in the world: The benefits of tram are a lot: 1. Tram will eventually replace bus plying in inner city of Georgetown. 2. Tram is a… Read more »

21 Apr 2008 7.11pm


I read from newspaper that there’ll be a discussion over monorail/subway/alternative hosted by the state government tomorrow…

Not sure if it’s true… but i certainly agree that monorail or subway is not feasible solution…

Meanwhile, who is the one that can decide on this issue? The state government or the federal government?

John Keadilan Borneo
John Keadilan Borneo
21 Apr 2008 9.50pm

Even if you can build an underground system, I wont bother going to use it. Knowing the competence of Malaysians in running and maintenance, a small accident inside a tunnel, say a fire, will sure kill a mass. And with the kind of heavy rainfall in the tropics, the chances of the tunnel being flooded is as good as 100%

Pin Pan Dan
Pin Pan Dan
21 Apr 2008 7.51pm

Georgetown once had an excellent tram system, with remnants of the lines still visible in parts of Penang Road and Chulia Street. Would be good if the new state govt revive the tram system and integrate it with the bus and ferry services. For too long Penang, especially Georgetown has been having a lot of problems regarding public transportation. Hopefully an integrated tram-cum-bus-ferry system will improve this and bring the shine back to Penang!

21 Apr 2008 7.43pm

Both has advantages and disadvantages. For Tram, they can be slow and the time table can be upset by cars especially those from other states where they are not familiar with the J turning as found in Melbourne (ie to turn right crossing the path of a tram). Cars in front of the tram can cause delay. Whereas in the monorail, there is no jam and the journey can be according to the schedule. The only thing is accessibility. All stations must have a lift in order to cater for the handicaps. But trams offer a scenic view of the… Read more »

raj raman
raj raman
21 Apr 2008 11.58pm

Anil, You do mention about wang ehsan.Who is mrcb,scomi? One control by umno and another one control by PM son. This is the way umno work to enrich themself. I personally dont know how bad Penang trafic problems and the pro and cons of your idea but one thing for sure,Penang people must have a say on this. Lets the penang people have a vote on this.However any mode of transport aggreed should be open tender.Its not wang ehsan and the money not belong to federal goverment. Raj raman.lets take a walk and think whose money they use.Either way is… Read more »

Tuan sher Mohd
Tuan sher Mohd
22 Apr 2008 3.52am

Dear Mr.Netto, first let me congratulate you on your successful campaign against PGCC. I thank you for your valiant efforts in ensuring the project does not take off. I am happy to see you pushing the tram as an alternative to other modes of public transportation. I would like to caution you that some discussion sometime ago in Penang watch did have a debate on this and i attach some of the comments at the bottom of my comments. couple of questions 1. who is this guy RIC FRANCIS, a historian , a journalist or a transportation expert? because if… Read more »

Ahmad Nasri
Ahmad Nasri
22 Apr 2008 3.56am

Hi there,

I am currently studying in Brisbane and I am really happy with the public transport over here. They have busway, which is a different road, not lanes, for buses. This is the most sustainable way forward. Not more car roads. This is because, the buses that used the busway would not be involved with traffic jams and they would be arrive on time consistently. I do think that the government of Malaysia thinks of their cronies too much without considering the rakyat. People power.

Tuan sher Mohd
Tuan sher Mohd
22 Apr 2008 4.27am

6. All of which shows that an island like penang needs either a subway or a elevated system, no choice. follow Hawaii who have decided to go that way.

22 Apr 2008 1.26pm

Dear Tuan Syed Mohd No problem. It is great to discuss the merits and demerits of various modes of transport and good to have your input as well. Ric Francis is an Australian tram engineer who is one of the founders of the Perth Electric Tramway Society. He is also the author of a book on the history of Penang’s transport system including trams and trolleybuses. As for the RM4 million price tag, I think Ric was referring to the cost of getting a basic system in the inner city up and running, using the old tracks for a… Read more »

22 Apr 2008 12.23pm

another alternative:

a proven 100 years old system
minimum footprint
can move along river contours
appreciating Georgetown at a different eye level

BUT some might not agree with it’s visual impact on a heritage city

Tuan Syer Mohd
Tuan Syer Mohd
22 Apr 2008 12.10pm

Dear Mr. netto, i apologise as i am new at this i do not know how to add links etc. But please enlighten me on who this guy who wrote the tram book , is he a historian or is he a transport man. I would love to see a tram at rm $4million, wow can do it all over the country. I just dont like to believe people who say we can all kinds of this in the name of Malysia Boleh. we end up paying a lot more.traffic consultants are the guys you should ask to comment. A… Read more »

Tuan Syer Mohd
Tuan Syer Mohd
22 Apr 2008 11.38am

Dear mr. Netto,
I am dissappointed that you choose to remove my comments on your feed back section. I thought you of all people would allow thorough discussion of all views. But umfortunately, you choose to remove all comments that go against the very basis of your argument. You are no different from the newspapers that you complain about being on sided. hypocrate.just like any otherpolitician
you have agenda but no substance .FRAUD blogger

22 Apr 2008 11.51am

Dear Tuan Syer Mohd

The reason I removed the added comments was that they were not all your comments but also included an exchange of correspondence with other Penangites, who might not have intended their comments to appear on this blog. The comments from those individuals were addressed to other specific individuals, so I wasn’t sure if they were for public consumption. If, however, those views are already on the Internet, just add the link so that people can look it up if they want.

You are welcome to continue adding your own views here, however critical.

best wishes

22 Apr 2008 8.53am

We have bad traffic and inconsiderate drivers, a tram service will just not work. To entice the public to use it a system needs to get the public to a destination just as fast if not faster than the public could if they used a car/taxi. The trams will not do that. The tram is nothing more than a cleaner but less flexible bus system. It is not a solution to Penang’s woes. Just imagine the chaos its construction would cause. The only viable long term solution is an underground MRT. And yes that costs big moola. The bane for… Read more »

better future
better future
22 Apr 2008 9.46am

With only 700,000, why go to all the trouble to build monrail, underground nonsense.
Just normal bus should do.
Tram seems the best choice too.

21 Apr 2008 6.56pm

Trams are a great idea, but the tram shown in a previous blog was not at street level, there was a series of steps to reach the platform for boarding – ensuring that it was not easily accessible to most public transport users, the elderly, and people with disabilities, heavy shopping, back packs etc. etc. But even an accessible tram will fail if we follow the current planning. The current problem of one way transport routes which allow you to travel into town, but once laden with heavy shopping, returns you far from your home -as in the case of… Read more »

22 Apr 2008 9.42pm

You should know by now Mr. Netto, that the BN govt. is not about concern for public welfare; they will always lean towards ‘pump priming’, big business and non-tendered out cotracts. So that contract costs can be inflated to accommodate ‘donations’ back to BN. So, the only way to get the message acroos to Rip Van Winkle and his zzzz govt. to drop PORR, Monorail, 2nd Bridge etc is to organise a peaceful demo in Penang. Get every single Penangite to turn out for the protest. Then, maybe then, they will get the message that we have cottoned on to… Read more »

24 Apr 2008 1.03am

Hi there,

I disagree on building anything at the moment, the public transport (bus, taxi, ferry) should be improved first. Penangites too used to not taking public transport, don’t have the habit at all.

After that, only think of applying tram system or underground subway. Monorail is not suitable for Penang, it will waste the Penang as a historical and heritage city.

At the time building of monorail will cause more traffic jam. The monorail will make Penang become ugly.

Don’t want monorail for Penang ! Don’t repeat the same mistake again like KL !

24 Apr 2008 3.26pm

let’s build a rail for double-decker bus. Bus will arrive on scheduled. Can attract tourists too.