MRails International Sdn Bhd states on its website that the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) has “authorised our consortium to implement a monorail test track for 1.3km in Batu Kawan (near Stadium), Penang”.
The Edge weekly had reported in October that the state had in principle given the green light to businessman Jeyakumar Varathan, believed to be a director of MRails, to build a monorail test track on a 30-acre site in Batu Kawan. Discussions between the Penang government and Jeyakumar reportedly began three months ago.
But confusing statements have been made in the media by various state government leaders.
On 30 Nov, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy revealed, as reported in The Edge and elsewhere:
- The state government had given the nod for two companies to each build 1-km monorail test tracks in Batu Kawan or Nibong Tebal to be completed within a year.
- No tender had been called; the two companies had instead submitted proposals on their own.
- The state is not forking out money; only allowing the firms to build a monorail test track on state land; the firms would bear the full cost.
- State land won’t be sold to the firms.
- No detailed discussions, BUT a “no-0bligation letter” has been issued to MRails by the PDC.
- The test track is for the public to see for themselves and also for the state government to ascertain if the firms are capable of carrying out the monorail project.
- But the state government is under no obligation to appoint them for any monorail project; if the project goes ahead, they have to submit bids by competitive tender.
- The possibility of the firms setting up plants to start production for the test tracks and other monorail components for the export market has not been ruled out.
- The companies would be asked to dismantle the tracks and vacate the land if the state later felt that the project was unsuitable.
On 3 December, public works, utilities and transport committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said in the State Assembly, as reported in The Edge:
- MRails had asked for a 30-40 acre site to set up a factory to assemble monorail cabs.
- Land sale would not be made on a tender basis, but based on the application received.
- MRails plans to manufacture the cabs in China and these would later be assembled at the site on the mainland.
- The test track would be built to test the assembled cabs.
- It would be a monorail cab assembly and test track for interested buyers from abroad – not for the Penang monorail project.
- Application for the factory site is in the enquiry stage, no application form has been filled and PDC has not yet made any decisions on the project (but “no-obligation letter” already given for test track!)
- No plans for monorail system in George Town, but it may be considered for the outskirts of the city, especially in Bayan Lepas or other suburban areas, though nothing at the moment.
Ramasamy further clarified in an Edge report on 9 December:
- Those interested would only be given PDC land for a narrow 1-km strip of land for a test track.
- The sale or allocation of more land for a factory or assembly plant for tracks or cabs is not part of the deal – for now.
- The track would be on PDC land that was presently unusable.
- It was possible the state government would seriously consider the monorail idea if it was viable for Penang – but that would take time because of high costs involved.
- Discussions ongoing with other interested parties.
Notice the operative words “for now”…
If you are confused by now, join the club! So am I.
Some questions arise from all this:
No application for a factory or assembly plant has been received – so what’s the test track for then?
Why has there been so much attention by senior state politicians and the media on a silly one-kilometre test track – if that is all it is – when there are so many other more urgent matters to attend to? Is there more than meets the eye here?
Only MRails has been mentioned. Which is the other firm? The reality is that there is no tender so far for a monorail system. But then there is the “no-obligation letter” (subject to securing all regulatory approvals) – which MRails is now touting as “authorisation” – to set up a test track. By setting up a test track, it would acquire knowledge of local conditions and get to know local officials – and that would give it a distinct advantage if and when the Penang state government has an open tender for a monorail system.
In any case, why monorail? The first step should be to get an experienced independent consultant, with no links to any infrastructure vendor, first to come up with a sustainable transport master-plan for the whole state. New transport infrastructure should be in accordance with the plan; it should not be vendor-driven.
And why MRails? Take a look at the firm’s work in South Africa, Angola, Sri Lanka, India (Chennai) and Indonesia on its website and see how many projects it has actually completed and commissioned. Has it actually seen through a monorail system before? How did it receive authorisation for a test track so soon after the discussions first began? Shouldn’t there be an open tender for the unused PDC land?
It is believed that Jeyakumar Varathan of MRails and another businessman, R Arunasalam of RA Group/Janar Textiles Sdn Bhd (better known locally as “Dato’ RA”), attended a couple of meetings to discuss monorails with the state government recently. In what capacity did Arunasalam, known to be very close to certain Pakatan politicians in the state, attend these monorail discussions?