Penang monorail: the South African connection


The latest Edge weekly reports sources as saying that the Penang state government has given the green light to a low-profile businessman, Jeyakumar Varathan, to build and commission a RM70-million monorail test track on a 30-acre site in Batu Kawan.

The paper suggested that this could be a sign that the state is embarking on its own monorail plans and cited sources as saying that the groundbreaking for the project could be in December.

Jeyakumar’s consortium may first have to prove that its technology is viable before it can build a monorail network in Penang, the paper added.

Some questions arise:

  • How much is Jeyakumar paying for the 30-acre site in Batu Kawan?
  • Does the state government have a public transport masterplan and is a monorail part of it? First, it was the monorail and then subway, next it was the ‘aerorail’ – and now it’s back full circle to monorail?
  • What about other public transport options such as a bus rapid transit system and trams – which could be more cost effective? Have they been considered? How does Porr fit in?
  • Has the state government informed and briefed members of the Penang Transport Council? The perception is that its members are in the dark about this monorail thing. Why the secrecy?
  • Does Jeyakumar have a proven track record? Is the Penang state government aware of Jeyakumar’s attempts in South Africa? (See “Monorail king goes mum“.)

According to the US/Europe-based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy, on the very day of the bankruptcy of the Kuala Lumpur system (16 May 2006), Newcyc Vision announced a project commitment to build a 45-kilometre (28-mile) system in Johannesburg.

Read what the sustainable transport experts are saying. The same article points out that monorail systems create visual intrusions to the urban environment (how would this affect George Town’s appeal as a heritage city)? This should be enlightening reading:

South Africa

Despite the bankruptcy of the Kuala Lumpur system and the financial collapse of the Putrajaya project, the Malaysian monorail developers have attempted to develop new markets elsewhere. The most recent target has been South Africa. With South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup looming, a Malaysian consortium, known as Newcyc Vision, has targeted South African cities as a prime market.

In fact, on 16 May 2006, the very day of the bankruptcy of the Kuala Lumpur system, Newcyc Vision, announced a project commitment to build a 45-kilometre (28-mile) system in Johannesburg. The system would link Soweto directly with the central business district of Johannesburg. The estimated infrastructure cost of the system is R12 billion (US$1.7 billion), or US$38.1 million per kilometre.

While the exact financial arrangements on the Johannesburg project are unclear, it appears that the system developers will be awarded with land, property, and a ridership guarantee. As part of the deal, the consortium will be given public property in the central business district as well as along the corridor for development. Also, as is increasingly the case of many rail-based PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships), the developers will be guaranteed a minimum number of daily passengers. If that guaranteed ridership does not materialise, the South African government (i.e. South African taxpayers) will make up the difference. The costly Gautrain system, a previously approved rail system for the Johannesburg area, also provides a private consortium with rather generous ridership guarantees.

As in other cities, the Johannesburg project promoters have made some rather bold claims regarding the monorail system’s likely performance and ridership. At the initial press conferences to announce the project, the Province of Gauteng and Newcyc Vision claimed that the Johannesburg system would be able to carry 1.5 million passengers per day. Given that this amount is roughly equal to all public transport trips in the city, it was a bit difficult to believe this ridership could be achieved on a single corridor. Further, given that no monorail system is currently serving more than 5,000 passengers per peak hour per direction, increasing this by an order of magnitude in low-density South African conditions seems optimistic. However, if given ridership guarantees by the Government, then perhaps the system developers have no real concern regarding the actual performance.

The proposed monorail alignment will also largely duplicate the proposed Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project that has already been approved and is under planning in Johannesburg. The future of the Rea Vaya project may become somewhat doubtful if the monorail project proceeds.

Fortunately, the Johannesburg project announcement now appears to have been premature. Apparently, the project developers forgot to notify the Mayor of Johannesburg and the City Council, who have responsibility over public space in the city, as well as the National Minister of Transport, who holds responsibility over rail systems nationally. In an unprecedented move, the National Transport Minister Jeff Radebe was forced to make a press statement in which he noted that he had no prior knowledge to the project’s existence. The project has thus been retracted to the status of being “under review”.

Undeterred, though, by this initial setback, the Gauteng Provincial Government and Newcyc Vision have instead insisted that they will continue pursuing the project not only in Johannesburg but also other South African municipalities, including Tshwane (Pretoria) and Ekhuruleni. Hopefully, reason will prevail and the Gauteng projects will be forced to go through an open and transparent process in which there is full public financial disclosure and as well as a full comparative analysis with all other public transport options.


Monorail technology does hold many intriguing performance aspects as well as an image that can potentially be attractive to discretionary public transport users, and especially to car owners. While the Malaysian monorail systems have experienced financial difficulties, there is a glimmer of hope that these systems can evolve into well-performing and lower-cost services, as was originally envisioned.

However, that future is yet to arrive. To date, monorail technology has suffered from operational difficulties, negative press coverage, and a spate of bankruptcies. As technologies such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) have delivered quality services at rational costs to a long list of cities, including Bogotá, Brisbane, Curitiba, Guayaquil, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Paris, Rouen, and Seoul, monorails have achieved nowhere near the same record of implementation or performance.

It would perhaps be unfortunate if the unrealised promises of monorails deter actual public transport advancements in South Africa and elsewhere. Monorail developers dream of taking us back to the future, but the hard reality is that our world cities require quality public transport today.

Read the full article here.

A month after this article was published, the South African cabinet pulled the plug on the monorail project.

Similarly, we hope for public disclosure and transparency in the Batu Kawan land deal and the state government’s dealings with Jeyakumar and his monorail ambitions.

While other cities are going into more efficient and cost-effective modes of public transport such as bus rapid transit, we are still dreaming about monorail.

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This so called Dato Jeyakumar Varathan is … not … qualified …


My first question about the monorail, is that could anyone confirm this ‘news’ with the Penang government first before discussing? I doubt this info is official.


I have some further comments and concerns in addition to Anil’s input. It is almost impossible that this will be a project fully financed by private sector. Most likely that it will be a PPP-PFI (Public Private Partnership and Private Financial Initiative). This means 2 things. One, this would require the state to provide a lot of land and other public assets to support this project. This would mean another round of fishy and dubious re-zoning, selling land below market rate,etc. Additionally the state would need to guarantee ridership and profit. Two, this project would mean the fares would set… Read more »


Hi Yifan, I do not see test track facility as something that make no sense at all. In fact, many engineering companies do have test centre for R&D purposes. For example, Siemens has a test center for rail vehicles at Wegberg-Wildenrath, Germany. If test centre is a requirement set by Penang state government for proof-of-concept before tendering any project, I thought this sounds totally reasonable, as long as the cost is from Jeyaratnam’s own pocket. The more immediate concern is, how much is Jeyakumar paying for the 30-acre site in Batu Kawan? and of course, is Monorail part of Penang… Read more »


Question is how do you attrach investors? Pro_gerakan bloggers complain Penang has nothing. Further there must be some form of assistance. If the State provide a maintenance and service yard at low price, is it wrong if BN Government wavier taxes to those coming with their money? Land = pioneer tax


I have only admire for Lim Guan Eng in his previously convicted sedition case – he did something illegal, but the law (Sedition Act) in itself is simply a draconian law. Let’s don’t waste comparing him with our peace-loving KPI-polishing ex-CM Koh Tsu Koon. However, the monorail is another matter. I am DEEPLY DISAPPOINTED with LGE’s response. Where is his CAT in action? What is the deal behind the scene? What test track in Batu Kawan is needed? That makes no sense at all. Let me just pointed out two possibilities, let the reader be the judge: 1. The Jeyaratnam’s… Read more »



The Monorail Jeyakumar Varathan is a business tycoon involved in Monorail Technologies. It is Lim Guan Eng Govt pet mega project.

The Project should be self financed by Private Investors and will not cost the State a single cent.

The Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj of PSN who assisted the KBP Villagers is not involed in this monorail project.



Anil, while I enjoy reading your work, I am rather disappointed with some of the readers’ comments. If you notice, many of the comments are simply baseless, lack of thoughts and full of hatred. well… just my thoughts…


Gerakan K, you idiot…do not simply camm LGE a convict! He did not do anything riminally wrong but to speak out against a former MB who was a crony of the PM. … So you think Gerakan is following a good master, wait till the same happens to you. FYI…I was a stauch supporter of Gerakan and KTK and a cloase family friend of the Koh’s until I opened my eyes wider and saw (what) their family was (doing)… Yes, not everyone is enjoying the fruits … as KTK is without any power… Please try to be more constructive when… Read more »

Gerakan K

LGE is ex-convict. This is a fact. You cannot whitewash his past actions even today he is our CM (how unfortunate that is! I wonder why there is shortage of untainted representative from DAP/PR. No wonder there was a call from PKR that Penang CM should be rotated)


Anil, I definitely am not mixing up Dato Jeyakumar Varathan (introduces himself as JK)with Dr.Jeyakumar Devaraj. This Jeyakumar Varathan namecard makes him out to be a a Director of MRails Sdn Bhd. You can interview the villagers on this Dato’s involvement and find out for yourself.


Let me add another interesting piece of information for all of you. This Dato Jeyakumar was involved with the KBP villagers recently. All the while that he offerred to help the villagers i was wondering why he was so concerned, being from KL. Now it is clear, why he was involved. He made use of the KBP issue to get this project.He pretended to the vllagers as if he was helping them while he was only helping himself. The villagers have been stabbed in the back by this treacherous individual. All of this only confirms my commitment that the poor… Read more »


Ha! Ha! Ha! Am laughing so hard now.

So this “treacherous” Michael Jeyakumar stabbed the “”poor defenceless”” villagers of KBP in the back, did he?

Tsk! Tsk! Naughty Michael.

Pray, tell us LG, just what exactly did Mike do?

Gerakan K

No wonder LGE broke his CAT principle. Another case of cronism in Penang?


Gerakan K…dont talk about … KTK again. He is another … that suck … from People of Penang for the sole master UMNO.

Gerakan K

Just read news. LGE administration suspected involved in expense’ abuses (too frequent to change tyre). What is the difference between BN and PR administration? There are direct negotiation in awarding state projects in both BN and PR administration. The different is, BN is more experience than PR.


Anil as i have always mantained politicians are all the same the only difference being one is a thief the other a robber.

Gerakan K

I agree with you. I see no difference between ex-Selangor MB Dr. Khir Toyo and current Penang CM LGE. Except LGE is ex-convict. Someone must lodge a report to MACC to check any abuse of power. Another white elephant project from DAP.

Gerakan K

Boo…. to LGE administration. … Where is CAT? Where is open tender? LGE this time uses direct negotiation to award state project? … We must vote KTK back to office in next GE.


It is unlikely KTK will ever be voted back. What other candidates does Gerakan have to field?

Gerakan K

There are plenty capable talents in Gerakan. I will consider to contest in Penang in next GE.


If that’s the case, Gerakan K… Instead of constantly making empty BN vs PR or KTK vs LGE statements here, why don’t you give constructive criticisms that are followed by useful suggestions? Then we can have insights on your thoughts and abilities.

Ong Eu Soon

LGE just doesn’t has any transport plan. This is just another piecemeal attempt to show his capability in building a monorail. Here is a question, the monorail is for fun or to serve the public? Why Batu Kawan? To serve who? LGE? When you can make profit from existing infrastructure by building bus-mass transit, and refuse to do it. Why bother to pour in billions to build something that you can hardly recover the investment.Enough ridership to recover the cost of investment? Make no business sense. But LGE want to be like Dr M, any big is good! Good for… Read more »



There are people having money to throw money around. A road or train has to start somewhere. They may think it is cheap to start there and less comments. In 10 years time, the demand may overflow just like to suburban trains in Australia.
To start in the Centre, greenies,mothers, disable people make more comments. Would you spend your money for people to insult your project?

Loh Yeow Boo _ Penang

Lain orang masuk sekarang….
Sama game…