The infrastructure cost for street-level light rail vehicles (or new generation trams) is much lower than the monorail and elevated light rail transit options put forward in the revised transport masterplan for Penang.
From what I gather, these are the infrastructure costs for the various urban rail options:
Street-level light rail: RM40m/km
Elevated LRT: RM220m/km
So the question is, why is the project delivery partner going for monorail and elevated LRT when the original transport masterplan consultant (Halcrow) had recommended trams and bus rapid transit? Why the change?
In fact, the original tram routes proposed by Halcrow have now been inexplicably reduced to a miserable 2km stretch (with just six stops) in inner city George Town that appears targeted at tourists.
Bear in mind that that new generation street-level light rail vehicles can take as many passengers as an elevated LRT system at less that one fifth the infrastructure cost. And although these light rail vehicles run at street level, they can go up on ramps at difficult or congested stretches (see video above).
For the 17.5km Komtar-Airport elevated LRT route, the cost works out to RM220m/km x 17.5km = RM3.85bn. Add to that ancilliary infrastructure costs, and you arrive at the RM4.5bn figure mentioned in press reports last year.
But if we had street-level light rail vehicles or a new generation tram system, we would reap massive savings in infrastructure costs which could then be used for an expanded and more flexible rail and bus rapid transit network (including on the mainland) instead of a rigid and inflexible elevated LRT and monorail system focused mainly on the island.
So why are they going for the more expensive options?