Groom­ing un­der­ground tal­ent

The KVMRT Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ka­jang line is slated to open at the end of July and be­hind its suc­cess is a team of young lo­cal en­gi­neers.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By REVATHI MURUGAPPAN star2@thes­

IT’S not every day that one gets the op­por­tu­nity to see what lies be­low the ground.

We’ve seen un­der­ground tun­nelling on YouTube or in doc­u­men­taries but noth­ing beats wit­ness­ing with the naked eye, the dark beauty that sits be­neath the soil.

MMC-Ga­muda’s young tal­ents can tell you what a thrill it has been work­ing on build­ing the coun­try’s first Mass Rapid Tran­sit project (KVMRT Sun­gai Bu­lo­hKa­jang line or Line 1).

Line 1 com­prises both el­e­vated and un­der­ground por­tions; the lat­ter in­volves tun­nelling more than 40m down into the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s busy city cen­tre.

Var­i­ous ex­per­tise in­clud­ing ar­chi­tects, plan­ners, de­sign en­gi­neers, safety man­agers, traf­fic man­agers, tun­nellers and sta­tion con­struc­tion en­gi­neers were hired at the start of the project which be­gan in 2011 and is on track to be com­pleted at the end of next month.

Mean­while, Line 2 (also known as the Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ser­dang-Pu­tra­jaya line) is sched­uled for com­ple­tion in 2022 to serve as crit­i­cal ur­ban rail lines in the Klang Val­ley.

Prior to the con­struc­tion of KVMRT, for­eign ex­per­tise was of­ten called on for un­der­ground in­fra­struc­ture projects.

Be­hind this cur­rent mega project is a bunch of bright lo­cal man­power, play­ing a piv­otal role in the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of the first phase of the largest in­fra­struc­ture in the coun­try.

One of them is Safwan Azri Ismail, the Tun Razak Ex­change (TRX) sta­tion sec­tion head, who joined MMC-Ga­muda as an en­gi­neer in 2012 af­ter a stint work­ing on a dif­fer­ent project in Ta­pah, Perak.

The TRX sta­tion is the big­gest and deep­est sta­tion as it ac­com­mo­dates both Line 1 and Line 2 stacked on top of each other. The low­est plat­form is be­low sea level.

With seven floors (equiv­a­lent to 12 floors in a res­i­den­tial build­ing), there were mul­ti­ple is­sues to deal with while build­ing the un­der­ground sta­tion.

Fear of the un­known

But first, Safwan had to deal with his fear of go­ing un­der­ground and the pitch black sur­round­ings.

The ver­ti­cal cut was so deep and es­pe­cially scary when he worked late at night, which was a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence dur­ing the ini­tial phase. De­spite all the light­ing, the sink­ing feel­ing that he was down a deep hole sent shiv­ers down his spine.

“The depth was about 43m and we had a small space to ex­ca­vate. The gayat (dizzy) feel­ing was hard to shake off but I had to get used to it.

“The sta­tion is the big­gest, deep­est and long­est so there were many chal­lenges dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion pe­riod.

“The soil is about 10m and af­ter that, it’s all karstic lime­stone ter­rain. I would look at it daily won­der­ing if it will be solid and whether it would slide! You re­ally don’t know what to ex­pect when you dig so deep and in this case, we even came across a huge cave full of wa­ter and sludge,” re­calls the 30-year-old.

Many vis­i­tors to the site would also get a lit­tle ap­pre­hen­sive when they peered over the fence into the ex­ca­vated ground and saw ant-sized trucks and work­ers go­ing about their busi­ness.

The team had to blast the rocks us­ing con­trolled blast­ing meth­ods and they were only al­lowed to do this be­fore 5pm. The noise and vi­bra­tion af­fected Safwan but he

even­tu­ally be­came im­mune to it.

He says, “The big­ger challenge lay in the muck­ing of sta­tion rocks. We had to bring in ma­chin­ery to hoist the rocks out and daily, we’d re­move about 10 tonnes of rock be­fore we started build­ing the struc­ture.”

Safwan had to use a lad­der to go up and down the deep sta­tion. Not only was it tir­ing, he would be sweat­ing pro­fusely on the job – the bonus: it it helped im­prove his fit­ness.

“It was scary be­cause every time it rained, we all had to run up slowly and safely. It takes us five min­utes to go down but 15 min­utes to climb up! But I value my ex­pe­ri­ence as I would not have got­ten it any­where else,” says the Me­laka-born.

He and the team also had to deal with geo-tech­ni­cal ex­perts on how to tackle the slopes and wa­ter is­sues.

Safwan spends at least 10 hours on site and an­other few hours catch­ing up with pa­per­work at the of­fice. His re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in­clude look­ing af­ter the en­vi­ron­ment, tak­ing note of pub­lic com­ments and safety.

His wow mo­ment came when Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak vis­ited the sta­tion in 2015 and as project leader, Safwan couldn’t help grin­ning from ear to ear.

Every trickle of per­spi­ra­tion and anx­i­ety has been worth it though Safwan says, “I don’t mind a shal­low sta­tion af­ter this!”

The long hours may seem daunt­ing for a sin­gle man but he isn’t com­plain­ing. On his day off, you can find the afffa­ble lad with a fish­ing rod in Port Klang, try­ing to re­lease stress and rake in his sup­per.

“Per­haps some­day I may have the chance to lead the group. That my am­bi­tion,” says Safwan, clock­ing in an­other day’s work.

Min­ing be­low old struc­tures

For Pudu shaft en­gi­neer Ikhwan Aizud­din Aziz, 32, he never dreamed that drop­ping his re­sume at a job fair would lead to an un­der­ground op­por­tu­nity of sorts.

“When I was in col­lege, I was al­ways in­ter­ested in the con­struc­tion of the Stormwa­ter Man­age­ment and Road Tun­nel (SMART). I thought the peo­ple who worked on the project were so lucky to have gar­nered the tun­nelling ex­pe­ri­ence.

“So when I was of­fered a chance to work on KVMRT, it was like a sec­ond chance and I grabbed the job. A project of this mag­ni­tude was too good to turn down,” says the (UiTM) grad­u­ate who joined MMCght Ga­muda in 2013 right af­ter com­plet­ing his ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion.

MMC-Ga­muda was also the prime mover be­hind the world’s first-of-its-kind du­alant pur­pose SMART – an award-win­ning project to man­age floods and re­lieve traf­fic in Kuala Lumpur.

Ikhwan’s col­leagues told him the job would be tough, but he was un­per­turbed and ready to face the chal­lenges.

He says, “One of my big­gest chal­lenges was when we launched the Tun­nel Bor­ing Ma­chine. With an open­ing of 11m x 7m, the shaft had lim­ited space and we had to drop the ma­chine part by pay part into a depth of 22m.

Part of the other chal­lenges Ikhwan had to face in­cluded deal­ing with old build­ing struc­tures while min­ing from the Pudu Shaft to Pasar Seni sta­tion. They had to mine be­low the ex­ist­ing Light Rail Tran­sit line, while en­sur­ing the safety of the sur­round­ing build­ings within a 100m ra­dius.

“It was highly risky but in six months, web man­aged to bore through with­out any in­ci­dent. My re­ward was see­ing the ma­chine break­through sta­tion. The min­ing was com­pleted and it was an ex­hil­a­rat­ing mo­ment,” says the lad

from Ke­ma­man, Tereng­ganu.

An­other huge ob­sta­cle was the tim­ing of the min­ing process, as it had to be de­liv­ered on time so that it would not af­fect works at other sta­tions.

His cur­rent role is to su­per­vise and mon­i­tor sub-con­trac­tors daily, en­sur­ing they fol­low all the ap­proved draw­ings and spec­i­fi­ca­tions, li­aise with con­sul­tants to in­spect the work and solve other prob­lems.

As the son of a tech­ni­cian with Ja­batan Kerja Raya Malaysia, Ikhwan is proud of his achieve­ments.

“Every day is a new thing and new is­sues crop up. I’m learn­ing how to come up with so­lu­tions from my man­agers.”

Like Safwan, Ikhwan puts in at least 12 hours on the job. Dur­ing the tun­nelling process, he found the night shifts from 8pm to 8am es­pe­cially drain­ing.

Af­ter every six days of work, he gets three days off and that’s when he chills out at home or heads back to his home­town for some pam­per­ing.

Once Line 1 is com­pleted, Ikhwan will move on to Line 2 and he can­not wait for work to com­mence.

He says, “Dif­fer­ent ar­eas have dif­fer­ent soil con­di­tions so it will be a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me. I want to share my knowl­edge with other young peo­ple.”

Putting the fin­ish­ing touches

While Safwan and Ikhwan had their re­spec­tive is­sues to han­dle, Md Euzir Md Eu­sof was tasked with ar­chi­tec­tural build­ing work fin­ishes.

As the Cochrane sta­tion en­gi­neer, his job spec­i­fi­ca­tions re­quire him to look af­ter the ex­ter­nal work such as floor­ing, ceil­ing, cladding, and handrails.

“Ini­tially I was asked to work as a civil en­gi­neer and as­signed to do struc­tural works and then I was trans­ferred to take over the ar­chi­tec­tural work, which is new to me,” says Euzir, 31, a grad­u­ate in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing from Universiti Te­naga Na­sional.

His big­gest challenge is to en­sure Cochrane sta­tion is the bench­mark for other sta­tions, as it needs to be in tip-top con­di­tion be­fore work on the other sta­tions can be car­ried out.

“Ar­chi­tec­tural work is ac­tu­ally more dif­fi­cult than en­gi­neer­ing!” he says, laugh­ing. “There is a lot of co­or­di­na­tion work. Most of the ma­te­ri­als are im­ported so the de­liv­ery of these ma­te­ri­als is of­ten an is­sue.

“What made it more dif­fi­cult was to bring the ma­te­ri­als from ground level to the other lev­els as we only have a few open­ings.

I also have to in­spect the ma­te­rial dur­ing de­liv­ery to make sure it is what we or­dered.”

In­deed, there are de­fects some­times and Euzir then has to do an­other in­spec­tion to get the client’s ap­proval.

It is sheer joy to lead his team on au­dits of Cochrane sta­tion and to see the fruits of his labour.

Euzir says, “We’re al­most there. What’s left is only the ground level en­trance to the sta­tion – the ceil­ing and the gran­ite. We’ve al­ready handed the sta­tion over to the op­er­a­tor in May.”

De­spite learn­ing on the job, Euzir is happy to have been able to pick up valu­able skills and ex­pe­ri­ence from the project.

“I love my job even though I work 10 hours daily. On my rest days, I spend time with my fam­ily,” says the fa­ther-of-one who lives in Ser­dang, Se­lan­gor.

The beam­ing en­gi­neers at the MRT Merdeka un­der­ground sta­tion where every state flag is fea­tured on each pil­lar.

The un­der­ground team check­ing out the fea­ture walls in the MRT Merdeka sta­tion which de­tail the Rukun Ne­gara and Jalur Gemi­lang.

The MRT Cochrane sta­tion is a stone’s throw from Ikea Cheras and MyTown Cochrane. — Pho­tos: MMC-Ga­muda

Safwan had to over­come his fear of go­ing un­der­ground dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion pe­riod.

Pudu shaft en­gi­neer Ikhwan had to deal with old build­ing struc­tures while min­ing from the Pudu Shaft to Pasar Seni sta­tion.

‘Ar­chi­tec­tural work is ac­tu­ally more dif­fi­cult than en­gi­neer­ing,’ says Cochrane

— Pho­tos: IBRAHIM MOHTAR/The Star sta­tion en­gi­neer, Euzir.

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