Malaysia is mov­ing ever closer to­wards be­ing able to build its own rail trans­porta­tion net­works.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - Sto­ries by MENG YEW CHOONG star2@thes­

IN 1882, work com­menced on Malaya’s first rail­way track, a 16km stretch con­nect­ing Taip­ing and Port Weld (now Kuala Sepetang), Perak. This rail­way opened in 1885 to al­low the Bri­tish to move tin and other commodities to Port Weld for ex­port, and was built us­ing for­eign labour su­per­vised by Bri­tish engi­neers.

Change picked up pace in the post-Merdeka era, with the coun­try grad­u­ally ac­quir­ing skills in civil and struc­tural engi­neer­ing that al­lowed it to build roads, bridges, viaducts, and tun­nels. Land­mark de­vel­op­ments in this era in­clude the for­ma­tion of the In­sti­tu­tion of Engi­neers Malaysia in 1959.

Many en­gi­neeer­ing firms were set up in rapid suc­ces­sion in the 1970s, as more Malaysians ob­tained train­ing both lo­cally and abroad, in­clud­ing Ga­muda, which be­gan op­er­a­tions in 1976 in Ipoh.

The com­pany evolved rapidly un­til, by 2001, it was con­fi­dent enough to pro­pose the Stormwa­ter Man­age­ment and Road Tun­nel to al­le­vi­ate flood­ing in cen­tral Kuala Lumpur, which it com­pleted in 2007 (and which CNN has dubbed “one of the world’s great­est tun­nels”).

In 2002, Ga­muda suc­cess­fully ten­dered for one of the 11 civil works pack­ages along the 43km align­ment of Tai­wan’s Kaoh­si­ung Met­ro­pol­i­tan MRT, mark­ing its en­try into rail-re­lated de­vel­op­ments.

At Kaoh­si­ung, Ga­muda was re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign, con­struc­tion, su­per­vi­sion, and com­mis­sion­ing of two par­al­lel un­der­ground tun­nels, each 3.86km long, and two un­der­ground sta­tions, the two-storey Fong­shan Ju­nior High School sta­tion and the four-level Dadong sta­tion lo­cated in the deep­est sec­tion of the en­tire MRT line – 28.3m be­neath road level.

Added to an­other four cut-and-cover tun­nels, the to­tal un­der­ground por­tion built by Ga­muda in Tai­wan came up to 4.8km.

Buoyed by the suc­cess in Tai­wan, Ga­muda then part­nered with MMC Cor­po­ra­tion Bhd to take on the north­ern por­tion of KTM (Kere­tapi Tanah Me­layu) Bhd’s elec­tri­fied dou­ble track project from Ipoh to Padang Be­sar, Perlis, from 2008 to 2014.

The joint ven­ture com­pleted the project that now en­ables com­muters to com­plete the 325km jour­ney in half the time it used to take, boost­ing tourism and other busi­nesses and ef­fec­tively chang­ing the face of rail trans­porta­tion in Penin­su­lar Malaysia.

With this project un­der its belt, Ga­muda had ac­cu­mu­lated suf­fi­cient knowl­edge and ex­per­tise to pro­pose the three-line Klang Val­ley MRT to the Govern­ment, con­sist­ing of the Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ka­jang Line (the now­com­pleted Line 1), the Sun­gai Bu­lo­hSer­dang-Putrajaya Line (the un­der-con­struc­tion Line 2), as well as the pro­posed Cir­cle Line (Line 3) to con­nect Line 1 and 2 with other ex­ist­ing LRT and Ko­muter lines in the Klang Val­ley.

Con­tin­u­ous learn­ing

Malaysia is now in a golden era of rail, with sev­eral more lines pro­posed, such as the Kuala Lumpur-Sin­ga­pore high speed rail, the 688km East Coast Rail Line (from Port Klang to Wakaf Bharu, Ke­lan­tan), and the 200km line from Ge­mas in Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan to Jo­hor Baru, which forms the south­ern por­tion of KTMB’s elec­tri­fied dou­ble track project.

“We have come a long way since the Kaoh­si­ung MRT project,” says Datuk Ubull Din Om, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Ga­muda Engi­neer­ing Sdn Bhd in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“Our ex­per­tise in civil and struc­tural work in rail­way con­struc­tion, among other types of con­struc­tion, is al­ready well demon­strated,” he adds.

Ga­muda’s civil works in­clude build­ing bridges, de­pots, tun­nels, sta­tions, em­bank­ments, viaducts, el­e­vated guide­ways, and so on. Rail­way sys­tems work is the area that Ga­muda is mas­ter­ing hand­ily, fol­low­ing its ex­pe­ri­ence with the north­ern elec­tri­fied dou­ble track project for KTMB.

While there are many play­ers in the civil, struc­tural, me­chan­i­cal, and elec­tri­cal fields in the coun­try, not many can lay claim to have in depth ex­pe­ri­ence in the most crit­i­cal as­pects of the rail­way, the ones which de­ter­mine safety, such as sig­nalling and track­work.

Ac­cord­ing to Ga­muda Engi­neer­ing Sdn Bhd ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Szeto Wai Loong, who was heav­ily in­volved in the elec­tri­fied dou­ble track project, Ga­muda’s work in the sys­tems com­po­nent back then in­volved track­work and power sup­ply, and a lit­tle of the sig­nalling as­pects.

“The chal­leng­ing as­pect is sys­tems in­te­gra­tion, and I think we are the first lo­cal com­pany do all the in­te­gra­tion, start­ing with EDTP. In those days, KTMB gave a lot of track­work and sys­tems jobs to com­pa­nies from In­dia, with a lot of civil work sub­con­tracted to lo­cal con­trac­tors.

“For that project, we were the first lo­cal con­trac­tor that in­te­grated all the sys­tem works with civil works. It was quite chal­leng­ing for us. One of the high level as­pects that we learned was sys­tems in­te­gra­tion,” he says. (See “Mak­ing it all mesh” op­po­site.)

On the elec­tri­fied dou­ble track project, Ga­muda honed its skills in in­te­grat­ing the civil in­fras­tuc­ture work with the sys­tem as­pects, along with the track and sta­tions so that the en­tire rail­way sys­tem project could be ex­e­cuted ac­cord­ing to a seam­less sched­ule and se­quenc­ing.

“That is why we were con­fi­dent when we went into the MRT project, and here, we even im­proved in­te­gra­tion by tak­ing up roles in the de­sign of the rolling stock (to­gether with Siemens), as well as the cen­tral con­trol and op­er­a­tions cen­tre,” adds Szeto.

To boost its prow­ess in the sys­tems side of rail­ways, Ga­muda Engi­neer­ing roped in Ma­hadi Mah­mud as gen­eral man­ager for sys­tems.

“For the KVMRT (Klang Val­ley MRT), we are do­ing things from A to Z, or from 1 to 10. It is a full scope,” says Ma­hadi, who ex­plains how the Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ka­jang line be­came the way it is.

“You start from rid­er­ship fore­cast­ing, you write the spec­i­fi­ca­tions, the scope of work it­self. For ex­am­ple, we iden­ti­fied that the Sun­gai Bu­loh-Ka­jang area is a cor­ri­dor that is not served by public trans­port, or in­ad­e­quately served. It is an area where no rail net­work is avail­able.

“From the start, Ga­muda de­fined the con­cept and worked with var­i­ous par­ties to cover both the civil and sys­tems as­pects. We are ex­pand­ing in both di­men­sions, led by in-house ex­per­tise,” says Ma­hadi.

Ga­muda, says Ubull, is con­sis­tently look­ing out for any op­por­tu­nity to up­grade the skillsets of its lo­cal work­force, so that the coun­try can be weaned off its de­pen­dence on ex­pa­tri­ates for the more tech­ni­cally com­plex as­pects of rail­way engi­neer­ing.

“Line 1 of the MRT used some ex­pats. But we put in place an ‘un­der­study’ team, where our own peo­ple would have to learn as much as they could from the ex­pa­tri­ates.

“Come Line 2, lo­cals have a greater role. We just have to en­sure con­tin­u­ous learn­ing and up­grad­ing of skills as well as the trans­fer of knowl­edge,” says Ubull, adding that Ga­muda’s deter­mi­na­tion can be seen in the num­bers.

“At Kaoh­si­ung, we had 14 engi­neers, and for EDTP, we had more than 100 engi­neers. Now, we have al­most 300 engi­neers, and this is just on sys­tems alone,” he says.

The “Malaysian­i­sa­tion” of rail­way engi­neer­ing is also seen else­where, such as in the project owner of the MRT, Mass Rapid Tran­sit Cor­po­ra­tion Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp). Line 1 had a for­eigner as its project di­rec­tor, but the project di­rec­tor for Line 2 is a Malaysian, Datuk Amirud­din Ma’aris.

“Ev­ery year, we take in at least 80 engi­neers for train­ing,” says Ubull, adding that ex­pa­tri­ates will still be needed for very spe­cialised tasks, such as trou­bleshoot­ing prob­lems that crop up dur­ing tun­nelling deep un­der­ground or across very dif­fi­cult ter­rain.

Lo­cal power

For Ma­hadi, the last fron­tier to be mas­tered by Malaysians has to do with rail­way sig­nalling, as this tends to be based on Euro­pean soft­ware.

“Sig­nalling is the hard­est to learn.

Sig­nalling soft­ware from Spain, France, Ger­many, or Italy, they are all pro­pri­etary, those are the harder ones to learn, and it takes longer for lo­cals to mas­ter them.

“As for track­work, power sup­ply, and dis­tri­bu­tion, as well as the trains them­selves, these are the ma­jor phys­i­cal works that can be lo­calised, as the rel­e­vant skills to man­age them can be learned by lo­cals, who are also be­com­ing in­creas­ingly fa­mil­iar with the au­to­mated fare col­lec­tion sys­tem, from both the hard­ware and soft­ware as­pects.

“We can say that lo­cal­i­sa­tion is on the rise from project to project, say from around 40% to 50% to the re­gion of 60% to 70%. On things like ba­sic de­sign and de­sign man­age­ment, we are go­ing full steam ahead,” says Ma­hadi, adding that the qual­ity as­sur­ance of a rail­way sys­tem, es­pe­cially any­thing per­tain­ing to re­li­a­bil­ity, is also an­other moun­tain to be scaled.

“Apart from soft­ware, the tailend of the sys­tem as­sur­ance, where safety and se­cu­rity are re­lated, is an­other area that lo­cals are catch­ing up on. This is about in­de­pen­dent safety as­sess­ments, which is a tech­ni­cal skill that is at the next level. Right now, we still de­pend on a third party to au­dit and ver­ify that ev­ery­thing is OK, and that is one area of learn­ing and growth.”

To­wards self-suf­fi­ciency

Putting the nitty gritty tech­ni­cal as­pects aside, Szeto says Ga­muda is well placed to be a trans­port mas­ter plan­ner for any city.

“For Kuch­ing, we can pro­vide the full range of ser­vice from LRT align­ment plan­ning to rid­er­ship pro­jec­tion, all the way to the cal­cu­la­tion of the project’s eco­nomic in­ter­nal rate of re­turn as well as the cost-ben­e­fit ra­tio.

“By cal­cu­lat­ing all these, we can de­ter­mine which sys­tem to use. As Kuch­ing is very big, we can de­sign and build in phases,” he points out.

Ga­muda’s part­ner­ship in Sarawak with Naim Hold­ings Bhd – Naim-Ga­muda JV Sdn Bhd – has been awarded the con­tract to build a com­po­nent of the state’s Pan Bor­neo High­way.

Touted as the main trans­porta­tion back­bone for Sabah and Sarawak, the Pan Bor­neo High­way is ex­pected to play a ma­jor role in cre­at­ing eco­nomic cor­ri­dors and op­por­tu­ni­ties there. Nat­u­rally, the Naim-Ga­muda joint-ven­ture is also look­ing into in­tro­duc­ing an LRT net­work in Kuch­ing.

Ubull re­mains con­fi­dent that Ga­muda’s cal­cu­lated, phased ap­proach will not only yield div­i­dends but will also push Malaysia ever closer to­wards self-suf­fi­ciency in rail­ways.

“We are tak­ing things one step at a time. The spec­trum of work in rail­ways is very wide, with many op­por­tu­ni­ties. For ex­am­ple, we are even look­ing at train main­te­nance work.”

Over the years, Ga­muda has ac­cu­mu­lated enough ex­per­tise to build high­ways, bridges, viaducts, tun­nels, and rail­way in­fra­struc­ture. Seen here is a Klang Val­ley MRT train en­ter­ing the tun­nel on its way to Ka­jang from Se­man­tan. — Ga­muda

While com­plet­ing a sec­tion of Tai­wan’s Kaoh­si­ung MRT line, Ga­muda part­nered with MMC to build the north­ern por­tion of KTMB’s elec­tri­fied dou­ble track project from Ipoh to Padang Be­sar. Seen here is a north­bound elec­tric ser­vice train that just ex­ited the Ber­apit twin tun­nels near Kuala Kangsar, Perak. — Pho­tos: Ga­muda

The right combo: (From left) Ma­hadi, Szeto, and Ubull are among the key peo­ple driv­ing Ga­muda’s am­bi­tious foray into rail­way in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion.

Ga­muda uses state-of-the-art tun­nel bor­ing ma­chines to deal with unique un­der­ground con­di­tions in the Klang Val­ley. One of the ma­chines is shown here break­ing out at the Maluri sec­tion of MRT Line 1 in Novem­ber 2014. The ma­chine is also be­ing used in tun­nelling for the cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion Line 2.

Viaducts sup­port­ing the train tracks of the MRT line at Sun­gai Bu­loh in the Klang Val­ley, pic­tured here in Jan­uary 2016. — Filepic

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