Kuala Lumpur Line 1 starts full operation 20 Jul 2017

Roland Herr for TunnelTalk

For commuters in Kuala Lumpur, the week started with a comfortable ride in the new Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) Line 1. The 51km long rail line in the Malaysian capital is part of the Government’s vision to create a transportation backbone for the greater Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley region and ease the city’s notorious traffic congestion. Line 1 from Sungai Buloh to Kajang (SBK), with 41.5km on elevated and the central 9.5km aligned underground is the first of three planned Metro Lines. It took six years to build and at a cost of Ringgit 21 billion, about US$4.89 billion.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak leads the crowds into an opened underground station

At the Line’s opening ceremony on Monday, 17 July 2017, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said: “As Malaysians, we can stand tall today as we have a world-class project for the people. We are seeing not just the MRT but the shape of the future of Malaysia before our eyes."

The opening of Phase Two on Monday opened the 20.5km southern elevated section and the 9.5km underground section with 12 elevated and seven underground stations. The elevated northern Phase One section from Sungai Buloh to Semantan Station opened in December 2016. Seven interchange stations connect the MRT to other transportation systems of the city (Fig 2).

Fig 1. Alignment of MRT Line 1, Line 2 and the Line 3 Circle Line
Fig 1. Alignment of MRT Line 1, Line 2 and the Line 3 Circle Line

New tunnelling technology used on the underground section of the Line was explained at the recent SEACETUS (Southeast Asian Conference and Exhibition in Tunnelling and Underground Space). Gus Klados, Tunnelling Manager for project contractor MMC-Gamuda described the development of the Variable Density TBM (VDM) in a joint venture with Herrenknecht. The last of the six VDMs used on Line 1 successfully broke through at Pasar Seni Station in April 2015. The VDMs proved remarkable in mitigating the risk of tunnelling through Kuala Lumpur limestone, which is known to be among the most challenging tunnelling conditions, featuring extreme karst formations. The same six VDMs are now being refurbished in Malaysia for further use together with four new ones in the new KVMRT Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya Line 2.

The world’s first VDM launched on 30 May 2013 at Cochrane Station and in fact completed the last breakthrough of the project in April 2015 after completing 4.4km through karstic limestone (Cochrane to beyond TRX Station), mixed face conditions and fault zones (TRX to Bukit Bintang Station) and lastly through Kenny Hill formation (Bukit Bintang to Pasar Seni station) operating successfully in its four interchangeable modes, after starting in the variable density slurry mode and finishing in full EPB mode.

Schematic of the VDM TBM technology
Schematic of the VDM TBM technology

The variable density convertible TBMs proved not only successful but also safe, tunnelling through karstic limestone with minimal incidents. The method provided safer, more predictable delivery, less disruption to the public, and underpins assurance that projects with the most complex geology can be completed as scheduled. VDM machines were also successfully used in Hong Kong and are specified by the client in the Perth Airport Link Project. “VDMs will be the best choice for difficult mixed face geology in the future,” concluded Klados.

Demand of public transportation in Kuala Lumpur

Public transport in Malaysia has been woefully neglected as past administrations focused on supporting a national auto industry and building roads and highways. Over time that led to world-class traffic jams, which the MRT system is intended to keep from worsening and hopefully reduce. Projections are that the population of the Klang Valley will grow from 6 million in 2010 to 10 million by 2020 with the number of cars expected to rise to 7 million if there is no marked shift to public transport.

Fig 2. Klang Valley mass transit network
Fig 2. Klang Valley mass transit network

According to a World Bank study in 2015, Malaysians living in the Klang Valley spent 250 million hours a year stuck in traffic. The MRT is part of the Prime Minister’s ambitious plan to transform Kuala Lumpur into a metropolis on par with London, New York and Tokyo, cities with extensive mass transit networks.

The second KVMRT line is programmed for completion in 2022, while the third line, known as the Circle Line, is still under planning with the hope it will begin operating by 2027.

In a public statement, Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the MRT is part of a wider effort to increase use of public transport including extension of free bus services and the capital's light rail transit system. "These have increased the modal share of urban public transportation from 10% in 2009 to 20% in 2015, well on the right track to achieve the 40% target by 2030," Liow said.

The MRT is designed to integrate with the existing three light rail lines, commuter trains, and the KLIA express train service linking the city centre with the Kuala Lumpur International Airport about 60km away. Minister Liow said the MRT Line 1 is expected to carry an average of 150,000 passengers a day and reduce the number of vehicles on the Malaysian capital's roads by at least 160,000.

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