• Dear Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir,

    My name is Justin Chin Jing Ho and I am (or soon to be, was,) a Malaysian tunneller working on the KVMRT Line 2 underground project. I graduated six years ago with a first Class Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from one of the top engineering universities in the world. Despite receiving some lucrative job offers, I chose not to be another number contributing to Malaysia’s brain drain statistic and decided to come back to serve my country and participate in building this nation I call home.

    I will write this letter in a single pass without any editing as I want the tone to be as raw as possible and to reflect my emotions and thoughts as I try to come to terms with the Government’s decision to terminate MMC-Gamuda as the KVMRT Line 2 underground works contractor. I am not in fear of losing my job; but because I am having trouble processing it all.

    Along with the thousands of Malaysians I have worked with on building the MRT lines for the past six years, many of us have worked in excess of 80 hours a week and more than 300 days a year pouring out our hearts and souls in the name of making Malaysia better, and of course providing for our families.

    On Sunday evening alone, after the news broke, I received more than 30 calls and messages from my colleagues and comrades and more than 30 more on Monday. All of the conversations differed from the others but the underlying messages were the same. One of my foremen - big, brave, strong and heavily tattooed – put on a brave face and asked “Boss, what will happen to the boys? Will they be okay? What do I tell them?” I didn’t have a good answer. All I could do is to put on a brave front and tell him that everything will be okay - but will it really? A single mother of three, with two of her children in college, called up and asked, “What will happen to us now?” I didn’t know what to say to her. One of my operators, who I have a very strong connection with after having carried him out of the dark depths of TBM cutterhead nearly five years ago when he got stuck and came close to drowning, put his daughter through medical school because of the opportunities presented by this project. Now he is wondering if he will have a job tomorrow and if he will have to leave his family to go overseas in search of a job when he is now more than 50 years old.

    What do these three people above share in common? They all voted for you. They all voted for a new, better Malaysia. And today they went home, blaming themselves for voting for you because perhaps tomorrow, they will be out of work and will not be able to put food on the table for their families. This is most certainly not what they voted for.

    I believe we have long missed the boat to be a world class car manufacturer. We have on hand instead a channel to grow world class engineers - the MRT lines in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian team working on KVMRT Line 1 and Line 2 have achieved groundbreaking stuff and received international recognition and accolades from the international tunnelling community for our good work here. All these engineering achievements and milestones were made possible because of the opportunities presented to the young and vibrant Malaysian team working on this highly complex and challenging project. It has given us room to grow, to build, to innovate, to dream. And soon, we will be robbed of all of this.

    In my simple mind, I cannot comprehend the logic of how retendering of the remaining works and awarding them to a foreign contractor can bring greater value to the nation or for the taxpayers’ money once the abortive costs, idling costs and compensations are taken into account and considering other factors like unemployment and capital outflow. I guess I am not smart enough to run the country or to see the logic behind this decision. I can only contribute to building it.

    So now, I choose appeal, not to your logic but to your humanity and to your love for the rakyat of Malaysia. Don’t crush the hopes, dreams, futures and livelihood of 20,000 working class Malaysian employees who have toiled to build this nation. There are 20,000 jobs, 20,000 families, and countless hopes and dreams.

    I have heard people saying that there must be pain before there is gain. But not this pain; this is pure, outright injustice to the 20,000 who have done nothing wrong but to give their lives and time to serve this beautiful nation. The blood will be on your hands.

    Justin Chin Jing Ho

Termination of KVMRT Line 2 underground works 11 Oct 2018

Shani Wallis, TunnelTalk

As part of a political stand-off, the Malaysian Government is drawing back from its announcement earlier this week to terminate the underground works contract of the new metro Line 2 project currently under construction by the MMC-Gamuda JV. The impasse arises following alleged failure to reach cost savings in the RM15.47 billion Ringgit (about US$4 billion) construction contract for the central 10 stations and 13.5km long underground alignment. Government Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said in a statement that the unfinished underground work would be retendered through an international open tender process. “This decision was made after considering that the Federal Government can achieve further significant savings by retendering the underground work package compared with the offer made by the existing contractor," said Lim.

Previous Prime Minister Najib Razak (right) launched first TBM drives for Line 2 in March 2018
Previous Prime Minister Najib Razak (right) launched first TBM drives for Line 2 in March 2018

Lim is Finance Minister of the new Government of Malaysia elected in a surprise result in May this year (2018). In defeating the incumbent ruling coalition, the new coalition ran on a ticket of tighter fiscal control and reduction of national debt. As one of the largest public infrastructure projects in the country, the new government targeted the 52km long Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit Line 2 project for potential cost savings. In negotiations that started two months ago, MMC-Gamuda, as Delivery Partner of the Line, did agree a RM5.22 billion 23% saving on the original cost for the above ground portion of the Line by converting the project delivery partner model for the works to a single turnkey contract. It had offered also a 24% reduction for the balance of the underground works. MMC-Gamuda was successful Delivery Partner and construction contractor of the underground section of Line 1 of the KVMRT between 2012 to 2017.

In its response, MMC Gamuda said that it had not received any official confirmation from MRT Corp, the counter party to the award of the Line 2 project, that MMC Gamuda had been terminated as underground contractor, adding that through its statement, the Ministry of Finance informs that it accepts only the offer in respect of the elevated works.

Work on the underground section of the new line started in 2016 and the first two of 12 TBMs required for the 11km long running tunnels started in March this year (2018). To date, MMC- Gamuda state that the contract is now at 40% complete with work on all open-cut station boxes progressing and the first two of 12 running tunnel TBMs now about 1km each into their drives, another two are assembled and ready to start and the remaining eight are scheduled to start from next month onwards. The balance of underground works to be completed, it states, is valued at RM9.6 billion.

The RM2.3 billion or 24% reduction of the underground works contract offered by MMC-Gamuda is achieved through: lowering specifications for mechanical, electrical and architectural finishes of the stations; reducing the number of entrances to stations; and cancelling construction of four stations to provide six rather than 10 active underground stations.

Fig 1. Red Line 2 is 52.2km long with the central 13.5km and 10 stations aligned underground
Fig 1. Red Line 2 is 52.2km long with the central 13.5km and 10 stations aligned underground

MMC-Gamuda further states that two main factors have influenced the price of the Line 2 underground works. In comparison with Line 1, the employer’s requirements increased the scope of works significantly to include larger floor space in stations and a five-fold increase in the number of underground entrances and pedestrian walkways. In addition, the average depth of the diaphragm walls for stations for Line 2 is 51m, as compared with 39m for Line 1.

Construction is further challenged by the high risk of sinkhole incidents arising from tunnelling through the extreme karstic limestone beneath the city centre. To mitigate this risk the insurance industry introduced stringent risk management requirements on both MRT Lines 1 and 2 and MMC Gamuda developed the design of the variable density (VD) TBM with Herrenknecht to avoid the risk of sinkholes. The geological challenges presented by Line 2 require 12 TBMs of which 10 are VD TBMs which increases the need for pre-excavation grouting and ground improvement works prior to tunnelling.

In its statement MMC Gamuda said it was awarded the undergrounds works by MRT Corp in 2016 following an international competitive tender and that, due to the challenging ground conditions, that only five contractors had pre-qualified for the challenging works, of which MMC Gamuda was the only local contractor. In bids evaluation, MMC Gamuda scored the highest technical score and offered the lowest price, lower than the pre-tender design estimate.

MMC Gamuda warns that termination will result in immediate job losses to a work force of more than 20,000 personnel currently involved in the underground works supply chain, 3,000 employed directly by the MMC Gamuda JV; that termination would unjustifiably expose MMC Gamuda to a flood of lawsuits for compensation from terminated employees, sub-contractors, suppliers and manufacturers, whose contracts will be similarly terminated. According to the terms of the contract, in the unlikely event of termination, MRT Corp becomes the owner of all equipment, including all the TBMs, and all works completed to date.

The belief that more cost reductions for the underground works could be offered is based on a review by a local engineering consulting firm appointed by the Ministry of Finance. A significant part of the review findings were refuted by MMC Gamuda on technical grounds as being too simplistic and arising from a lack of relevant experience. MMC Gamuda has suggested the appointing of an international engineering consulting firm with the relevant experience to carry out an objective review looking into all reasonable engineering and technical possibilities. The JV also states that the Ministry of Finance has not established a target figure for costs savings that both parties could examine and negotiate with the assistance of an appointed international engineering consultancy.

For its part, MRT Corp, as the Government’s representative on the project, said the termination and re-tendering process would be “relatively complex”.

Then former Prime Minister Mahathir (bottom centre) opened the MMC-Gamuda Tunnelling Training Academy in 2011
Then former Prime Minister Mahathir (bottom centre) opened the MMC-Gamuda Tunnelling Training Academy in 2011

In the days since the termination announcement on Sunday, 7 October, much has been written and reported about the situation, including an open letter from a young engineer working on the project to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir to make his case for keeping the project and contract in place and progressing (see yellow editorial box). The plea to Tun Dr Mahathir is heart-felt and calls on the Prime Minister to remember when he guided Malaysia through its greatest period of growth during his 22-year term as Prime Minister of now the opposition party from 1981, championing major infrastructure projects including the iconic Twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the city's outstanding combined flood control and toll road SMART tunnel and the start of the heavy rail MRT system as part of his ambitions for Kuala Lumpur to be come one of the world’s leading international cities. In his retirement, Tun Mahathir officiated at the 2011 opening of the Tunnelling Academy established by MMC-Gamuda to train the workers needed specifically for underground construction.

Prime Minister Mahathir also has stepped in to review personally the cancellation of the Line 2 underground works contract. In a statement on 10 October, 2018, MMC Gamuda welcomed the move saying it remained committed to further discussion and cooperation with the Ministry of Finance in reaching an agreeable reduction of cost. It suggests an open book review of the cost savings objective with the appointment of an experienced international engineering consulting firm to manage proceedings and with a protection of its intellectual property rights and respect for commercially sensitive information. With that, MMC-Gamuda “therefore leaves the matter in the good hands of the Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir”.

Since it was inaugurated, and as part of its austerity programme, the new Governement has cancelled investment in the design and planning of the MRT Line 3 circle line (Fig 1) and put on hold progress towards construction of a long proposed and awaited high-speed railway line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. TunnelTalk will report progress on the Line 2 termination situation as it progresses.


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