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Saturday, 15 July 2017

(NST) [EXCLUSIVE] MRT greatest railway system so far


KUALA LUMPUR: SEASONED urban rail builder, Marcus Karakashian is confident that the MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line (SBK) is the greatest railway system available so far.

The project director of the SBK line, Karakashian was involved in the development of the pioneering system in Singapore in the 80s, which is today considered as one of the most sophisticated rail systems in the world.

He admitted that his confidence could be biased as the SBK Line project was his baby.

“I have built many railways, including the one in Singapore, but I like this the most because I know the passion that has gone into it and I think it’s the best,” he said.

Karakashian said the project’s completion gave him a sense of satisfaction which he equated to giving birth.

“There was a lot of effort and the people who worked on it put their hearts in it. Our goal was to build the best system and stations, and I think we have done it,” he told the New Straits Times during the pre-launch of phase two of the SBK line here.

Karakashian, whose six-year contract ends in September, was among those who was involved in the development of the London Jubilee Line.

He said MRT’s early experience here was similar to its beginnings in Singapore, where objections and complaints tapered out significantly once the infrastructure was up and running.

“Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had also faced a lot of objections in the early stages, but look at it now. It’s the same with Malaysia. The decisions made were very brave ones.”

Karakashian said that Singapore and Hong Kong, which started their urban rail systems in the 60s, would have died without the networks.

He said that numerous underdeveloped plots of land had been utilised here in Malaysia, thanks to MRT accessibility.

Karakashian said that phase two of the SBK Line enabled this, as it served densely-populated areas previously not covered by rail transport, such as Cheras and parts of Kajang.

He also said that project owners MRT Corp were not pressured into opening phase two ahead of MRT’s targeted July 31 deadline.

“(MRT Corp) was not rushing. There were three months of trials. There will be tweaking as we go along, but we are ready to go,” he said.

Karakashian said the trial run for phase one was less extensive, and as a result, there were slight issues, such as the train’s automated passenger gate doors not opening.

Karakashian said the opening of the second phase on Monday will significantly increase the city’s urban rail network’s coverage.

“The opening of phase two completes the entire 51km SBK line. Commuters will now be able to easily reach the centre of Kuala Lumpur, such as the Golden Triangle and the old Chinatown quarter, via the line,” he said.

The second phase stretches from the Semantan station to the Kajang station. This phase includes the 9.5km underground stations and the 20.5km southern elevated sections, and comprises 19 stations, seven of which are underground.

The first phase, covering 21km from Sungai Buloh to Semantan and comprising 12 stations, became fully operational last December.

All seven interchange stations of the SBK line will become operational with the opening of phase two.

This will allow commuters to transfer from MRT services to other rail services, widening the stations’ accessibility throughout the city.

MRT Corp strategic communications and stakeholder relations director Datuk Najmuddin Abdullah said the SBK Line would connect 44 shopping centres, 11 schools and higher learning institutions as well as a number of hospitals along the route.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is scheduled to open the second phase of the SBK line on Monday. The public can start using the SBK line between Kajang and Muzium Negara from 4pm on Monday after the launch.