Kuala Lumpur monorails

Some notes on the KL and Putrajaya monorails. The text is now somewhat out of date!

Kuala Lumpur’s 8.6 km monorail finally opened in late August 2003. The line uses the straddle principle, with cars sitting astride an elevated concrete guideway.

The RM1.18bn line starts at Pekeliling bus station in the north of the Malaysian capital, near Titiwangsa station on the Star metro. It runs along the median strip of the city’s roads, passing in an arc through the east side of the ‘Golden Triangle’ central business district.

[Monorail under construction]
A large bridge being built for the Kuala Lumpur monorail (bottom right). Elevated roads cross from left to right.

There are 11 stations, between 600 and 1 000 m apart. Bukit Nanas station is a short walk from Dang Wangi station on the Putra automatic metro, though there is a busy road in between. There is another interchange with Star at Hang Tuah. The southern terminus is KL Sentral mainline railway station, in the Brickfields area of the city.

The 19 minute end-to-end journey will cost RM2.50. Up to 20 000 assengers/hour can be carried, and services will run from 06.00 to midnight. There will be a train every 3-5 min at peak times, and 5-10 minutes off-peak.

Work on the monorail began in 1997. The technology was to have been imported from Japan, where a number of monorails in are in operation. Then the 1998 Asian economic crisis hit, and the resulting huge increase in the cost of imported trains meant the project was no longer viable. To revive the partly-complete scheme it was decided to use home grown technology, and work was resumed in July 1999.

[Monorail under construction at Bukit Nanas]
Bukit Nanas monorail station under construction.

KL Monorail System Sdn Bhd, formerly KL PRT Sdn Bhd, is the project’s promoter and operator. A subsidiary of MTrans Holdings Sdn Bhd, it has a 40 year government concession to build and operate the line, signed on 15 January 2001. To ensure financial viability KL Monorail System has rights to associated business activities. These include advertising and the development of Jalan-Jalan, a 250 000 sq ft riverside landscaped leisure development in Brickfields, with about 50 restaurants.

The company also owns manufacturer Monorail Malaysia Technology Sdn Bhd, which is marketing itself as a turnkey monorail supplier. MMT has a factory on a 22 acre site in Rawang, north of Kuala Lumpur, including a 1 km test track.

One of the alleged advantages of a monorail is its low footprint, requiring a narrower structure than a conventional elevated light transit system. “The monorail blends in well with modern urban environments and easily fits into a city” claims Monorail Malaysia Technology. Perhaps in a very modern architectural environment, such as KL, it will.

The guideway uses over 600 individually precast post-tensioned concrete beams. These have an average weight of 100 tonnes and length of 28 m. The top running surface is 0.8 m wide. The largest beams are 44 m long, weighing almost 190 tonnes. Almost every beam is unique. They were cast at the factory in Sungei Long, and cured for a minimum of seven days before erection. Ten different moulds were used, producing beams from straight to 65 m radius. Beams are 2.2 m deep at the ends, 1.6 m deep in the centre, and have up to 12% super-elevation. Tolerances are very stringent, +/-3 mm for the cross section width and +/-8 mm deviation from alignment in 20 m. The infrastructure is designed for a life of 100 years. A power rail is fixed to either side of the beam.

[Monorail under construction at Bukit Nanas]
Another view of Bukit Nanas station under construction.

The beams are 10 m above ground level and supported on 284 columns. Cast in situ, these are set 30 m apart and measure 1.2 m x 1.6 m or 1.55 m x 2 m. Columns were positioned so as not to obstruct road users’ visibility, and a large arched bridge used to span a major road junction. Some short sections of pavement and road had to be realigned. Underground pipes and cables had to be avoided, and this was complicated by the lack of detailed records of what was present, resulting in an extensive programme of trial pit excavation and exploration. Once it had been determined what, if anything, was below the surface services could be relocated or planned column positions adjusted. To minimise road congestion on the crowded city streets the beams were delivered at night.

The maximum gradient on the mainline is 4%, and in the depot 6%. Minimum curve radius on the main line is 70 m, with 50 m in the depot. Minimum vertical curve radius is 1 000 m.

The stations are approximately 22 m wide and 65 m long, supported on columns in the road median, spaced at 13, 12 and 13 m. Access is by escalator, but stations are designed so lifts can be retro-fitted if accessibility legislation is brought in. Each station has ticket vending machines and sales counters, public toilets, telephones and sales kiosks.

The first of the locally-built trainsets arrived in Kuala Lumpur on 18 April 2002. The trainsets comprise two 10.4 m long head cars, with up to ten 8.6 m intermediate cars. All cars are 3 m wide, and 4.5 m high, with two 1.25m doors per side.

The trains are gangwayed throughout. Bodyshells are stainless steel, aluminium and composite, mounted on a steel chasis. Air cushion suspension is used, and the maximum axle load is 10 tons. There are four pneumatic-tyre load wheels per car, on single-axle bogies. While the old joke, perhaps inspired by the Lartigue system of Listowel & Ballybunion fame, about a monorail being ‘a railway which requires more then two rails’ does not apply in Kuala Lumpur, the carriages do have additional wheels bearing on both sides of the guideway in addition to the top.

[Monorail under construction]
Works trains on the Kuala Lumpur monorail, seen from the window of my hotel room.

The trains are designed for a maximum speed of 90 km/h, with a planned maximum service speed of 80 km/h and average speed of 30 km/h. In the event of a train failure passengers can be evacuated to a rescue train using a bridging plate.
My room on the 18th floor of the Renaissance Hotel overlooked the site of Bukit Nanas station. In the morning one or two works trains would arrive carrying construction materials. These have flat decks, with red pagoda-style structures on top.

Union Switch & Signal is supplying signalling, communications and SCADA for the line. The trains have radio-based in-cab signalling. Dual redundant Microlok II interlocking is used, with radio-based train location and detection, and Automatic Train Protection. The trains are driven manually, but upgrading to driverless Automatic Train Operation is possible.

Putrajaya Monorail

[Monorail beams under construction Putrajaya]
Support columns for the partly-elevated monorail line being built at the new federal administrative capital city of Putrajaya.

Putrajaya is the federal government’s new administrative capital city, being built on a green-field site 20 km from Kuala Lumpur. A light rail system was planned for the lakeside garden city, and some infrastructure work may have started, but then a change of plan was announced. It was decided to opt for a monorail, using equipment supplied by Monorail Malaysia Technology.

Putrajaya will have two monorail lines, which are planned to open in 2004. One will be 12 km long, with 17 stations. The 6km second line will serve six stations. The track will be elevated on the lakeside, and when I visited in March 2002 support columns for the monorail had been installed at the Express Rail Link mainline railway station. Unusually for a monorail, on Putrajaya’s central island in the lake the line will be underground.

There is lots more information about monorails on the website of the Monorail Society