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When work begins next year on the proposed Mass Rapid Transit system that will serve the population of the greater KL and Klang Valley, it will mark the start of what will be the largest infrastructure project in the country.

More than 130,000 people will be employed during its construction, and the project will develop RM3-4 bil annually in terms of direct gross national income contribution from its construction and operations, and a further RM8-12 bil generated from spillover effects.

The project will kick off with the construction of the first service line beginning in July 2011, which will run through a Northwest-Southeast corridor alignment. The line will ply a 60 km route between Sungai Buloh and Kajang, and take six years to complete. When built in 2016, the Phase 1a part of the project is expected to have more than 400,000 users daily, and serve a population catchment of 1.2 mil people.

It will contain 35 stops, with four interchanges linked to existing rail services, these being the KTM Komuter lines at Sg Buloh and Kajang and in KL, the Putra KJ line at Pasar Seni and Star Ampang line at Maluri.

These were some of the details revealed about the initial phase of the project at a briefing held by the Land Public Transportation Commission earlier today, which was presented by its chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar and CEO Mohd Nur Ismal Kamal. While there’s plenty to digest, we’ll just start the journey with the facts and some figures here.

The Sg Buloh-Kajang line that will eventually come about will be a variation of the original MMCG joint venture’s proposal. MMCG originally proposed running two lines from Sg Buloh, one to Kajang (via Kepong) and the other ending nearer to Seri Kembangan (via Kota Damansara).

The LPTC briefing revealed that the plans would now go with the Minconsult option, which has the original lines merged into a single line, using the top half of the Seri Kembangan route and the bottom half of the Kajang one (see first diagram) in what is tagged as the Prasarana Line 3. Prasarana is the appointed project and asset owner for the MRT development.

It added that the reasons for starting the system with the Northwest-Southeast line was because it is integrated into things, part of the proposed Urban Rail Development Plan due out in March next year.

And, from a feasibility point of view, it has been extensively studied, having been originally proposed by Prasarana back in 2006 as well as by MMCG and Minconsult. Lastly, it would serve public needs, as the corridor is, as the LPTC puts it, underserved.

Structurally, the plan is to get Phase 1b going in 2012, and Phase 2 in 2016, with the entire three lines of the MRT project to be completed in 2020. When finished, the 141 km-long infrastructure will serve a population catchment of close to 3.4 mil people over a radius of 20 km from the city centre, with 1.17 mil users anticipated on a daily basis.

The estimated cost of the entire project, as initially scoped by Gamuda, is RM36.6 bil for all three lines, not just for the initial Sg Buloh-Kajang one, though the LPTC says that the complete eventual cost has not been finalised.

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This cost will involve tunnelling, building the underground stations, elevated guideways, elevated stations, depots, track works and system works. Rolling stocks and land acquisition, where it is needed, isn’t factored in to this initial cost estimate.

From a project structure viewpoint, LPTC will be the supervising and coordinating agency, while project and asset owner Prasarana has a bit on its plate – it is to appoint RapidKL as the system operator and MMCG JV as the project delivery partner, as well as create a subsidiary to manage property and commercial developments around the MRT assets.

As for project funding, the Ministry of Finance is to set up a special purpose vehicle company as the infrastructure’s funding entity.

Next March will see the public display of the Sg Buloh-Kajang line alignment, where everyone will finally get to see which areas the MRT line will run through and how it will all shape up – the LPTC says that public must be consulted, and feedback obtained. Undoubtedly, some may find cause for complaint, but for many, the idea of this has been long-awaited, and very much a godsend.