MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) Line Phase 1 opens to the public today – we ride the new train

It’s probably just me, but the hours of being stuck in jams and diversions caused by the MRT construction over the past few years have made this writer very revengeful. The payback I had in mind? To use this new train line to the max once it opens, whenever possible, recouping those lost hours staring at red lights. OK, it’s just me.

The day has finally come. After five years of construction, Malaysia’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) opens its doors to the public today. For now, phase one of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) Line is operational from Sungai Buloh to Semantan in Damansara Heights. The full line all the way to Kajang will be ready by July 2017.

What’s open now are 12 stations on 21 km of elevated tracks. The stations are Sg Buloh, Kg Selamat, Kwasa Damansara, Kwasa Sentral, Kota Damansara, Surian, Mutiara Damansara, Bandar Utama, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Phileo Damansara, Pusat Bandar Damansara and Semantan. MRT Corp says that it will take around 30 minutes end to end.

MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) Line Phase 1 opens to the public today – we ride the new train

What’s great is that even in this partially open state, the MRT SBK Line covers some popular locations. The most obvious are the Bandar Utama and Mutiara Damansara stations, which are directly linked to 1 Utama and The Curve/IPC/Ikea (more on this later) shopping centres respectively, but stations such as Surian (Sunway Giza and the ‘Kota Damansara’ commercial area) and Pusat Bandar Damansara (upcoming DC Mall) are useful for recreation.

There are also many business areas served directly by the SBK Line – the offices adjacent to 1U, Menara LGB in TTDI and Phileo Damansara come to mind. The Sg Buloh terminus is an interchange with the KTM Komuter line, which can take one to Rawang or back to KL city via Kepong and Segambut. For now, it’s the only interchange for the SBK Line.

Fares range from RM1 to RM3.90 between the Sg Buloh and Semantan stations. Only cash and Touch n Go cards are accepted, and not the MyRapid card. For the 50% discount for senior citizens, students and the disabled (OKU), tokens with the concession fare will have to be purchased from the customer service office. It’s cheaper to pay with TnG compared to cash – even if it’s not so, electronic payment is the way to go.

Feeder bus fares are a flat RM1 per entry. That will be from January 17, because from now till Jan 16, everything is free of charge. Up to 300 buses are in the fleet, and the bus depot is near the Kwasa Sentral station.

Armed with all the above info and with much excitement, I took a 1.2 km, 15 minute walk this morning to my new “home station” Pusat Bandar Damansara. Approaching the station from Jalan Maarof, one can reach the platform level via stairs, escalator or elevator, and once above ground, there’s a Watsons and 7-Eleven store. Toilet, surau and baby room facilities are all available; the latter should please parents with young kids.

As I was fiddling around with the token vending and Touch n Go reload machines (BM, English, Mandarin and Tamil language available), MRT staff approached to explain that no token or card was needed – just walk past the gates as it’s free for now. Staff were on hand at every station to explain routes and directions to riders, distributing guide books. Attentive and with all smiles, it’s two thumbs up for the MRT crew.

UPDATE: We took the MRT today on Dec 20 and found that Touch n Go cards were needed to get through the gates, although no fare will be deducted as rides are free from now till Jan 16. Alternatively, get a token from the ticket counters to tap on the panel.

Once photographer Sherman Sim found a parking spot (an illegal one, PBD’s Park and Ride facilities aren’t ready), we rode the futuristic-looking, BMW-designed four-car train to Kwasa Sentral, where colleagues Izwaashura Sadali and Jason Chung were waiting.

It was a smooth ride with great views – the track sits high above ground level, affording riders unique perspectives over familiar landscape. Very fascinating. Tip: enjoy the view before advertising goes on the trains; we spotted media types envisioning ad space around the currently naked trains and stations.

At Kwasa Sentral, where a township will eventually replace the RRIM rubber trees, Izwaa and Jason hopped on board and we proceeded to Sg Buloh. Here, one can interchange with the KTM Komuter line easily, and we mean it. It takes less than five minutes walking from the MRT platform to KTM’s ground level platform, all in one building. Essentially, the MRT station has swallowed the old KTM halt to make one integrated station.

Adjacent is a nine-storey covered car park building, the only one owned and operated by MRT Corp (the other PnR facilities along the line are by third parties under agreement with MRT Corp). At the entrance of the building is a board showing the available parking lots on each floor, so one can head straight to a level that’s not full.

By now, stomachs were rumbling and the plan was to have lunch at 1 Utama. We alighted at the BU station next to Sri Pentas to find that the link bridge to 1 Utama was not ready, so the only way to the mall was to cross Persiaran Bandar Utama via a pedestrian bridge to the feeder bus station.

It’s a short walk across to the One World Hotel and Sri Pentas, but roadworks had blocked that option (literally) and hordes of casual Friday office workers were lining up for the feeder bus, so we decided to backtrack to Mutiara Damansara to refuel. There, the link bridge to the mall is also under construction so we headed to the mall through the Royale Chulan Damansara hotel. Bellies full, we continued the journey to the other end of the line – Semantan.

UPDATE: The Bandar Utama park and ride facility cum feeder bus station (opposite Sri Pentas along Persiaran Bandar Utama) is officially called the “1 Powerhouse”. With the link bridge to the mall still under construction, there’s no choice but to pass by this building to get to the mall. However, heavy construction along Persiaran BU and Dataran BU means that the otherwise short walk to 1U, One World Hotel and the First Avenue office tower is not straightforward (Dec 20). A loop is needed, and with unfinished walkways along Persiaran BU, one will have to walk certain stretches on the road, which is rough and narrow thanks to the construction. The bridge from station to mall can’t come soon enough. Note that all the above infrastructure and construction is outside of the MRT station. MRT Corp has responded – read more here

From Sungai Buloh, the train took 15 minutes to arrive at Surian station, 18 minutes to reach Mutiara Damansara and 20 minutes to arrive at Bandar Utama. From end to end, we timed the train at 40 minutes, which is 10 minutes longer than the officially estimated half hour needed.

This was unsurprising as the train was stationary for longer than normal periods at the two heavy traffic stations – Mutiara Damansara and Bandar Utama. We’re not sure whether this was a teething problem or intentional on MRT’s part to accommodate heavy traffic from the malls, but it’s minor.

“I appeal to the public to be patient and understanding. As with all new train systems, there will be teething problems. We will work to resolve any of these issues when they occur,” said MRT Corp project director for the SBK Line, Marcus Karakashian.

Jason alighted at Phileo Damansara and took the feeder bus to Section 17. He commented that the brand new Volvo bus is disabled friendly, something which can be said about the stations and trains as well.

By the way, the train’s route displays are all digital screens (with displays to note which side of the doors open) and the gap from the platform is very lighted by an LED strip. It’s also very slim, which is good for safety. Compared to the recently expanded LRT, the MRT carriage feels wider inside, and the glass areas are bigger, especially on the doors.

We like what we see, and it has been truly worth the wait. What are you waiting for? Jom naik MRT!