The government says that the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit Line 3 (MRT3), which was initially announced as having been scrapped, has merely been postponed. This was revealed by transport minister Anthony Loke, who said that the decision to put aside the rail project for now was to reduce the burden of the government’s debt.

He said that major projects such as the MRT3 will be given priority if the country’s financial position was recovering, adding that the cabinet will determine when construction will resume, Bernama reports.

“Any such big decision needs to get the Cabinet’s approval. At present, the government’s priority is to reduce the rate of national debt first but for crucial projects like MRT3, when the country’s financial status recovers, it will certainly be given priority to be reviewed,” he said at the Dewan Rakyat.

He was replying to a question from Khairy Jamaluddin (BN-Rembau), who asked about the rationale and implication of the scrapping of public transport projects such as the MRT3. Loke said that the government did not deny that MRT3 would bring various benefits, but its implementation should be reviewed for optimum results in view of the excessively high national debt at present.

“As the MRT3 line passes through urban centres with high density, almost 80% of the line is underground, which contributes to the costly construction cost that is expected to reach RM50 billion,” Loke said.

Also known as the MRT Circle Line, the fully automated and driverless rail system extension was to have formed the loop line of the Greater KL/Klang Valley integrated transit system. Originally targeted for completion by 2025, the 40 km-long MRT3 was meant to provide coverage in areas surrounding Bandar Malaysia, Ampang, KL Ecocity, Bukit Kiara and Sentul.

Loke said that the government’s priority is to get more people to use the MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) Line as well as the feeder bus service. He said that from January to May this year, the average daily ridership on the MRT was 146,842 commuters, which meant that only one-third of the 450,000 capacity was being utilised.

He added that the government is continuing to look into the introduction of a RM100 monthly public transportation pass, a pledge it made in its GE14 election manifesto. Loke said the implications of the move are currently being studied from a financial point of view. If approved by the cabinet, he said it could be introduced early next year, thereby encouraging more to use the MRT.

Loke said that the government will also prioritise the overhaul of the country’s bus network as well as improving the KTM Komuter system in the Klang Valley via upgrading and repairing works on the railway structure.

“The postponement of the MRT3 project gives us the opportunity to review our budget priority, in which the government will give new focus on improving bus services and infrastructure development not only in the Klang Valley but throughout Malaysia in line with the government’s manifesto to improve the quality and coverage of public transport service,” he said.