The Penang state government has revealed that it will look into Penang Forum’s suggestion to build the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART) system as an alternative to a light rail transit (LRT). According to a report by The Star, the state government has been briefed by the developer of the ART system, China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) Zhuzhou Institute on the suggested public transport system.

Penang chief minister Chow Kon Yeow said, “ART is relatively new. CRCC presented the system to us with the same slides and video used by Penang Forum. It will not be fair for us to respond now as ART is new to us, but we are not ruling it out.” Chow spoke to the press during a Q&A session at a public dialogue on the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) recently.

“All this while, Penang Forum never mentioned ART. Before this, they spoke of trams,” he said, responding to the presentation made by Penang Forum member Lim Mah Hui. Chow added that in the video presented to him, the train operated on a highway with eight to 10 lanes, making it rather unfeasible. “Penang does not have that much road space,” he said, adding that ART doesn’t require an actual railway, and has more in common with guided busways.

“It has rubber wheels running on roads. It is directed by a sensor system, installed along the road and can be dedicated or shared with other modes of transport. If it is dedicated, other measures need to be taken into consideration, like when it approaches an intersection, the traffic light must be programmed to give priority to ART. If not, then it is no different from a bus,” he explained.

The ART system was first presented by CRCC in June 2017, and it is described as a crossover between a train, a bus and a tram. The railless train measured 30 metres, featured three carriages and runs on rubber tyres rather than rails.

With a speed of up to 70 km/h and the capacity to carry 500 passengers, the train is powered by electricity and can travel up to 40 km on a full charge. With the absence of rails, the train uses sensors that can read the dimensions of roads and plan its own route autnomously – creating a virtual rail for the train.

Following its unveiling, the ART system began a three-month trial operation phase in Zhuzhou, China. Phase one of the pilot programme (Zhuzhou ART Line A1) has a total of four central island platforms and spanned a distance of approximately 3 km. The total mileage of the demonstration line is 12 km, to be constructed in two phases – the second phase measures 9 km.

The demo trains are equipped with safety features such as a 360-degree around view system and radar to monitor their surroundings. Also present are ancillary systems such as communication signal equipment, control centres, intersection signal priority systems and road safety facilities.

According to CRCC, the ART trains are given priority at intersections on the line, whereby the train sends instructions to traffic lights at a distance of 100 metres away from the lights. The traffic light system then adjusts to ensure ART trains pass through the intersections safely and quickly.

As these are electric trains, the terminal stations support fast-charging technology that provides a range of 25 km with only 10 minutes of charging. According to the company, more than 150 parties have visited CRCC to study the ART trains, including more than 20 overseas cities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, New Zealand, Brazil and others.