That's not how you do metro, Kuching
Sarawak Metro is a pipedream that will moves no one
Kuching, just like any other rapidly-grown cities, is on a losing battle against traffic jams. Every single year more and more money is thrown into road widenings and flyovers, yet the situation seems to be getting worse, not better. As expected almost everyone drives anywhere here, which combined with the lack of road hierarchy in Sarawak (seriously, why so many backroads), makes the issue even worse.
Here’s a personal experience: I used to live in Kuching back in 2014 and the daily commute to school took 30-40 minutes. Mind you, it’s only 5km from my house to my school. One part of my journey involves going through the two mile stretch between Padawan and 8th Mile Penrissen. Oh god it was the most soul-crushing part of the commute with bumper-to-bumper traffic even tho the road is 8-lane wide.
Something must be done to alleviate the traffic woes right now, and whatever that is concocted by the Sarawakian government is simply not it.
“Sarawak Metro” *chuckles*
The promise-land of ART
Every other year, there’s always a new piece of tech by the tech bros claming to revolutionize transportation. From Uber, to underground highways, and now ART (Autonomous [Rail] Rapid Transit). Here’s how ART is marketed:
ART is the new revolutionary vehicle that’s going to change cities. Providing the comfortness and capacity of a train, this new piece of technology allows cities to deploy metros at the mere cost of the bus itself (and the bus stations).
No more dealing with rail tracks or those ugly pantographs, you could now have a fully electric rapid transit with just paints on the road. It’s also autonomous by using the guided pathways on the road to steer itself — no driver required.
Or so the pamphlet says.
In reality, there’s a myriad of issue with ART. It has the worst aspect of buses (high operating costs, bumpy rides, requires more vehicles and drivers) and the worst aspect of rail (not flexible, high capital cost). That’s not even mentioning the misleading claims like the need for drivers for each vehicle — literally contradicting the “Autonomous” part of the ART.
Here’s the thing about ART, it’s basically a glorified articulated bus. Other than the skin redesign, it functions pretty much as a bus. Hell, I would argue that ART is an inferior version of the articulated bus — you don’t need special guided pathways on the road so the bus can go anywhere, unlike ART. So, why do even want to go specifically with CRRC (the maker of ART) when there’s already a plethora of articulated buses on the market right now?
There are multiple cities around the world right now that have already used articulated buses. Here’s one from Malmo, Sweden:
The tecnology is already bad as is, until you realise that Sarawak government specifically requested for the ART to be powered by hydrogen. You’re literally asking for a gadgetbahn to be even more gadgetbahn-y.
Hydrogen revolution, or is it?
Sarawak has a (rather) unique issue. It has way too many energy capacity and not enough demand for it. By 2025, Sarawak is poised to generate 7,000 MW — an increase of 30% compared to 2020. How are we going to store that much energy? Enter, green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen require enormous amount of water and electricty to produce, perfect for Sarawak. Hydrogen fuel itself is a miracle technology as it can stores 220% more energy per litre than gasoline. So being the industry leader in the hydrogen economy is going to revolutionize Sarawakian economy. One problem, there’s no demand yet for hydrogen fuel.
Vehicles need fuel. We have lots of hydrogen fuel cells lying around. Why not use that to power our vehicles?
- Sarawak government
This actually does makes sense… until you start to think for more than two seconds about it. — Where are we gonna find the supplier for our buses? How much it’s gonna cost? Is it even economical to do so?
Hydrogen at current stage is just incredibly expensive, even more so when we’re asking for a specially-made buses considering that CRRC only makes battery-powered ART. A recent study from Austria has made a cost-benefit analysis on hydrogen buses (FCEB) vs diesel bus, and the numbers is painting a dire picture for the viability of hydrogen buses.
Looking at every angle, FCEB simply could not compete with the diesel bus right now. FCEB cost 3x as much as diesel bus, with an operating cost 52% higher than the diesel bus. To even match the operating cost of a diesel bus, the cost for each litre of the hydrogen bus must drop by at least 43% (5.48 €/kg). Yes, hydrogen has a ridiculous energy density, but it wont matter if the cost of each kg is ridiculously expensive.
Maybe they’ve cracked the code in providing cheap hydrogen fuel already which makes this entire point about cost moot, but until then, I do not support using hydrogen as part of our transit fleet.
Train to nowhere?
In 2021, they have published the EIA report for the project, and it was a fascinating read. If you have nothing to do for the day (like me), I suggest have a read on the 800-page EIA report. Key note: The alignment was changed since then with the inclusion of the Green Line and the removal of Red Line south of the Airport.
Looking at this map itself, I already have a few issues with it:
Why are we building the Green line north of Semariang? Hell, why are we even considering anything beyond Stadium station?
Why is there no more alignment within downtown Kuching? Why isn’t there a line to Batu Kaw,a or Matang Jaya? Why not build a 2nd crossing on the Western Kuching? The current network is way too commuter-oriented right now.
Athere really low demand south of Kuching Sentral? Or do they have a fallout with Padawan Municipal Council (MPP) considering there’s no longer Metro in their jusridiction?
Are the depot really need to be that ulu in the first place considering the amount of space available to build it closer to city centre. Let’s take Rembus, why not just built it next to Summer Mall instead?
That’s not even mentioning how ridiculously far the distance between the stops are. Even in downtown Kuching the distance between two stations (i.e Kuching Paragon to The Spring) are more than 2km. And that’s the shorter ones. Outside of Kuching City limits, the distance blew up to every 4-5km. WTF?! At that point, you might as well use a KTM Komuter, cepat sikit.
Oh, did I mentioned that most of the alignment is elevated? Yeah. What’s the whole of point of “cost-savings” if you’re just gonna build a dedicated right of way. Sunway BRT, which is fully elevated, costs nearly RM120 million/km. That’s one of the most expensive BRT in the world. And even with that high cost per-km, it’s very much underutilized at 400 pphpd, the worst in the world.
Again, at that prices, you might as well go full KTM Komuter. The KTM Skypark extension which consists of 4km of existing at-grade track and 4km of new elevated track at just RM521 million. Assuming a cost premium of 2x for elevated vs at-grade, that’s just RM43 million/km for at-grade track and RM87 million/km for elevated track.
If that’s not enough of an indictment against Sarawak Metro, their station locations are just pure nonsensical.
Take the example of Simpang Tiga station — the interchange between Red and Blue Line. Why??? Why do you choose the most useless location to build the station: a parking lot. Wisma Persekutuan is only a 150m walk from the station, yes. But, that’s it. The Spring Mall is 400m away, Swinburne University is 600m away, and Borneo Medical Centre is 1km away. But hey, at least it's cross-platform I guess.
It’s even more infuriating when you found out that there’s already a perfect option considered… and then they went with this. Option 3 instead puts the cross-platform interchange station next to the Swinburne University, significantly improves the useability of the station. They are super scared of inconveniening the drivers so much they would rather make the billion-ringgit project a white elephant.
.Here’s another example of the shortsightedness of the planners: Kota Samarahan. Why in the bloody hell are you choosing Option 2??? Like it’s right there, just make a quick detour so folks in Kota Samarahan can also benefit from the ART. Instead you wanna put a station northeast of Kampung Rembus. Why?!?!
A plea request
Kuching, I know you’re reading this. I am begging you to revisit this project and choose these instead:
Build a KTM Komuter network instead. It’s way cheaper to build, faster trip, and the perfect mode because of how far each station is from each other. Plus, you can pair this railway with the future pan-Bornean railway.
Monorail. If you really want to build something flashy and mostly elevated, why not Monorail? At least Monorail is a proven technology used in multiple cities, even in Japan.
A bus network covering all neighborhood running every 5 minutes, paired with bus-only lanes on major roads. You could even make the buses hydrogen-powered if you want to be extra eco-friendly. Just please, whatever you do, don't make it an elevated system.
Seriously, Kuchingites deserve better when it comes to transit. They shouldn't have to deal with endless traffic jams and inadequate public transportation. If Sarawakian government is going to spend billions of ringgit in Kuching’s transit, please please please pick the right transit mode. Also can we talk about the fact that there isn't even a basic bus network in the city? Bloody ridiculous. Other places, like Selangor, have implemented successful programs like the Smart Selangor bus network. Kuching should definitely consider adopting something similar.
You’ve reached the end of the article. Subscribe so that you’ll be notified when the next post drops.