By Nancy Nais
Sarawak Metro Sdn Bhd (Sarawak Metro) has been tasked with the responsibility of developing a world-class transportation system in the state.
In fact, plans are already underway to put in place a modern, transit system entirely powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
When completed, the project will be the first of its kind in the world, using clean, non-polluting green fuel that will lend a major boost to current global concerns for the environment.
Additionally, the project will redefine the way Sarawakians commute in the capital city of Kuching.
Sarawak Metro, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and established in 2018 has been entrusted by the state government to change the way Sarawakians commute, especially in major urban centres.
The salient objective is to provide a transportation network that will be able to provide a higher level of service to commuters similar to those found in urban centres such as Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Penang and Singapore.
The project initially involves putting on track the Kuching Urban Transportation System or KUTS, for short.
KUTS will be the foundation for a modern public road transportation and commuting system within the Greater Kuching enclave.
The idea of implementing KUTS came about with the advent of Sarawak’s digital transformation agenda and the concept of creating the ‘Smart City’ initiative. To put these two projects together effectively Sarawak Metro has engaged the Sarawak Multimedia Authority, as well as other relevant government agencies, to work in tandem for the successful realisation of the overall project.
The KUTS project will be developed in stages commencing in 2022 and is scheduled to be operational in 2025.
The first phase will involve the construction of two urban lines at elevated and road level which are the Blue Line (Samarahan Line) from Rembus in Kota Samarahan to Hikmah Exchange, covering a distance of about 27 km with stops at 14 stations; and the Red Line (Serian Line) from Mile 12 Kuching-Serian Road to The Isthmus, covering a distance of about 23.4 km with stops at 13 stations.
Sarawak Metro has already embarked on the Environmental, Social and Heritage Impact Assessment (ESHIA) in July this year, not only to minimise the project’s environmental and social impact, but also to ensure that places or areas with important heritage landmarks around the city and state will be protected and preserved during the development of KUTS.
With KUTS, Sarawak Metro aims to reduce and alleviate traffic congestion towards Kuching city centre, improve connectivity via efficient and integrated public transportation network and encourage other public transport providers to participate in complementing the ART system.
Apart from introducing green technology through hydrogen powered rolling stock and feeder buses, the project will create more employment and economic opportunities, enable dynamic trade activities, and facilitate proper inter-district access. The major gain will be in enhancing the quality of life for the people of Sarawak.
Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg announced that the ART system was chosen instead of the LRT system due to its cost effectiveness.
An ART vehicle, which is a hybrid cross between bus, train and tram, runs on dedicated lanes instead of running on steel tracks like an LRT vehicle. This will reduce the construction cost and construction time significantly.
The ART vehicles will use rubber tyres, which run on normal road type surfaces, equipped with optical sensors and intelligent navigation technology to enhance manoeuvring and accuracy.
In tandem with the State Government’s aspiration to develop a hydrogen economy and its ‘Green Hydrogen Agenda’ to emerge as an important producer of green hydrogen for the region – the choice for using hydrogen fuel cells for the ART is also in support of the move to decarbonise the public transport system in Sarawak.
Imagine this, once the ART starts operation, the people of Sarawak will be the first in the world to use a trackless rapid transit system to be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Sarawak Metro was entrusted by SEDC to manage the trial operations of the hydrogen bus in Kuching – which is the first hydrogen bus service in Southeast Asia.
Currently, there are three hydrogen buses undergoing trial operation services on weekdays, from Monday to Friday.
The buses travel along the ‘Downtown Heritage Loop’ route, four times daily at 8.00am, 10.00am, 2.00pm and 5.00pm with departures from the Riverside Majestic Hotel bus stop.
During the trial operation service, the bus ride is free for the public.
The buses also undergo scheduled servicing as well as the necessary inspections, and have received mandatory approvals from the relevant government agencies such as CVLB, RTD and PUSPAKOM to ensure their reliability and road worthiness.
Meanwhile, it is noted that the trial operation is meant for data collection in preparation for future plans to adopt hydrogen powered feeder buses to complement the ART system.
Another component of the ART system is the Socio-Economic Enhancement Development (SEED) Programme.
Similar to the Industrial Collaboration Programme implemented for major Federal government-funded projects in Peninsular Malaysia, the SEED Programme consists of activities that add value to the procurement made by the state government.
As such, the SEED Programme will focus more on Sarawak’s needs in terms of economic, technological and industrial development to help establish the pool of skilled workforce for the transportation industry and develop a platform for knowledge and expertise transfer.
Our people, a major human asset
Headed by Chief Executive Officer Mazli Mustaffa, Sarawak Metro began its operation in September 2019 with a workforce of more than 40 skilled, diverse and experienced corporate executives in various discipline.
Mazli, who has more than 22 years of experience in the railway and urban transportation industries after having worked on projects locally and overseas said this is a government initiative and Sarawak Metro’s mandate now is to ensure the aspirations for the project becomes a reality and serve its main objective in alleviating traffic congestion in Greater Kuching.
“This project will also provide a platform for the introduction and promotion of green hydrogen technology in public transportation.
“Therefore, public support is vital in ensuring the smooth and successful implementation of this project,” Mazli said.
Sarawak Metro’s skilled workforce also includes local Sarawakians with vast experience in the rail and transportation industries after having worked in Peninsular Malaysia or overseas previously and have now returned to share their expertise in developing the KUTS project.
Among them is KUTS senior project manager (communication system) Henry Mayot, who has more than 20 years’ experience working on communication systems for projects in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, Korea and Australia.
Henry, who returned to Sarawak to work on the KUTS project said: “I am fortunate to have worked in two of the mega railway projects in Malaysia namely the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (KVMRT) for the Putrajaya and Kajang Lines.
“I was actively involved in the tender preparation, tender evaluation, design, supplier and material selection, system and civil interface, construction as well as testing and commissioning.
“These experiences are extremely useful as it makes me well-prepared when the KUTS project goes through the same development cycle. I would like to see more Sarawakians with the right expertise and knowledge to return and start working here and to be part of this exciting history.”
KUTS project manager (civil) Alice Sandah said when she was involved in the Ampang LRT Extension Line and the KVMRT, the nature of work for this fast-paced project was very challenging.
She decided to return to Sarawak in mid-2019 when she had the opportunity to work with one of the Pan Borneo Highway contractors.
SEED Programme manager Priscilla Annabel Bisop began her career with the Malaysia Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT) in Selangor in 2008.
“My experience working outside of Sarawak has allowed me to gain confidence and independence, to broaden my outlook on things around me.
“KUTS is very much anticipated by the public as it will not only improve commuter mobility but also boost the economic activities, especially along the transit corridor,” she added.— DayakDaily