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Kuala Lumpur's airport in the city opens for business

01 May 2002 | by Andrew Grantham

The 57 km standard gauge rail link serving Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Malaysia's new administrative capital opened last month. Andrew Grantham sampled the ride

MALAYSIA: On April 19 Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad attended the official opening of Express Rail Link, a 160 km/h standard gauge railway from Kuala Lumpur to the city's International Airport at Sepang, 57 km away.

ERL's flagship non-stop Express trains run every 15 min, taking 28min to reach KLIA and avoiding the city's traffic jams and toll roads. A single ticket costs 35 ringgit, and services operate for 20 h each day. Trial running began in January, and a free service was provided for pre-booked passengers for two weeks in April ahead of the formal opening.

Located within the Sentral station complex, Kuala Lumpur City Air Terminal has been designed to form an extension of the airport, which opened in 1998. Located on the fringe of the city's central business district, Sentral station has become Malaysia's national transport hub, served by Malayan Railway (KTM) inter-city and commuter services, the Putra light metro and Express Rail Link. A monorail serving the Golden Triangle area of the city is under construction.

Intended to be an 'airport in the city', KL CAT is recognised as a destination by the International Air Transport Association, code XKL, and airline tickets can be booked right through to the city, rather than just the airport. Station amenities are based on airport facilities, with ticketing, retail outlets, baggage reclaim and customs clearance. Screens give information on flight times, baggage can be checked-in at the 20 airline counters until 2 h before a flight. Business passengers will be able to check in luggage in the morning, leaving them free to attend meetings before flying later in the day. KL CAT was designed by architect Dr Kisho Kurokawa, who was also responsible for the airport.

The three intermediate stations on Express Rail Link will be served by KLIA Transit commuter services, aimed at local workers and airport staff. At Bandar Tasik Selatan there is a footbridge interchange with the parallel Malayan Railway and STAR metro stations.

Putrajaya station serves the federal seat of government and administrative capital now under construction. Piers for an elevated monorail to serve the new developments are in place at the station.

Salak Tinggi station is near to the depot and operations control centre, and the government plans further development for the area. Kuala Lumpur International Airport station is fully integrated within the heart of the airport.

All stations have 760mm high platforms, giving level access to the trains. Passenger information displays are driven from the traffic management system, and CCTV cameras are linked to the control centre. Access to platforms is controlled by automated barriers, and ticket machines have been supplied by Asytec GmbH. Transit services use separate platforms at the termini, where the Express stations are fitted with platform screen doors for security.

Luggage transport is an integral part of the 'airport in the city' concept. Outbound bags are barcoded at KL CAT, and transported in a secure compartment on the trains. The compartment holds up to five containers, with two racks for oversized baggage. Incoming bags are transferred from aircraft to trains for reclaim at KL CAT. The containers are wheeled into a separate secure platform area for transfer to the baggage handling system. Luggage racks are provided on the train for passengers who choose to check baggage in or out at the airport.

Turnkey project

Express Rail Link Snd Bhd, a private company owned by Tabung Haji Technologies (60%) and YTL Corp (40%), signed a government concession to build, operate and maintain the line on August 27 1997.

Following the two-year construction period, ERL will operate the line for 28 years. Total project cost is 2·4bn ringgit. The SYZ consortium of Siemens Transportation Systems (59%) and local partner SPYTL (41%) was awarded the €595m turnkey contact for construction of the railway in 1999 (RG 10.00 p646).

The line is electrified at 25 kV 50Hz with Ri107 contact wire. This equipment is designed to cope with the high humidity and tropical thunderstorms. An unmanned substation located near the midpoint of the line links the railway to the national power supply by two feeders.

Continuously welded UIC54 rail with pre-stressed monobloc concrete sleepers is used for the 57·6 km of double track, with slab track in the airport station. Standard gauge was chosen, rather than national operator KTM's metre gauge, as ERL is a stand-alone system intended for higher speeds than are commonly found on metre gauge. Clearances comply with UIC G2 static gauge and kinematic envelope.

The line is equipped with bidirectional lineside signalling and Siemens continuous ATP, based on technology in use on private lines in Switzerland. An inductive cable running down the centre of the track supplies data to the trains, preventing drivers exceeding the speed limit in force at any point on the line, and controlling local temporary speed restrictions. Drivers are in contact with the control centre by radio, and in the event of an ATP failure speed is limited to 80 km/h. Some driver training took place in Germany.

The ET425M Desiro trains (RG 5.01 p315) are based on German Railway's ET425, adapted for Malaysia's tropical climate. The trains are fully air-conditioned, and the interior is inspired by German standards. Maximum service speed is 160 km/h, and 25 km/h in the depot. The trains are articulated throughout, with wide gangways giving an unobscured view down the trains.

The eight Express trainsets have 156 seats, a secure checked baggage compartment, luggage racks, accessible toilet and wheelchair spaces. The four Transit sets have 144 seats and standing room for 396 people.

A three-year operation and maintenance contract worth €31m was awarded to ERL Maintenance Support Sdn, 51% owned by Siemens and 49% by ERL. E-MAS has 327 employees, and guarantees service readiness of the railway for 20 h/day, 365 days/year. This is the first time that Siemens has participated directly in an operating company.

Future plans

Transit services are scheduled to begin in June, initially half-hourly. The journey time will be 36 min, with fares set by distance at a level intended to allow workers to commute to the new government developments. The Transit services are expected to see 5000 passengers each day. The railway runs through the government's 'Multimedia Super Corridor', designated as a focus for high technology developments and new towns, increasing potential commuter traffic.

Kuala Lumpur's old airport will finally close in July, with all traffic moving to KLIA. By the end of the first year of operations 8000 to 10000 Express passengers/day are expected. Express Rail Link's target is to capture 20% of the airline passenger market, attracting business and high-end leisure travellers.

Around 80% of revenue is expected to come from Express services, and up to 5% from advertising and retail activities. There is no property development associated with ERL. The project is expected to break even after 16 years. Express Rail Link CEO Dr Adnan Aminuddin said stakeholders are 'looking at long-term investment for this kind of infrastructure project.'

It is planned to reduce check-in times to 90min, and the number of desks at Sentral may be increased to 40. Other plans include an increase in service frequency, and purchase of additional trains if more capacity is required in about five years. To allow for expansion the infrastructure is designed for eight-car Express trains running every 10min, and eight-car Transit trains every 20min.

If the proposals for a Kuala Lumpur - Singapore high speed line ever come to fruition, ERL will form the first section of the route. Top speed on the existing line would remain at 160 km/h, with higher speeds beyond the airport.