Wednesday, 3 May 2017

KL MRT: All you need to know!

When I first learnt about KL's first MRT project (Sungei Buloh Kajang (SBK) line) in 2013, I was both excited and skeptical. On one hand, I am glad that Malaysia, or at least KL, is moving towards a more public transport oriented system. On the other, my friends and relatives in Malaysia were telling me about how the project will fail simply because there is no way to build a transport system extensive enough to cover all areas of KL. Now that SBK line is open, let's see how KL has done.

This post will be both a guide and a review. The guide portion will be more oriented towards tourists since I don't actually live in KL (though I visit it very often).

The Network

Okay, let me get the terms right. In Singapore, any intra-town railway with short headway (basically, any train line without rubber tyres) is generally considered an MRT. However, in KL, MRT only refers to dedicated rail lines with capacity in excess of 20,000 people per hour. In fact, there are 5 types of railway in KL:

  • KTM (Keretapi Tanah Melayu) Komuter - Long distance trains serving more outlying towns like Rawang and Seramban
    • Port Klang Line (red)
    • Seramban Line (blue)
  • LRT - Medium capacity rail lines serving the city center and nearby residential/industrial estates
    • Ampang/Sri Petaling Line (brown/yellow)
    • Kelena Jaya Line (pink)
  • MRT - Higher capacity version of LRT
    • Sungei Buloh Kajang Line (dark green)
  • Monorail - Light rail running on concrete beam serving the city center.
    • KL Monorail (light green)
  • ERL (Express Rail Link) - higher speed (160kph) airport express service
    • KLIA Ekspress (purple)
    • KLIA Transit (teal)
2017 map of KL Rapid Transit network. Note that the MRT (dark green) section from KL Sentral to Kajang will only open in July 2017

For the purposes of this post, I shall focus on the MRT. You can find out about the KLIA express service in my post about KLIA terminal 2.

Ampang/Sri Petaling line train at Hang Tuah station

Kelana Jaya line train near Pasir Seni station
MRT Train near to Sungei Buloh station (just 2 days after opening!)

Where can you go?

For a tourist, this is probably the most important question. You can access most of the major tourist attractions in KL via the rail network. The following lists the attractions that you can visit:

Sunway Pyramid
USJ7, Setia Jaya
(change to BRT)
Kelana Jaya (LRT)
Port Klang (KTM)
Batu Caves
Seramban (KTM)
Petaling Street (night market)
Central Market
Pasar Seni
Kelana Jaya (LRT)
Jalan Alor (night market)
Bukit Bintang (shopping)
Bukit Bintang
KL Monorail
1Utama Shopping Centre
Camp5 (climbing)
Bandar Utama
Enerz (trampoline)
Kelana Jaya (LRT)
Kelana Jaya (LRT)
Mid Valley Megamall
Mid Valley
Seramban (KTM)
KWC Fashion Wholesale
Sri Petaling (LRT)
The Curve
The Curve
District 21 (indoor adventure)
Putrajaya (quite far)
KLIA Transit

In addition, the next table shows some important locations that you may need to know:

Important spots
TBS Bus Terminus (drop off point for coach from SG)
Bandar Tasik Seletan
Sri Petaling (LRT)
Berjaya Times Square (drop off point for coach from SG)
KL Monorail
Singapore High Commission
Ampang Park
Kelana Jaya (LRT)


Transit fares in KL range from RM1.20 for 2 very nearby stops to just over RM5.00. It is slightly cheaper than Singapore on a per distance basis but still quite expensive for locals. 

The one-stop transit pass for KL area (also known as Klang Valley) is Touch n Go. The card is similar to an EZ-LINK card (Singapore), Oyster Card (London) or Octupus Card (Hong Kong). The card costs RM21.60 and comes with RM10 of credit. You can only purchase a Touch n Go card at a service center.

The other alternative is RapidKL Card, which I purchased. RapidKL card allows access to all RapidKL operated lines, which means LRT (both lines), Monorail and Bus (with RapidKL logo). RapidKL card costs RM15.00 and comes with RM10 of credit. It can be purchased at all LRT and monorail stations.  

NOTE: From July 2017 onwards, RapidKL card can also be used for the MRT network (SBK line). For now, you need to pay cash for all MRT trips and MRT feeder bus services.


This one is important: not every "interchange station" at KL is a true interchange station in Singapore sense (no need tap out, etc). If you transfer at an "interchange" station where you need to tap out, it will be considered a new trip and a new fare will be charged. If you are not using the cards mentioned above, you will need to pay for 2 separate tickets (before and after the transfer).

To find out which interchanges are true interchanges, you can look at the map printed on the stations (similar map shown below): 2 connected circles represent integrated interchange, while a walking sign means you need to tap out and tap in at a nearby station. Note that all interchanges between Rapid KL (MRT, LRT, Monorail) and KTM are NOT integrated.

Integrated interchange facility at Hang Tuan (Monorail and Sri Petaling Line) interchange
You can also find out more about interchanges at the RapidKL Journey planner.

The MRT (SBK Line)

Honestly, what motivated me to write this post is the newly opened MRT line that will run from Sungei Buloh to Kajang. When I first heard of the project, I thought it will end up being poorly constructed or delayed. After all, the KL monorail line stations were criticized for having poor access for elderly and disabled and some Ampang line platforms are too small to handle peak hour crowds. However, I was genuinely surprised at the finishing of the SBK line.

Here are some things I am impressed about:
  • Wide platforms and concourse levels to accommodate large traffic flow
  • Sheltered linkway access to nearby developments, park and ride facilities and bus stations
  • Well lit stations and trains with very welcoming atmosphere
  • Clean toilets! Yes. This one is very important!
  • You get to see the front and pretend you are driving the train!

The other things I am impressed about are more for the transport/engineering geek
  • Use of mix phase tunnel boring machines to cut through KL karstic limestone (which has a lot of cavities, water pockets and areas of soft ground)
  • Use of long span box girders to span distances of over 50m (because roads in KL are very wide)
  • Standardised station design for the elevated stations to reduce construction costs
  • Comprehensive site management plan for congested construction sites like Jalan Bukit Bintang and Pasar Seni.
Look at the height of these concrete columns!

Oh and the tunnels! You will get to experience them when the 2nd phase opens in July. 

From a Civil Engineering perspective, this is one of the most impressive projects I have observed. And yet, I think the project has several things that needs to be improved, especially from an operations standpoint:

  • Parking facilities for feeder buses. At stations like Bandar Utama, the feeder bus simply uses the roadside bus stop as a pseudo terminal and park over there in between trips
  • Feeder bus driver training. Some drivers simply park their buses in the passenger alighting and boarding area so the next bus cannot come into the station until the obstructing bus is driven away
  • Sheltered linkways to existing developments. I noticed that most integrated linkways are only to new developments.
  • Station names are inconsistent. Some sources refer to "Bandar Utama" as "One Utama" Station. Also, is the curve "The Curve" or "Mutiara Damansara"?
  • Ticketing system. Is it really so hard to get the Rapid KL card to work on the MRT from day 1 of operations?

Other Interesting Observations

One thing I noticed is that the stations are pretty much geared to Park and Ride commuters. While the access linkways to Park and Ride facilities are excellent, access to other nearby buildings are not so good. This arrangement is better for locals because most locals will not stay near the station and have to take a bus or drive to the station in the first place. Although tourists like myself hate this arrangement, I must admit it is a very good design for facilitating the peak hour passenger traffic flow, which is the name of the game at the end of the day. Other observations:

Finally, escalators going both up and down (many KL LRT stations only have escalators going up)

What! Lights under the seats?!!

This one is good! Safety lights highlighting the platform gap.

What the Locals Say?

I actually got a chance to ask some locals about what they think of the public transport. I realised the results are very mixed. People who are not aware of the full extent of KVMRT thinks that most places cannot be accessed via public transport, so there is no point using it. 

On the other hand, a grassroots leader at Subang Jaya mentioned to me that the LRT Putra Heights Extension was very heavily utilised during peak hours and "every train is full" even when the train comes every 2 minutes. From what I see, many locals see public transport as a "necessary evil" that they take so that they can bypass the traffic congestion on highways. 

Future Expansions

There will be several new expansions coming to KL MRT. Of course, the most well known one is Phase 2 of MRT SBK Line which will run right through the city center. Other than that, here are the other expansions and some new places it will bring you:

  • Terminal Skypark line (KTM). Branch line from Subang Jaya which will serve Subang Airport. It is actually part of the Sungei Buloh-Subang bypass, which enables freight trains to bypass the busy KL Sentral area.
  • Sungei Buloh Serdang Putrajaya Line (SSP). Also known as MRT2, this will provide an alternative way to access KLCC and Putrajaya (District 21, still need take a short taxi ride in), Also, it will provide direct connection to the high speed rail terminus in Bandar Malaysia.
  • Bandar Utama Klang Line (LRT3). This line provides a shortcut for people heading to Sunway Lagoon or Enerz from One Utama. Change to Kelana Jaya line at Glenmarie station to access the latter attractions.
Yay! Bukit Bintang station is almost ready!
Now that you know about KL's MRT system, why not look at some attractions where you can visit from KL's MRT network!