con·tem·po·rar·y - Modern times in its generic sense, living, occurring, or existing, at the same time; often also used as a synonym for "modern" Ma·lay·sia - A country of southeast Asia consisting of the southern Malay Peninsula and the northern part of the island of Borneo.

Hopes that a viable solution is found to solve the public transportation woes, news taken from The Edge Daily

By Lee Wei Lian ,The Edge

The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) has proposed that the Penang government reintroduce trams as a mode of public transport in the island. Penang used to operate an electric tram system until 1936 when it was discontinued in favour of trolley buses.

The proposal is based on a study done by the PHT last year. According to a copy of the proposal obtained by The Edge, the first two phases will cover the routes with the heaviest traffic, totalling 7km in length. It will be serviced by 10 electric tram cars, of which seven can accommodate 220 passengers and the remaining three 40 passengers. The estimated cost is RM63.98 million or RM9.14 million per km. The proposal also estimates that the project would take no more than 24 months to implement from the appointment of consultants to the commissioning of the system.

This proposal comes at an interesting time because a monorail system that was supposed to be implemented in the state under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) is in question. In January, Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd awarded a letter of intent for the construction of the monorail system in
Penang to a consortium led by Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd. The other members of the consortium are Penang Port Commission and Scomi Engineering Bhd.

Last month, Melewar Industrial Group presented a proposal to the
Penang government for a 52km monorail system costing RM2.2 billion. In March, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was reported to be considering a subway system for the island.

The federal government is currently reviewing its projects under the 9MP and speculation is rife that the implementation of the monorail project may be delayed.

When contacted, Lim Hock Seng, state executive councillor in charge of air, sea and rail transport, says
Penang welcomes any federal government initiative, such as the monorail, but if none is forthcoming, the state government will have to explore alternatives.

Ahmad Chik, the author of the proposal and a PHT council member, says electric trams, or light rail transit as they are known in many countries, do not require a licence from the federal government to operate but can be undertaken by the local council.

He adds that the proposal was presented to the previous state government, which was in favour of it, and that it was mentioned to the new state government in a brief meeting. But a formal presentation is still pending. He says a more detailed study should be commissioned before any major transport decision is made.

Chow Kon Yeow,
Penang exco member in charge of local government, traffic management and environment, confirms that the proposal was mentioned to him but there still has not been a formal presentation.

Dr Choong Sim Poey, the PHT's president, says trams are environmentally friendly and some of the old tram lines still exist on
Georgetown roads and can be reused. "Don't go for expensive solutions. Look at multi-modal public transport and show the cost benefit to the people," he says.

Trams were very popular in the early 19th century. However, with the growth in popularity of motor vehicles, many cities decided to remove the tram system, which was perceived to be old fashioned, in favour of cars and buses. Notable exceptions include
San Francisco, Zurich and Melbourne.

Melbourne not only preserved its tram system, but also expanded it into the world's most comprehensive one, with over 245km of lines, 500 trams and 1,813 stops.

In the 1970s, the term "light rail transit" or LRT was coined by the industry to update the image of the tram and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Unlike in
Malaysia, LRT in most other countries refers to modern electric trams, which run on unobtrusive rails embedded in the road as well as conventional rail tracks. Today, LRT is enjoying a resurgence and dozens of cities around the world have reintroduced LRT to their streets.

These include
Los Angeles, which once had the world's largest tram system, and Sydney, which reintroduced trams to its streets in 1997. Last year saw the opening of new LRT lines and cities that joined the tram fraternity include Buenos Aires, Argentina; Nice, France; and Toyoma, Japan. The latest city to do so was Shanghai, which started construction on a 10km LRT line last December, some 30 years after the last tram was taken off its streets.

While some people perceive trams as old-fashioned vehicles, modern electric trams can look quite sleek and futuristic. Their main advantage is that they operate at surface level and commuters can hop on and off without the hassle of trekking up to an elevated platform. The cost of building a tram stop is also negligible compared to building an elevated platform station. The stops are also less visually disruptive and tend to blend in with the urban landscape.

Tim Hunter, head of sector for rails at Siemens, tells The Edge that there are some challenges to reintroducing the tram system, which include integrating with the road traffic. "Integration is key. If the planners can resolve how the system can work with the traffic, it will be an excellent mode of transport as people can hop on and off and you can also increase capacity easily. It's also flexible enough to serve both the city and suburban areas. While in the city, the trams will be treated as road vehicles and obey speed limits, but once they are out of the city and are on dedicated tracks, they can reach speeds of up to 100kph."

To make trams a more attractive option, he says there are technologies that can help them achieve greater mobility in the city, including giving them priority at traffic lights.
Siemens is working on a project to reintroduce trams to
Edinburgh, where the last tram was taken off the streets in the 1960s. The new trams are scheduled to be operational in 2011. However, when asked about the PHT's cost projections, Hunter says they are too low.