“Ding”. My Gmail apps notification sounded on my phone, indicating a new email was received. From the banner, I could see the word ‘Exclusive Invitation’ but since the title was not shown in full, I could not tell what invitation was that. I was anxious to read the contents of the email, so I opened the apps immediately. “Exclusive Invitation for MRT Test Ride” read the title. Little did I know that the email was my golden ticket to be one of the very few Malaysians to test ride the MRT for the #jomnaikmrt programme with the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
The date was 9th December 2016. The time was 4 pm. The place was the Mutiara Damansara MRT Station. Overall, it was a very humbling experience for me. Being an unknown small time blogger, I was delighted but at the same time diffident when I noticed the other participants who were also invited for the event. Just imagine, myself representing kaki jalans (who?) were seated together with Puteri Balqish and Rosli Abdul Rahman of PenMerahdotcom, Ahmad Nazuwan of Beautifulnara, Twitter curator @mohon_clash, Mohd Fazreen Jasni of The Vocket, Uncle Kuan Chee Heng and also Deen, radio presenter from Hotfm, to name a few. Despite the fact that the other invitees were big time names in Malaysia, they were all very friendly and they embraced me kindly, making me less nervous and more confident as time passes that evening.
We were told to meet at the Royal Chulan Damansara hotel and we chatted whilst waiting for the test ride to begin. We were also served with light refreshments to kill time before we moved to the MRT station. It was 5.00 pm and we were ready to move to the Mutiara Damansara MRT station when the announcement was made. Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, the Prime Minister of Malaysia would join us for the test ride. “Am I dreaming? Is this some kind of a joke?” I was thinking. We were all in cloud nine when we heard the announcement. Everyone started to become excited. We were nervous too.
By 5.30 pm, we walked to the Mutiara Damansara MRT station. As someone who live in Kota Damansara where one of the stations is located, I really look forward to this project since the beginning. After all, I am a strong believer of a good, reliable and efficient public transportation system. I have written to a newspaper about public transportation before and I have also rambled in this blog about how people in Malaysia love driving because of a lack of connectivity in the rail-based public transportation system.
So, when I entered the station, I was so amazed to see how modern-looking, huge and safe the station is. As compared to the existing LRT stations, the MRT stations could easily cater to twice the number of passengers who are going to use the system. Signage were precise and clear, there are elevators for disabled persons and the platform itself was fitted with giant fans and chairs. In fact, the platform is wider so passengers can comfortably queue while waiting for their trains to arrive. Another feature that I really commend is the platform screen doors. Ever since I rode the MRT in Singapore, I always think that the platform screen door is a must in every train platforms. Thankfully, they have those in the MRT stations.
The other participants and I talked about our wonderment of the MRT station and we believed that this is the shape of future Malaysia. Something that all of us can relate to beyond politics, beyond races, beyond any other issues that segregate us. Something that all of us can be proud of. We took photos of the station and the waiting train when we heard the sound of sirens. He has arrived. We stood in line to greet him and to introduce ourselves. We waited for a moment and a few minutes later, there he was, our Prime Minister, in his white shirt and dark pants, walking towards us and shook our hands one after another. “Khairul from kakijalans“, I introduced myself, being intrepid. As if he knew what kakijalans is (covering my face with both palms).
He entered into the coach with some 5 bodyguards who watches him closely. We were allowed to enter only after getting clearance from the bodyguards. Our names were labeled on the seats and we were told to find our names and sit accordingly. Suddenly, I heard Dato’ Seri Najib calling “Which one is Khairul? Mr Khairul?“. I walked towards him and saw my name was put next to him. “I am, Dato’ Seri“, I told him and slowly took my sit beside him. I was seated next to him, next to the head of government of my nation. Again, I was thinking, “Is this a dream?“. I was so nervous but I controlled my composure.
I looked around and took a good look of the train. The coach is huge – it could accommodate up to 300-400 people in one go. Multiply that with 4 coaches, we are talking about transporting around 1,600 people in one go. There are no longer static legends or blinking LED legends. The legends are now fully digitalized using digital LED screens. The driverless train is also wide and can accommodate many standing passengers comfortably. Even the windscreen is wide, so front-seaters can have a better view of the journey. In general, the interior of the train is very astonishing.
I could see that the Prime Minister was also having fun riding the MRT. He looked around and looked outside like small kids taking the train for the first time. “Is this your first time testing the MRT, Dato’ Seri?“, I asked. “No, this is my third time. I have already tried the MRT twice when it was still under construction“. I was getting more confident since he answered me. “So, Dato’ Seri, what inspired you? Why did you choose to embark on this project?“, I asked further.
He changed his position to seat more comfortably whilst facing me. “You see, when I was overseas, in the UK, I was amazed with their train system. They are modern and people always ride on those. When I come into office, I know I want a system like that. No city can keep on expanding without a good and reliable public transportation system. It will become a disaster“. His answer was honest and true. Public transportation system is the pulse of a city. A catalyst of a modern country.
I also asked him about public transportation in other states which for me is as important as the public transportation in the Klang Valley. He told me that everything is in the pipeline but he must also look at the budget. I intended to ask further questions but Dr. Abdul Rahman, a medical officer from the Malacca Hospital interrupted me with his questions. But it was okay. I had my time and he answered my questions. At least we all know where our country is directed to.
Since the train did not stop at any other stations, we arrived at the Pusat Bandar Damansara station in 10 minutes. We then walked down the “tallest escalator in Malaysia”. It was so high up and steep. There, we were shown the new feeder buses to the MRT stations, an important component of a good connectivity. This is something that is lacking in our rail based public transportation system – the last mile connection. Not everyone has or wants to drive their cars to the stations, hence having feeder buses is very crucial.
I still remember back in 1998 when I first rode on the Kelana Jaya Line LRT (then known as the PUTRA LRT), there were feeder buses which used the same buses as Intrakota buses (now defunct) to carry passengers from their homes to the LRT stations. Suddenly, the service was stopped abruptly and passengers need to find other means to go to the stations. That is why I am looking forward for the MRT to become operational soon.
I believe that it is actually quite late to start this project when Malaysians are so used to driving their own cars and even willing to be trapped in traffic jams for hours rather than taking the public transportation system. However, let us give our public transportation system another chance. Come this 15th December 2016, let us #jomnaikMRT !
I would like to specially thank Puan Nurul Hidayah, Digital Engagement Consultant for the Prime Minister’s Office for inviting me to this event. #jomnaikMRT!