Malaysia’s Monorail Curse? Four Transit Projects That Didn’t Quite Make It

Credit: JPRichard
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As most people know, Kuala Lumpur is connected with an increasingly extensive intra-city rail transit system: the Light Rail Transit (LRT), Mass Rail Transit (MRT) and Monorail – and it is the only city in Malaysia to have such a system.

Thanks to recent extension works, the LRT and MRT services connect Kuala Lumpur to other Klang Valley destinations, such as Puchong, Damansara, Sungai Buloh, and Kajang. The monorail, on the other hand, serves 11 stations chiefly within KL’s Golden Triangle, including Bukit Bintang, Jalan Raja Chulan, and the KL City Centre.

However, even though Kuala Lumpur is currently the only city in Malaysia to have a functioning monorail system at this point in time, that hasn’t always been the case. Over the years, both the Malaysian government and private companies in the country have planned and even constructed more than a couple monorail lines that are now either defunct or never made it past the planning stages.

Five such projects actually got off the ground and saw lines constructed. Four of those have since been shut down, while one is still going strong. Let’s take a look at all the failed monorail projects in Malaysia:

1. Genting Monorail – shut down in 2013

The Genting monorail was a service built for the Genting Highlands theme park in Pahang and was the first monorail in Malaysia, with service beginning in 1994.

The rail line used second-hand trains imported from the Netherlands, which were previously installed at the Floriade festival in 1992 before they were sold to the Malaysian theme park. The monorail trains were designed to look like caterpillars to ‘blend in’ with the atmosphere at the theme park.

In July 2013, however, the caterpillar monorail disappeared into a permanent cocoon when the Genting Outoor Theme Park was closed in September 2009 to make way for the construction of the world’s first 20th Century Fox World Theme Park, scheduled to open sometime in 2017. When the monorail was shut down, it was actually still in good condition and regularly served over 600,000 visitors each year in its 19-year lifetime. So this first monorail project was actually a success, but had to be shut down to make way for a bigger and better theme park.

Update 10/03/2017An amendment was made to #1 to clarify that the Genting Monorail ceased operation due to the closure of the Genting Outdoor Theme Park and not due to operational difficulties as previously stated. 

2. Sunway Monorail – shut down in 2007


The 3.2-km looped track was the second monorail system in the country and the first monorail to serve the public. The monorail was designed specifically for Sunway City and had only three stations around the Sunway Lagoon water theme park, including stops at Sunway Pyramid and Sunway University. The system began operations in 2000 but was shut down in 2007 due to high maintenance costs.

For a few years, there was talk of reviving the system, but eventually, Sunway Group founder Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah announced that the tracks would be converted into a pedestrian walkway. So in 2010, a covered pedestrian walkway was built atop the existing structure and by 2012, the pedestrian walkway connected Sunway University and Monash University to Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall. It now also connects to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system which in turn is connected to the KTM and LRT systems nearby.

3. Melaka Monorail – shut down in 2010

The shortest-lived monorail in Malaysia was the infamous Melaka Monorail. The system, which cost RM15.9 million to build, was merely 1.6km long and was mothballed after barely two months in operation. It opened in October 2010 and immediately faced technical problems with its wheels and software system. The China-made monorail first broke down only a few hours after opening with 20 people stranded inside, requiring them to be skylifted down from the train.

After a series of similar issues over the next couple of months, the monorail was shut down in December 2010. The infrastructure still stands but is slowly deteriorating from lack of use. There has been talk of restoring and continuing the system to promote tourism in the area, but there has yet to be any progress on that front. According to reports, 21 incidents were recorded during the monorail’s short run.

4. Putrajaya Monorail – project halted in 2004

The incomplete Putrajaya Monorail suspension bridge

The administrative capital was always a well-planned territory, whose original plan included a light rail system. Tunnels for the system were already being constructed before plans changed and a monorail system was chosen instead. The plan was to have two lines, one 12km long and the other 6km, connecting the city’s different precincts with a total of 23 stations.

Tracks were set up, stations were built, and even a graceful suspension bridge was constructed to take the monorail across Putrajaya’s primary lake. If that all seems rather grandiose for Putrajaya, it was. Construction of the entire system was halted in 2004 due to budget cutbacks, and also perhaps to allow the city to become populated enough to justify such a rail system. As a result, the tracks and stations are now unused and gathering dust until the time is right. If you’ve been to Putrajaya and have seen the incomplete bridge over the lake, now you know why it’s not connected to anything. Plans are now underway to revive the project and connect it to KL’s second MRT line, which is scheduled to be completed in 2022. Time will tell if this long-shuttered project can be successfully brought back to life, but initial signs and investor interest certainly seem to be encouraging.

5. Kuala Lumpur Monorail – almost cancelled in the 1990s

Credit: TK Kurikawa

Of course the lone success story is the KL Monorail. But even today’s only functioning monorail in the country had a rocky start. Plans for the line were announced as early as 1990 with work starting a year later. But despite the line’s relatively short length, it would be many years before passengers took their first ride. The project changed hands a couple of times, delaying progress and the project seemed doomed to cancellation as the region became increasingly gripped by what would turn into the Asian Financial Crisis, but construction resumed in 1998 when MTrans Holdings took over the project from Hitachi following the 1997 financial crisis.

Eventually in 2003, the monorail was completed at a cost of RM1.18 billion, far, far higher than the original estimated cost of RM143 million (primarily due to the recession and inflation). Despite this, the KL Monorail, compared to the other monorail systems around the country, is a success story. It has had its share of problems and technical glitches, but it’s still doing a great job at transporting about 68,000 passengers per day (as of 2015) around Kuala Lumpur.

In fact, the KL Monorail’s primary problem has been that it’s a victim of its own success: overcrowding and long waits topped the list of complaints for years. But in 2015, new four-car carriages began replacing the old two-car sets. The doubling of capacity was complemented by upgrades to stations and signage along the line, some of which is still ongoing today.


Malaysia has had an odd fascination with monorails (even Penang and Kota Kinabalu saw monorail plans made that ultimately never materialised), but at least one monorail line in the country can claim to be a truly successful venture!

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Razman Hakimi Abdullah

The topic and its content are totally different ? Sometimes I wish people who write will write a topic that reflects the content. I am proud to see the MRT take root and finally ease the congestion in my city.

Dan Tackage

Need some relief from the traffic? I recommend some comedy for expats!

Jeff Scott

Just like the Simpsons.

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