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In October 2020, all 13.5 km of tunnels connecting the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit Putrajaya Line underground section was finally completed. This marks the end of a journey that began since March 2018, a staggering feat involving up to 600 Malaysians.
Main contractor, MMC Gamuda KVMRT (T) Sdn Bhd, though having gathered substantial expertise in completing the KVMRT Kajang Line, were many times pushed to the wall by forces beyond their control.
To start with, compared to the MRT Kajang Line, the alignment traverses a more diverse range of geologies, from the highly karstic limestone region of the Chan Sow Lin-Sungai Besi area — notorious for some of SMART’s worst sinkhole incidents — to the unusually hard and abrasive granitic features in the Titiwangsa region.
Twelve out of the 16 tunnel drives were self-performed, while simultaneously interfacing with 17 construction sites and hundreds of affected stakeholders.
In terms of scale and technical complexity, the project is a level up from the MRT Kajang Line, but it also operated under some of the most challenging circumstances — a near termination of the project halfway through, a massive cost rationalisation exercise thereafter, and the most recent — working in the context of a pandemic.
Needless to say, the completion of the tunnel drive is a great point of relief and celebration. Yet it is also a time of much speculation, as our tunnellers look over a still uncertain horizon.
Amidst these ambivalent times, we spoke to Director of Tunnels, Gusztáv (Gus) Klados.
With almost 50 years of industry experience under his belt, Gus has seen tunnelling powerhouses rise and fall, and has cradled Gamuda’s tunnelling arm since its infancy. It is only apt then to glean from his perspective as we grapple with the future beyond.
“When we started with the SMART project in 2002, a lot of people told us we were crazy, and we can’t build a tunnel in the middle of KL.
“In fact, the first underground Light Rail Transit alignment deliberately avoided the areas in Kuala Lumpur with karstic limestone as it would have been extremely difficult to build in,” he said.
These turned out to be the exact conditions in which both the SMART project and MRT Kajang Line existed in.
To prepare for SMART, Gus assembled a team of promising young engineers and sent them to Germany to be part of the tunnel boring machine (TBM) assembly team.
“During construction, we were pitted back to back against a very experienced German contractor in charge of the Northern drive, eventually we finished the Southern drive well ahead of them.
“That was the birth of our tunnelling capabilities in Gamuda and we managed to build up an internationally significant team during this process, that is remarkable,” Gus added.
The tunnellers have been unstoppable since, growing exponentially in technical know-how and project capabilities. In fact, the timely breakthroughs of MRT Putrajaya line TBMs were only possible with their acute foresight early in the project.
When deliberating on the tunnel drives programme and machines to procure, the leaders vouched to procure new TBMs on top of recommissioning refurbished TBMs from the MRT Kajang line.
Although the decision to procure new TBMs cost more at that time, it eventually paid off as the tunnellers met their projected milestones despite unexpected lapses in the tunnelling works, i.e. when a particularly difficult stretch from Titiwangsa to Sentul West entailed blasting the rocks right in front of the TBMs as a final resort, and when the Movement Control Order ensued.
Ultimately, Gus attributed the radical growth of our capabilities to having the right set of people (that includes client and top management as well) and technology, but none of these would have been possible without continuity of projects.
As the Circle Line (meant to complete the KVMRT network) and many other tunnelling jobs remain in cold storage over political and global uncertainties, Gus expressed his concern over the future.
“There will be other places where we will have an opportunity and we do have a good chance of getting jobs, but it would be a great loss for the country for all these talents to scatter around,” he said.
Gamuda Australia has made heads turn this year with multiple prequalifications for Australian projects, bearing weight to our strong position among global players.
As to his thoughts on how we will fare away from home grounds, Gus responded in full confidence, “We have the knowledge, and we have the capabilities. If we cannot use it in Malaysia, we will use it somewhere else.”
 The Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel Project.
 Including 11 underground stations and other ancillary structures.
 The Kajang Line consist of seven underground stations stretching over a 9.5 km alignment in Kuala Lumpur’s central business district.
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