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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Who is right on MRT cost - Rafizi or BN?

FACT CHECK PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli and the BN strategic communications team have been at loggerheads over the cost of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project and have traded facts, non-truths and everything in between.
Malaysiakini wades through the noise, tries to make sense of the arguments and checks the facts.
How did it start
When launching the first phase of the SBK line on Dec 15, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said the project was completed at a cost of RM21 billion, RM2 billion below the targeted price.
Rafizi did not initially respond to this but the Friends of BN Facebook page used the RM21 billion figure to ridicule the Pandan MP who had previously raised concern that the project's cost could hit RM100 billion.
BN's claim: Rafizi lied by claiming the MRT project's cost could hit RM100 billion when it really only cost RM21 billion.
Fact check: Rafizi's estimate of RM100 billion was in reference to the entire MRT project, comprising the SBK line and the coming Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya (SSP) line and Circle Line, with a total estimated length of 150km.
The SBK line (51km) was tagged at RM21 billion and the SSP line's (52.2km) cost was announced at RM32 billion, bringing the total to RM53 billion.
Even if the Circle Line were to cost exactly the same as the SSP line, the sum would climb to RM85 billion. But it is expected to be higher, factoring future inflation and the fact that it is planned to be constructed completely underground.
What happened next?
Rafizi did not take the attacks kindly and responded in a series of statements, beginning Dec 17 last year, with the following claims, which we fact-check:
Rafizi's claim: Najib's RM21 billion figure only referred to the first phase (Sungai Buloh to Semantan) of the SBK line, therefore the cost of the entire line would be much higher, and higher still for all three lines.
Fact check: The RM21 billion refers to the entire SBK line, as clarified by MRT Corp. Rafizi later conceded this, claiming a lack of official information and that he had to rely on news reports.
Rafizi's claim: The original estimate for all three lines was only RM40 billion.
Fact check: This is true but MRT Corp clarified the figure was no longer relevant as it was only a conceptualised proposal made in 2010 and did not include the cost of electric trains, related systems and land acquisition.
Rafizi's claims: All three lines are expected to cost a total of RM124 billion.
Fact check: The costs of the SBK and SSP lines have already been announced, which make up an estimated total of RM53 billion.
Rafizi estimated the Circle Line will cost another RM70.8 billion by extrapolating from the underground cost of the two previous lines.
This is a subjective estimates as factors such as land acquisition and geology may vary and therefore should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The Circle Line is under feasibility study and a more authoritative estimate could be announced soon.
How things got heated
Things got heated when Rafizi, in a statement on Dec 27 last year, began comparing the SBK line to other MRT projects in other countries, prompting the BN strategic communications team to rebut him.
Rafizi put the cost of the SBK line at US$103 million per kilometre (RM21 billion divided by 51km; at a conversion of US$1=RM4), compared with the Seoul Line 9, which cost US$43 million per km and the Barcelona Sants-La Sagrera line that cost US$39 million per km.
Malaysiakini fact-checks the claims and rebuttals.
BN's claim: The Barcelona Sants La-Sagrera Barcelona cannot be considered a full-fledged MRT project for comparison as it is just a tunnel that does not include any stations, depots or trains.
Fact check: This is true. The tunnel was intended to connect the Sants Station with the future Sagrera Station to improve Barcelona's connectivity between its existing northern and southern rail lines.
This was explained in a document by Barcelona Sagrera Alta Velocitat, a entity comprising the Spain's Ministry of Development, the Government of Catalonia and the Barcelona City Council.
BN's claims: The Seoul Line 9 cost is US$5.7 billion, which translates to US$152 million per kilometre and not US$43 million as claimed by Rafizi
Fact check: The BN communication team based this on Page 3 of a document from the Korea Development Institute. However, within the same document, on Page 7, it is clearly stated that the total project cost is 2.416 trillion won.
This works out to around US$2.2 billion (US$1=1,100 won), translating to around US$58 million per km. The same figure was provided in a paper by Lee In-Kuen, the former director of planning for the Seoul Metropolitan Government, which developed the rail with the private sector.
The US$5.7 billion budget cited by BN was not limited to construction and system but included operations and maintenance. At US$58 million per km, it is still almost 50 percent cheaper than the MRT SBK line.
Rafizi's claim: The SBK line cost RM28 billion and not RM21 billion as claimed by Najib, as he excluded the RM7 billion in consultancy fees, reimbursable and other payments.
Fact check: MRT Corp had estimated that the construction and system cost of the SBK line to be RM23 billion while the consultancy fees, reimbursable plus other payments like the cost of surveys, would be RM7 billion.
Najib's claimed savings of RM2 billion referred to the construction and system cost. There has not been public information on whether the SBK line over or underspent on the RM7 billion component.
BN's claim: Rafizi based his rail comparison based on unverified sources.
Fact check: The figures cited by Rafizi for Seoul Line 9 and Barcelona Sants-La Sagrera do appear to originate from a blog called "Pedestrian Observations", the author of which claims to be a mathematician.
The reliability of the information aside, Rafizi chose two cheapest rail lines to compare against the SBK line, even though there is a list of at least 25 examples.

An opposite argument can be made by choosing the two most expensive lines on the list - the Singapore Thomson MRT line at US$600 million per kilometre and Hong Kong Sha Tin to Central Link at US$586 million per kilometre.
If one is to argue that an underground line is more expensive than the mostly elevated SBK Line, the same website lists the San Juan Tren Urbano (7.5 percent underground) line at US$163 million per km or Vancouver Evergreen Line (18 percent underground at US$103 million per kilometre.)
Conclusion: Both sides have have been selective in their facts to push their respective arguments. Nonetheless, the multi-billion ringgit debt that taxpayers need to bear is a legitimate concern.

This Fact Check was done by Alyaa Azhar, Aidila Razak and Nigel Aw.- Mkini

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