Lyle Lanley From The Simpsons — Alive, Well and Building Monorails in Malaysia

Post by Gondola Project

In our never-ending quest to bring you the best and most unique transport stories, we were recently informed by a colleague of a curious transit system in Malaysia named the Malacca Monorail.

Being true transit geeks (and huge fans of the Simpsons), we had no choice but to personally visit it ourselves.

This 1.6km, 2 station system is located in Malacca City — a World UNESCO Heritage Site and home to half a million residents. Today, the state is a huge tourist destination and welcomed a reported “13.7 million” visitors last year.

So as a way to add recreational infrastructure to the city, the RM15.9 million (~USD$5 million) monorail first opened in October 2010. Unfortunately, in an uncanny resemblance to the Springfield Monorail episode, the system infamously broke down during it first day of operation!

Malacca Monorail at Hang Jebat Station.

Malacca Monorail train at Hang Jebat Station. Image by CUP.

In fact, during its first year, it broke down a total of 21 times as it suffered from a range of mechanical issues — not the least of which included loose door screws, software glitches and engine problems.

Perhaps the most absurd discovery was that the system was found to be inoperative during rainfall. This would probably be a non-issue if the monorail were built in a desert — except unfortunately for the Malacca Monorail, it’s located in the tropics where precipitation is a common occurrence.

Hang Tuah Station.

The seemingly abandoned Hang Tuah Station. Image by CUP.

And instead of selecting experienced manufacturers, decision-makers chose a little-known company from China called Unis Technology Company Limited (no word on whether these guys wore bowler hats and sang a song).

Undeterred that they’ve already made a bad investment, officials went on to announce the second phase of the monorail at RM13.2 million (~USD$4.1 million) in December 2011.

Not surprisingly, despite its scheduled completion date of February 2013, the second phase of the system was never fully built.  Interestingly enough, if you sail down the river today, you can actually see some of the unfinished columns as a reminisce of the ambitious yet unsuccessful project.

Malacca Monorail. Unfinished columns.

Unfinished columns along river. Image by CUP.

So while it was originally designed to provide tourists with a 30 minute ride alongside the Malacca River, the entire system is essentially now a white elephant.

Even though I’m still failing to come to grips as to how a real-life Springfield Monorail came to be, the Malacca system does offer a very important lesson for all future transportation planners: if you choose to build transport infrastructure, please, please, please remember to choose someone with a proven track record.

But hold on, perhaps I’m missing something in all this. Could this have been preplanned?

On the flip side, a broken down monorail could be a huge attraction itself. And for a country obsessed with world records, the Chief Minister himself even quipped, “We almost made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for encountering countless breakdowns.”

Now that’s an achievement worth getting recognition for!

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  1. I've been to Melaka. I think it's a shame that the system broke down so early, it would've been nice to have a monorail running along the river
  2. @ Pumpedup Kicks -- you really have to question the monorail's real purpose cause there's actually a 40 minute river cruise that runs along the exact same route, albeit for 3-4km instead of the 1.6km.
  3. Does Malacca still have that fun park kind of thing with the haunted house? I was there circa 1990. I remember walking in the dark and then the floor has foam rubber on it and a mop comes down from the ceiling onto my head. Ooh very scary. Best ringgit I ever spent.
  4. @ Matt: Not entirely. But they did have a couple of abandoned looking amusement rides across the river from the monorail. One was a tiny ferris wheel called, wait for it, "Eye on Melaka" and there was also a small pirate ship. So maybe in some ways, the place is slowly into turning into a "haunted park" (albeit unintentionally).
  5. I absolutely love this story. Obviously it's a shame that the people of Melaka were clearly duped, but it's such a direct parallel to that Simpsons episode, it's just surreal. It's like some third rate con artist was sitting around watching reruns one day and said to himself "hey, that's a great idea!" and just went for it. Wonderful piece of work here, Nick. It's a story that deserves further research and investigation.

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