The ECRL will provide an efficient link for the movement of goods and people. However, how it links the two end points – Kota Baru and Port Klang – also matters as it has great implications for cargo volume and ridership.
AS expected, the Selangor state government reacted hours after the Transport Ministry announced it will revert to the original alignment of Section C of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), with an exco member saying Selangor was “being bullied” over the ECRL project.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong on Monday affirmed the commitment of the Federal Government to complete the most critical stretch of this project from Mentakab, Pahang, all the way to the inner reaches of Port Klang, Selangor, serving both Northport and Westports – by sticking to the “northern alignment” of Section C proposed before Pakatan Harapan took power in May 2018.
During its rule, Pakatan embarked on an exercise to show that it could generate savings for the country by downscaling large projects, such as reviewing the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) and MRT3, along with the ECRL, among others.
The ECRL project is a 665km (including spur lines) railway link connecting different parts of the east coast region with the west coast region in Malaysia.
It is divided into three sections namely Section A (Kota Baru-Dungun), Section B (Dungun-Mentakab), and Section C (Mentakab-Port Klang) and is expected to be fully completed in December 2026.
In the cost-cutting exercise for ECRL, Pakatan proposed to route Section C closer towards the southern part of Pahang by running the line towards Jelebu, Negri Sembilan, before it crosses over to Kajang, Selangor, and Putrajaya on its way towards Port Klang.
In the original plan, after intersecting with KTMB’s east coast line at Mentakab, the ECRL will make its way westwards towards Bentong, about 70km away, before crossing the Main Range to provide that long-awaited shortcut between the east and west coasts of the peninsula.
As one observer put it, the Bentong district – which is also home to an industrial estate – is so near, yet so far, from Klang Valley, with driving taking at least an hour during non-peak seasons while the train from Gombak will cover the journey in about 20 minutes.
The important thing about the original Section C alignment is that it passes through Serendah, Selangor, which is earmarked as a future cargo transhipment facility for the transfer of cargo and passengers, other than complementing the proposed KTMB freight bypass, also from Serendah to Port Klang.
Anything to help KTMB increase its cargo volume is important, as this is the only profitable part of KTMB.
Its ETS services, while popular, are only marginally profitable, while the Komuter and intercity services are loss-making and are kept as “social service routes”.
Cargo-wise, the most important route for KTMB is Padang Besar-Butterworth-Port Klang, a pair of tracks that unfortunately has to be shared with ETS and Komuter trains, thus slowing things down for everyone, especially as they have to pass each other at KL Sentral, which is an important passenger hub.
From the perspective of risk management, KTMB has no choice when it comes to hazardous cargo as its trains have to pass through KL Sentral to and from Port Klang as there is no other alternate route at the moment.
Having ECRL’s main contractor build the single-line KTMB freight bypass from Serendah to Port Klang as it builds Section C at the northern alignment is in itself a form of cost and time savings, even as the new price tag for the 665km-long project stands at RM50bil, higher than Pakatan’s proposed southern option that would have cost RM44bil.
At just over 200km, Section C’s northern alignment is also more feasible from a passenger accessibility point of view, if one is serious about capturing ridership.
The original proposal has a spur line right after the ECRL crosses over to Selangor from Pahang via the Main Range, with connectivity to the Gombak Integrated Transport Terminal (GITT), a seven-storey terminal that is expected to be ready for use next year.
GITT’s feasibility is nearly assured as it is already integrated with the existing Gombak LRT station, the terminal of the most well-used metro line in Malaysia: the Kelana Jaya LRT line, which serviced more than 300,000 passengers each working day before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Costing some RM300mil, GITT will be a major transportation hub serving intercity buses and taxis, as well as intracity buses and taxis.
Klang Valley’s other integrated transport terminal is the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS), which hosts up to 700 express buses from the northern and eastern parts of Peninsular Malaysia as they converge at Bandar Tasik Selatan, Kuala Lumpur.
With GITT’s opening, many buses have the option of stopping at Gombak rather than having to travel through Kuala Lumpur to make it to TBS.
Making passenger connectivity seamless at the interface of the GITT and ECRL will incentivise people to choose rail as the preferred mode of travel, thus leading to the overall reduction in the number of vehicles on the road.
By choosing the northern alignment in Selangor, the ECRL is assured of ready passenger catchment, which cannot be said for the southern alignment, which passes through places such as Jelebu, other than cutting through the edge of the Seremban district.
On allegations that southern Klang Valley folk are neglected in favour of the north, the completion of KTMB’s double track from Gemas to Johor Baru soon will ensure that southern commuters will be reasonably well served when it comes to travel time.
There is also the need to spread development more evenly across the Klang Valley.
As it is, the “south” already has the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, KLIA2 and Putrajaya, and the proposed high speed rail (HSR) stations – when the government is ready to build the HSR – will be also in Putrajaya and near Seremban.
From the standpoint of having more balanced development, there is no need to route the ECRL through Negri Sembilan and the southern part of Selangor.
Instead, transport planning should be looking at reducing the number of vehicles on the road, whether lorries or buses.
From this perspective, whether for moving people or goods, the northern alignment is much more promising.
It is time to look at wider national interests, instead of harping just on “cost savings” alone.
What is cheaper to build now – such as the southern alignment – may very well cost the nation dearly in terms of lost opportunity for generations to come.