Working around constraints of a single-track ECRL
KUALA LUMPUR: A lot of fine-tuning will be required to ensure that passenger journeys on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) from Kota Baru in Kelantan to Selangor’s Gombak Integrated Transport Terminal can be completed in four hours while ensuring cargo movements can take place without fuss, say experts.
This comes after Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) confirmed that only a single track will be built from Kota Baru all the way to Port Klang, connecting with infrastructure such as the Kuantan Port, so that a land bridge can be created between these two important ports.
“There will be seven passing loops (in addition to those at the stations) along the way (to allow trains to ‘overtake’ or bypass each other),” MRL chief executive officer Datuk Seri Darwis Abdul Razak told the media here yesterday at a talk organised by the Concorde Club, led by Star Media Group adviser and Bernama chairman Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai.
The gathering is an informal group of editors and senior journalists who meet with key policymakers, including politicians.
On the current single-track scenario, experts roundly conclude it will pose severe difficulties for the operator of the freight and passenger services, with the situation likened to the single-tracked north-to-south alignment of the KTMB network that existed for decades before the double-tracking project between Gemas in Negri Sembilan to Padang Besar in Perlis was completed in November 2015.
Even post double-tracking, KTMB is facing challenges in juggling its array of cargo services with its ETS and Komuter services in the west coast of the peninsula, with cargo trains often having to “wait” if there are any “clashes” with passenger services.
In its original proposal, ECRL was to feature a fully double-tracked alignment all the way.
However, cost cutting by the Pakatan Harapan government in 2019 led to the deferment of double tracking, though civil work such as tunnels, bridges, elevated segments and earthworks are built now to allow for the speedy addition of another track should future demand warrant it.
The entire alignment stretching 665km features a mix of elevated, underground and at-grade (on ground level) parts.
However, while a single track is cheaper to build, there are numerous operational and safety disadvantages (potential for head-on collision is heightened, for example), said Yuslizar Daud, former head of the rail division of the now-disbanded Land Public Transport Commission.
Other disadvantages include the multiplication of delays, since one delayed train on a single track will also delay any train waiting for it to pass.
Another severe constraint is the absence of room for schedule adjustment should the single track be closed for whatever reason.
Darwis said the price structure for ECRL’s freight and passenger services will most likely be unveiled in 2026 with passenger fares subject to approval from the Land Public Transport Agency (Apad), among others.
“Ticket prices cannot be so high that many people cannot afford it. At the same time, it also cannot be too low that it poses a problem for express bus operators,” said Darwis of the medium-speed passenger service capable of hitting 160kph.
As for freight prices, due consideration will also be given to existing players in the ecosystem, even as ECRL is biased towards earning the bulk of its revenue, up to 70%, from cargo operations.
Darwis also said despite being about 2% behind the timeline, overall work on ECRL should be back on track by the end of the year.
“When beam launching work (for the elevated sections) for the project is on schedule, then we can be pretty confident that the entire project will be on time,” said MRL project director Noor Azlan Salleh, who accompanied Darwis at the talk.
Track laying for ECRL will commence officially on Dec 11 near Kuantan with the honour to be performed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, accompanied by Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, Transport Minister Anthony Loke and Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Ouyang Yujing.