I HAVE been following developments of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project very closely. There have been many discussions in the media about the project, but they have mostly centred around its political and cost aspects.
Leaving the politics aside, as a transport planner, I am very impressed by the speed and wisdom of the ECRL alignment review. This is referring to the review of the crucial segment of the rail to traverse through the economically most vibrant region of the country, ie, the Greater Klang Valley, including the connection to the KL International Airport (KLIA), Port Klang and the mega Malaysian Vision Valley.
It is also very rare for a Prime Minister to actually give a press statement on the technical aspects of a project like the ECRL, but Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s announcement, as reported in “New date set for ECRL completion” (The Star, April 15; online at bit.ly/star_ecrl), clearly explains the objective of the realignment.
The new alignment added another state, ie Negri Sembilan; and a new city, ie, Putrajaya, compared with the original route. Not only will the distance be shortened leading to cost reduction, the realignment with a direct link to KLIA, and with interconnectivity with existing and future transit modes, is a desirable and appropriate way to plan major transportation infrastructure investment for the country.
Imagine, the ECRL will transport passengers and tourists and cargo from various locations to and from KLIA via an interchange near the airport. This will be a game changer for transportation in Malaysia.
Another pertinent point mentioned is the direct link from Kuantan Port to Port Klang with the ECRL acting as a land bridge between the two ports. This connection is vital if the objective of the ECRL is to stimulate the economic development of the East Coast. With the two major ports linked with rail system offering relatively high speed and capacity, the distance and time of transporting passengers and cargo between the areas will be shortened.
This is virtually bringing the important regions of the peninsula, with existing functioning ports, closer together. The spillover effect will also benefit Terengganu and Kelantan further north.
In fact, a transit land port could also be developed near Putrajaya with KLIA in the vicinity to generate the desired economic activities to reap the maximum benefits of the ECRL. Hence, the original Integrated Transportation Terminal planned in Gombak, Selangor, may be shifted to this location in Putrajaya, completing the transit and rail network linkage with KTM Komuter, ETS Services, ERL, MRT and the future HSR.
The road system in this region is already well-developed giving the necessary impetus to complete a comprehensive rail and road network for even greater economic development and raising of living conditions. This comprehensive transport network, when completed, will fit into the National Transport Policy of developing an efficient, effective and interconnected transportation network for the country.
In fact, by connecting the ECRL to the KTM line will also link the rail network to the north because the KTM track is a north-south system. The ECRL will therefore serve as the spine or primary link to all parts of the country.
Malaysia was once seen as a developing country with an admirable highway system. This rail and transit network link will undoubtedly put our country on the map among nations with well-developed rail systems.
In any case, good transportation infrastructure must necessary be complemented with a reliable, world- class service standard.
Hence, while the decision-makers are focusing on the physical infrastructure cost and implementation strategy, it is hoped that attention will also be given to engaging the ECRL with high-tech soft infrastructure deploying intelligent transport systems and advanced passenger information, ticketing and surveillance systems.
This will result in a world-class rail and transit network that is safe, comfortable and efficient.
Needless to say, an effective management organisation that is beyond reproach to operate the transport system is another crucial ingredient for the ECRL to be successful.
LEE CHOY HIN