Enormous potential of East Coast Rail Link project


  • Letters
  • Saturday, 04 Sep 2021

MAMMOTH infrastructure projects are often pushed to the sidelines in times of national crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic that is currently wreaking havoc on the economies and healthcare sector of countries worldwide.

However, such projects have proven crucial in ensuring long-term economic growth and stability. Just recently, the United States' Senate approved a bipartisan US$1 trillion Infrastructure Bill that would provide funds for building new roads, bridges and rail infrastructure in the country.

Malaysia should adopt a similar approach with the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a RM50bil strategic infrastructure project envisioned as the backbone for economic development and growth along the east coast of the Malay peninsula.

Stretching 665km, it would carry six-car electric train sets that can travel at speeds of up to 160km/h, servicing 20 passenger and freight stations along its route. Its overall alignment was designed to improve connectivity between the west and east coasts of the peninsula while leveraging the potential for tourism, industrial, commercial, and logistical growth along its major corridors.

The immediate benefit would be reduction in travelling time. Imagine, what is usually a seven-hour journey from the Klang Valley to Kota Baru – 12 hours during peak festive seasons – by road can be cut down to four hours using the railway.

Thanks to a strategically placed station at the Gombak Integrated Transport Terminal, Klang Valley commuters would be able to conveniently travel directly to the east coast states and vice versa. Combined with the interconnection with LRT Kelana Jaya, ECRL would provide a better link and bolster stronger passenger volumes to and from the east coast.

The ECRL could also enhance the aviation sector, as it would enable the Klang Valley to be turned into a multi-modal transit hub, interconnecting different modes of transport within a specific geographical area. For example, tourists flying into KLIA could choose to take the scenic route via the ECRL to visit states like Kelantan or Terengganu. Airlines could even offer tickets that include a train fare at a reduced price to attract more customers. This is especially vital for the tourism industry, which is looking for ways to bounce back after the pandemic.

In fact, Pahang is already building an international airport as part of its RM10.5bil Pahang aerospace city project

in Gebeng to support this expected rise in air traffic and tourism. The state government expressed hope that the airport, together with the ECRL, will position Pahang as the main gateway to states in the east coast for tourism and business activities.

While this is good news for travelling passengers, it is even better news for commercial and industrial enterprises. The ECRL would link its cargo services with that of KTMB’s (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad) at three stations, namely Temerloh, Serendah and Jalan Kastam (Port Klang). There would also be interchange facilities in Northport and Westport for KTMB. This rail extension from Jalan Kastam (Port Klang) to Northport and Westport will complete the "land bridge" between the wharf at Kuantan Port and those at Northport and Westport.

The establishment of a logistics hub at transport interchanges would further promote economic connectivity and transport of goods. It would also complement the establishment of a national cargo hub in Serendah that would facilitate seamless rail connectivity to economic corridors and ports in Malaysia involving the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) and Penang Port, East Coast Economic Region (Ecer) and Kuantan Port as well as Iskandar Malaysia and Port of Tanjung Pelepas in the south.

The construction of a metre gauge bypass from Serendah to Port Klang for KTMB is expected to be included into the new ECRL 3.0 alignment. This will serve as a significant freight relief line to KTMB to circumvent the bottleneck faced when travelling through KL’s central business district (CBD).

Development of the ECRL is crucial to bridge the current economic inequality between the west and east coast of the peninsula. It will help promote new townships, transit-oriented developments (TOD), and commercial developments as economic activities see an uptick along the rail network.

Along that vein, it is estimated that the ECRL would create some 23,000 job opportunities during its construction period from 2022 to 2023. There is even a quota of 40% local contractor participation in civil works (worth approximately RM10bil) that local construction businesses can take advantage of.
Long after the ECRL is completed, the talent produced in terms of Malaysian rail workers can be harnessed to improve current rail operations and ventures.

All parties that want the country to prosper in the post-pandemic world should rightly support this endeavour.
HARITH ISMAIL
Kuala Lumpur

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