Image courtesy of the New Straits Times
By Charles F Moreira, Editor
Representatives of several Chinese associations and societies on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia are positive about the economic growth which the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will bring to their part of Malaysia, according to the Chinese language paper Oriental Daily News.
At the ground breaking ceremony of the ECRL in Kuantan on 9th August 2017, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak urged its builder, the China Communications Construction Company which will undertake the procurement, engineering and construction of the ECRL to complete the project before 2024. The project worth RM55 billion (US$13.1 bil) will be financed by China and repayable over 20 years at a below market interest rate.
According to the Chartered Institute of Building’s Global Construction Review and Channel News Asia, the 688 km long ECRL will connect Pengkalan Kubur in Kelantan to Port Klang in Selangor, as well as 21 other stations in major cities and towns along its route, including Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan, Kuala Terengganu and Kota Bharu, with branch lines to ports on the east coast. With electric trains travelling at 200 kmph, the ECRL is expected to cut travel time between Pengkalan Kubur and Port Klang from the current 12 hours by road to four hours by rail.
ECRL will also enable connectivity to the Kuala Lumpur – Singapore High-Speed Rail which is expected to cut journey time between these two capital cities down to 90 minutes from over five hours by road, and also to current and future rail links from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
In the bigger picture, the ECRL is intended to eventually become a part of the Pan-Asian High Speed Rail network which will connect with Bangkok, other major towns and cities in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Kunming in China as part of the One Belt, One Road initiative.
Meanwhile, the representatives of the Chinese associations and societies interviewed by Oriental Daily News believe that the ECRL could drive the industries and trades on the east coast, including manufacturing and tourism by bringing unlimited business opportunities for local businesses and improve the competitiveness of these states as well.
For example, the President of Kelantan Chinese Assembly Hall Oie Poh Choon believes that the ECRL will drive Kelantan’s economy and it will connect both ends of the state and in turn Kelantan’s people and traders. However, he expressed some concern as to whether the people will end up having to bear the cost of the loan repayment and urged the government to have plans to boost its income once the project is completed so it can pay off the loan sooner.
The President of the Terengganu Chinese Chamber of Commerce Lau Wan Cheong believes that the ECRL will benefit industries and trades such as services, property, tourism and manufacturing by bringing in unprecedented business opportunities, and further improve the competitiveness of Terengganu, with prospects of future benefits when goods can be exported from Terengganu directly to China and other countries.
“Although the construction work of the railway has just been launched, in fact three months ago Terengganu has already begun to feel the effect of the ECRL; contractors from China arrived three months ago and hired local workers as well as buying things locally, I believe the effect will be even greater in the near future. E-commerce is currently prevalent, once the ECRL is completed, it will be more convenient on the logistics; we hope the railway project will be completed as soon as possible to bring unlimited business opportunities to Terengganu,” Lau said.
According to Kuantan Port Authority director Datuk Seri Lee Jin Xian, transportation on the East Coast has always been relatively backward, with people in Kuantan haveing waited for 30 years for a railway link to all places, so the ECRL will drive economic growth on the East Coast.
“Especially next year, the Kuantan Port New Deep Water Terminal will be extended 16 to 18 meters deeper, capable of berthing ship with 200,000 tonnages. Kuantan Port is a free port as such it will bring more business opportunities to Kuantan and driving the logistics system of ASEAN countries,” Datuk Seri Lee said.
Whilst detractors say the ECRL will turn out to be a ‘white elephant’ or will be ‘economically unviable’, they forget the lessons of history and elsewhere where mass transportion routes, facilities or hubs, such as ships, sea ports, roads, railways, highways, planes, airports, as well as communications facilities such as the telegraph, telephone and broadband Internet have all brought economic development and growth in their wake.
The East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia has mostly been known as an unspoiled, idyllic, laid back getaway from the hustle and bustle of life on the West Coast,for its fishing, tourism, timber and more recently its oil and gas industry but as we can see from the above, all this is expected to change once the ECRL starts running, though hopefully the East Coast will be able to enjoy the best of both worlds and manage to retain its traditional current charm together with the modernity set to come.