By Nurul Hanis Izmir
KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 2018 : The RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project is a worthy investment, especially for those in the east coast as it will change their economy and social life in the long term.
The 688-kilometre project, which links Port Klang, Selangor with Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan, will have 28 stations. It will offer passenger and cargo rail services and is expected to be ready in June 2024.
At a recent ground-breaking ceremony for the Tunjong ECRL station, Kelantan Federal Action Council Chairman, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, said the construction of the ECRL station would transform the town into a new economic growth centre for the people in the state.
Echoing this, a Kelantanese, Mohd Farhan Hafiz Nozeli, 30, said on a macro level, the project would help domestic construction players with its estimated RM16 billion contracts and boost the tourism sector.
“The freight transportation sector can also take advantage of this while on micro level it is expected to provide especially skilled jobs for the locals.
“The ECRL will be a platform to provide more jobs and at the same time improve infrastructure along the routes for the rakyat,” he told Bernama.
A lecturer from Kuantan, Pahang, Juliawati Mohd Yunus, 35, said the project has affected the market.
“In the property industry, the house prices in Kuantan have started to rise by up to 10 per cent in less than five years. Luckily, I have already secured a unit in Kota Sri Ahmad Shah, which will be one of the ECRL stations and I am excited to see the changes in my area.
“But going back to the idea of this project, which aims to enhance the local and the small and medium industries, I can see that surely something is going to change. There will be no more long hours to transport the rubber products from Johor rubber manufacturing factory to fulfil the demand in Kelantan.
“Not to say about the definite changes around the area as it will be developed to better serve the nation. The Tunjong ECRL station is just a kilometre from Kota Baru-Gua Musang highway and it will be a popular stopping point for road users when shopping malls, other facilities and infrastructure are developed,” she said.
However, Juliawati said, there were still people who could not understand why the government decided to opt for transportation by trains when upgrading existing highways could benefit both industry and the rakyat.
“My family and I often drive to Kuala Lumpur and we can only do it at night after work and sometimes the highway is congested and at times you will see cows grazing along the highway and this is dangerous.
“By using ECRL, we can arrive at our destination safely. My other concern is the fares,” she said.
Siti Safiah Ismail, 28, from Terengganu welcomed the project saying it would help her aunties sell keropok lekor to commuters using the train.
“For us micro entrepreneurs, we move often in the east coast area and train is the suitable avenue for us as it could transport our products and deliver to our clients in good shape.
“The fact that the ECRL can shorten travel time is a bonus and it can boost our business as we can deliver more fresh products to the customers and increase our travel frequencies,” she said.
It was reported that east coast’s gross domestic product was expected to rise by at least 1.5 per cent, thanks to the ECRL project.
Project owner, Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd, said in a statement that in Kelantan alone, the construction was progressing slightly ahead of schedule.
Meanwhile, Deputy Director (Industrial Linkages & Commercialisation) of Malaysia Institute of Transport , Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam, Dr Shahrin Nasir, said everyone was looking at ECRL as a game-changer for the country.
“Among others, the five hours of travel from Tumpat instead of 11 hours by car or the 13 to 24 hours by the old railway line will increase the mobility of the east coast travellers.
“Tourism will definitely increase. In my opinion the whole alignment of the railway network can take advantage to promote tourism in the area. Tourism packages to explore the beautiful island of Terengganu can be one of the attractions,” he said.
Shahrin said even though many had argued about the fare since it was a RM55 billion project, he would look at ECRL more at the freight movements from the east coast to Port Klang.
The government added RM5 billion to connect from Gombak to Port Klang which is the gateway to Malaysia.
“The business environment will change as the ECRL will open up more industrial areas and also support the current industrial areas in the east coast. When more industrial areas are available, people will start to move from the west coast to the east coast.
“Gambang Industrial Park is one of the examples. If more industrial parks in Terengganu and Kelantan can be built, this would make the state more prosperous,” he said.
However, he said, the biggest challenges will be to ensure that ECRL will be the preferred service for passenger and cargo movements.
The railway business, he said, needed a lift in order to be sustainable.
“This is similar to what Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd has done by introducing electric train services. With a reliable service, customers will be convinced to use it.
“The railway has low environmental problems. If Malaysians can be taught to see the environment advantages rail travel has, the ECRL could be the preferred service for them,” he said. – Bernama