KUANTAN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, BERNAMA) - Malaysia's East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) was hailed as a "game-changer" by Prime Minister Najib Razak at the project's ground-breaking ceremony in his home state of Pahang on Wednesday (Aug 9).
The RM55 billion ((S$17.7 billion) "land bridge" connecting Peninsular Malaysia's east coast states with the more developed west coast will be financed by soft loans from China, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
"The ECRL is a high-impact project that will seamlessly link the Klang Valley with the states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.
"The construction of this 668km rail link is in line with the government's initiative for an efficient national infrastructure facility as well as to connect townships and upgrade public transport in the rural areas of the east coast," Datuk Seri Najib said at the ceremony, which was attended by China's State Councillor Wang Yong, as the special representative of President Xi Jinping.
China's state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has been appointed to build the railway line. It is expected to be completed by 2024.
Mr Najib said the project was long overdue as the east coast states of the peninsular had only been connected to the west coast via a network of roads, highways and small rail lines that were woefully inadequate.
"Over the years, the number of people traversing between the east coast and the west kept on growing whilst the development of public transport infrastructure to match this growth did not take place.
"As a result, congestion became a problem and remains so until today where on festive occasions in particular, the drive on the roads can take three times longer than usual," he said.
Mr Najib said the ECRL was a game-changer for Malaysia as it will significantly reduce travel time.
The rail journey from Gombak in Selangor to Kota Baru in Kelantan is expected to take less than four hours as compared to the average seven hours by road or 12 hours or more during festive seasons, he said.
He said an estimated 5.4 millions passengers and 53 million tons of cargo will use the service annually by year 2030, as the primary transport mode between the east coast and west coast.
He added that the project would have an economic spin-off effect and positive social impact for the east coast states.
At least 30 per cent of Malaysian contractors will be involved in the project, with plans to have 3,000 students enrolled in an industrial training programme to equip them to work on the project.
China state councillor Wang Yong said the ECRL was another milestone project that promotes development and regional connectivity.
He said it was a fine example of economic cooperation between the two countries and would drive the prosperity of Malaysia.
The ECRL will be an electric railway line crossing Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Selangor.
With 12 passenger stations, three freight stations and seven combined passenger and freight stations, the railway is expected to increase the gross domestic product of the east coast states by 1.5 per cent.