Coronavirus: Malaysia's mega rail construction not affected by outbreak, says project owner

The East Coast Rail Link sign in Pahang, Malaysia, on Aug 28, 2018. The China-led project is the country's biggest mega project. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

KUALA LUMPUR - Construction of Malaysia's biggest mega project called the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) has not been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, though some 1,000 project workers are from mainland China, its project owner said on Tuesday (Feb 18).

A total of 200 workers from China had landed back in Malaysia after the Chinese New Year holidays.

They have returned to work after completing a 14-day self-quarantine at their base camps, project owner Malaysia Rail Link chief executive officer Darwis Abdul Razak told a news conference.

Another 13 workers who are from Wuhan in Hubei province at the centre of the outbreak have been told not to come to Malaysia "for the moment", he said.

Malaysia currently bans those from Hubei province from coming to the South-east Asia country, but that they were currently working remotely from home, said Datuk Seri Darwis.

Many of these workers are management level staff members so their absence from the development site "will not affect our construction at the moment," he said.

The other mainland Chinese workers in ECRL, numbering some 800 people, had remained in Malaysia instead of flying back to China for the holidays.

The China-led project, linking the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and administrative capital Putrajaya to the east coast states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan, is the country's biggest mega project.

Last April, China reduced the cost for building the ECRL to RM44 billion from the original RM65.5 billion agreed by the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

China also agreed to a 50:50 joint-venture to operate the 640-km line across Peninsular Malaysia thus reducing Kuala Lumpur's financial risks. The previous arrangement was for Malaysia to shoulder the entire cost of operation and maintenance.

Expected to be completed by December 2026, a ride on the ECRL from Kelantan's state capital Kota Baru to Putrajaya will take just 4 hours - a little over half the time needed for a car ride between the two places.

About 10 per cent of the line was already built before the project was suspended in 2018, following the BN loss from power, as the Pakatan Harapan government negotiated for lower project costs.

At present, the project is 15 per cent completed after work resumed in July last year on tunnels and viaducts along its route in Terengganu, from Dungun, Terengganu to Mentakab, Pahang.

Mr Darwis said yesterday that the virus outbreak is also not expected to affect the construction progress and loan disbursements from China's Exim Bank.

"As far as funds disbursement is concerned, there is no issue about it. Everything is progressing well...we do not anticipate any issue," he added.

China Communications Construction ECRL managing director Mr Bai Yinzhan, who was also present at the news conference, said: "I am very confident that this outbreak will be over soon." The company is the project's main contractor.

On Tuesday, a Terengganu state owned company Terengganu Inc orporated, China Communication Construction ECRL and Malaysia Rail Link signed a memorandum of understanding pertaining to the portion of the ECRL running though this state.

Malaysia Rail Link has formed a joint venture firm with China Communications Construction Company to operate and maintain the project.

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