Malaysia's Transport Minister says no more changes to East Coast Rail Link route

The construction of the 665km track is about 25 per cent completed as of end-October. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said Thursday (Dec 2) that the country's RM50 billion (S$16.15 billion) East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), aimed at connecting ports on both sides of the peninsula, is back on track despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He insisted that there would be no further changes even in the event of a change in government but did not elaborate further on this point.

"When the government has signed the agreement, and we have finalised the section, whether it is state or federal, it is considered an international contract. We have finalised this section and we shall proceed with this. There is no issue if there is a change of government at the state level or any part of Malaysia," Datuk Seri Wee told a news conference following a document handover ceremony for the Northern Alignment of the track.

As of now, there is also no instruction to stop work due to the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, he said. Malaysia has not reported any cases of the Omicron variant as of Thursday.

The construction of the 665km track is 25.09 per cent completed as of end-October and its target completion date remains December 2026, added Mr Wee.

Selangor Chief Minister Amirudin Shari said on Thursday that the Transport Ministry had addressed several issues linked to the Northern Alignment that will run through the state, including environmental concerns.

The ECRL alignment will not encroach into the Klang Gates (Gombak) Quartz Ridge - which is up for inscription as a United Nations heritage site - or built near the Batu Dam, which supplies water to Selangor residents.

"In that regard, I officially announce that the Selangor government no longer objects to the implementation of the ECRL alignment that traverses the northern part of Selangor," Mr Amirudin said during the ceremony.

The project will proceed with a revised Northern Alignment put forward by the Umno-led federal government.

Previously, the Selangor and federal government had failed to reach agreement on the matter.

The Chinese-backed project was first announced in 2016 by then premier Najib Razak but came under fire from critics over its RM55 billion price tag and unfavourable financing, with the tender handed to state-owned China Communications Construction Co (CCCC).

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition revised the deal after it defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) at the 2018 election, announcing a longer but cheaper Southern Alignment in 2019 to connect Kota Baru in north-eastern Kelantan, with Kuantan Port in the east, before heading to Port Klang which faces the Malacca Strait.

But after the PH government collapsed in February 2020, the Northern Alignment was revived by its successor, the Muhyiddin Yassin administration - which includes most of the parties that formed BN prior to 2018.

Selangor, still controlled by PH, had previously insisted that the Southern Alignment was superior because "it would open more new economic areas, apart from avoiding disruption to water catchment areas".

State governments in Malaysia have final say over land use. Although the federal government could invoke the Land Acquisition Act citing national interest, it would likely lead to a lengthy court battle.

The ECRL is one of several megaprojects affected by Malaysia's shifting political landscape in recent years.

The high-speed rail to Singapore was called off at the end of last year, having also been up for review after the 2018 election. But, on Monday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who took office less than four months ago, mooted reviving the project.

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