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Thursday, 10 August 2017

(The Star) Rail big news for small towns

KUANTAN: Exciting days are ahead for the many small towns that dot the route of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) from Port Klang to the Kota Baru.

A host of towns including Bentong, Mentakab, Maran, Kuantan, Cherating, Chukai, Dungun, Kuala Terengganu and Tok Bali and Kota Baru, all of which are designated as ECRL stations, are looking at boom times ahead.

The ECRL will also benefit freight transport as it will link key economic and industrial areas within the East Coast Economic Region such as the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, Gambang Halal Park, Kertih Biopolymer Park and Tok Bali Integrated Fisheries Park to both Kuantan Port and Port Klang.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called it “another milestone in the country’s land public transport history”.

With its slogan of “Connecting Lives, Accelerating Growth”, Najib said the project sets the tone for an economic spin-off effect and positive social impact for the east coast states.

“The ECRL is a high impact project that will provide easy access from the Klang Valley to Pahang, Terengganu and Kelan­tan.

“The 688km rail link will be a catalyst for economic equality between the west coast and east coast as it will stimulate investments, spur commercial activity, create ample jobs, facilitate quality education and boost tourism in the states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan,” he said at the ground-breaking ceremony here yesterday.

Najib also urged local contractors with capabilities and know-how to seize the opportunity to take part in the project.

“We have together with our Chinese counterpart agreed that Malaysian contractors will be involved in at least 30% of this high impact project,” Najib said.

“The viability of the ECRL is undisputed as it is estimated that 5.4 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo will use the service annually by the year 2030 as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

“Comparatively, revenue from the operation of the ECRL project is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.”

Najib said the project was long overdue as the east coast states of the peninsula had only been connected to the west coast via a network of roads, highways and woefully inadequate rail lines.

He said the ECRL will see a mindset change for Malaysians when it cuts travel time from Gombak to Kota Baru to less than four hours compared to the average seven hours by road or 12 hours or more during festive seasons.

Najib added that it was regrettable there were still people out there trying to derail the ECRL despite the potential benefit for the people and the value it would unlock.

“Nevertheless, I would like to assure the people of the east coast that the Barisan Nasional Govern-ment has an impressive track record and will deliver on its promises,” he said.

Najib said 85% of the RM55bil project would be financed with a soft loan of 3.25% interest from the Exim Bank of China. The remaining 15% is to be funded through a sukuk programme managed by local investment banks Maybank, RHB and CIMB.

The loan will have a seven-year moratorium, Najib said.

The ECRL will be an electrified railway line crossing Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Selangor.

The railway line, with 12 passenger-only stations, three freight stations and seven combined passenger-freight stations, is expected to increase the gross domestic product of the east coast states by 1.5%.

China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company has been appointed for the construction of the RM55bil project.

Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd is the special purpose vehicle under the Minister of Finance Incorporated tasked as the project owner.