Malaysiakini News

Will the ECRL be another white elephant?

Stephen Ng  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Tell me which public transport system in Malaysia is profitable and I will tell you whether any Chinese investor would pump in money to build the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL).

That was literally the challenge I made when I first wrote about the ECRL after Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak returned from China, boasting of huge investments pouring into Malaysia. I believe after his trip to India this time around there will be a lot of “good news” (technically more like fluff to me).

Don’t get me wrong as I would welcome investments from any country, but my reservations are mainly because of the way how the negotiations have been made.

By his visit to both China and India, just like his 1Malaysia slogan in the lead-up to the last general election, Najib will not win a single vote from those who have already made up their minds. Why is that so?

It is unfortunate that Najib comes to many of us with his baggage that one can only now take his words with a pinch of salt. Ask P Waythamoorthy of Hindraf and you will know why Waythamoorthy is no longer a deputy minister in Najib’s cabinet.

Not that he is the prime minister everyone has to believe what he has said, especially since we have been told so many variants to the real story. The generous Arab prince in the fairy tale of a RM 2.6 billion donation is what we all know from Najib until the US Department of Justice exposed the lie and called us a nation of ‘kleptocrats’.

Why is it a white elephant?

The truth is that no investor would pour in RM55 billion to build the ECRL because it will not be able to generate returns. In short, the project is not sustainable. If it were profitable, investors would be bidding for the contract to build the ECRL.

For this reason, I agree with Damansara Utara state assemblyperson Yeo Bee Yin that the ECRL will be yet another ‘white elephant’. Like the many white elephants around the country, the construction of the ECRL would only become a financial burden to the country for the next 20 years.

Let’s look at the rationale. Even though the government is not prepared to reveal the feasibility studies done by (engineering group) HSS (Integrated), your guess is as good as anyone’s.

Just look at the North-South rail link, which is supposed to be the busiest. A local company was willing to invest in the high-speed train between the Klang Valley and Singapore, yet till today, Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Berhad has not turned the train service for the entire stretch from Padang Besar to Singapore into a lucrative business.

How else would you expect the ECRL to bring good returns in order for it to be able to service its own loan? We can gauge from the traffic flow both ways from East Coast states and the rest of the peninsula. In the absence of the ECRL, are the highways always very congested with cargo trucks and inter-state coaches?

How many of the loads in these vehicles can be converted into either cargo or passengers for the ECRL? Putting the figure at 50 percent would be too ambitious, and that being the case, would it be only 20 percent at most?

Does that kind of figure justify the government’s spending of RM55 billion to build what we believe will become a white elephant, not forgetting the cost of maintaining the service...

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