The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) stretching 688km will be among key elements in boosting Malaysia’s economy as it gives a competitive edge, as well as attract foreign investments, especially from China, former transport minister Ong Tee Keat said.
He said being part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the ECRL would provide greater opportunity for the economic growth of the country, especially for the East Coast states of Peninsular Malaysia.
“The East Coast states hold great economic potential, but face a set back due to limited access to transportation infrastructure, particularly rail infrastructure. Not only the ECRL is needed now, the development of the project should be expedited due to its significance to the country,” Ong told Bernama in an email interview.
The rail link - scheduled for completion in 2024 - would connect Port Klang in Selangor with Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan, cutting across Pahang and Terengganu.
Ong (photo), who is also Malaysia-China Silk Road Business Chamber chairperson, said the ECRL is an absolutely new idea. It was planned way back in 1980s and revisited in 1999.
"Let's imagine, if we could have implemented the ECRL project 10 years ago. (But) 10 years ago we were looking at the needs for this infrastructure but for some reasons we could not do it.
"Suppose it had been implemented 10 years ago, I am fully confident that the economic scenario would have been much different (now). But now, we have reaped the benefits of this Belt and Road Initiative, which was implemented in 2013 by China, covering Southeast Asia, including our country.
“But even now, it's not too late if we can speed up the implementation of this project.
"If our country chooses to delay this project, then I think the golden opportunities, especially those arising now, with the Belt and Road Initiative, will be missed. This means, now is really the most relevant time.
“The ECRL is not only relevant to Malaysia’s economic growth but also gives us a competitive edge over other countries in the region as it will cut the time and cost of transporting our products, especially to China,” Ong said.
Touted as a game changer, the ECRL is being developed in two phases and will have 26 stations, consisting of passengers, freight and combined passengers and freight stations.
The revenue from the ECRL operations is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30 percent passengers and 70 percent freight.
It'll help to close the economic gap
Ong said the ECRL would also act as a catalyst for more aggressive economic growth for Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang and help close the economic gap between the states in the East Coast and West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
“The ECRL will also open more economic opportunities to explore in multiple sectors, including tourism. The East Coast region has a lot to offer in terms of tourist attractions. Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang will be able to attract more tourists as it will be easier and more convenient to visit these states with the ECRL.”
According to statistics from the Ministry of International Trade and Investment, China remained as Malaysia’s largest trading partner for the ninth consecutive year since 2009. In 2017, Malaysia’s trade with China increased by 20.6 percent to RM290.65 billion.
Exports to China rose 28 percent to RM126.15 billion while imports rose by 15.5 percent to RM164.5 billion. China also remained as Malaysia’s largest import source, with 19.6 percent share of total imports in 2017.
According to CNBC, China reported a 7.9 percent jump in exports and 15.9 percent rise in imports - both in dollar terms - in 2017. It was the world’s largest trading nation from 2014 to 2015. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 7.3 percent, 6.9 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively.
Per capita GDP reached RMB53,980 (RM33,144) in 2016. In the four quarters of 2017, China’s GDP grew by 6.9 percent in the first two quarters and 6.8 percent in the last two quarters, resulting in an average growth of 6.9 percent in 2017.