Announced in the middle of the Rantau polls campaign, news that the renegotiated East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) may be rerouted to Negeri Sembilan has courted criticism and scepticism that it is merely an election ploy.
However, in Putrajaya's bid to reduce the cost, the new alignment is emerging as a realistic possibility due to terrain considerations
Under the previous alignment from the east, the ECRL will pass through Mentakab and then travel northwest to Bentong in Pahang, before going southwest through the challenging Klang Gates Quartz Ridge and then on to Gombak in Selangor.
This would entail the construction of a 17.8km tunnel from Bentong to Gombak which can prove to be costly.
It may also threaten Selangor's bid to list the Quartz Ridge as a Unesco heritage site.
An alternative is to go around the Quartz Ridge through the south which will bring the ECRL alignment along the northern border of Negeri Sembilan before heading back into Selangor.
This possibility was reinforced by a Sin Chew Daily report today citing sources within the ECRL negotiation team as saying that a renegotiated ECRL alignment would bypass Bentong.
The report said the last western station in Pahang would instead be Mentakab.
This would mean that from Mentakab, instead of travelling northwest to Bentong, the alignment may now go southwest into Negeri Sembilan before entering Selangor without going through the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge.
Under renegotiated terms, Putrajaya is expected to reduce the cost of the ECRL from RM66.8 billion to between RM39 billion and RM46 billion.
Apart from avoiding costly tunnelling through the Quartz Ridge, other measures undertaken to reduce costs include going for single tracking instead of double tracking as well as ending the track in Kota Baru in Kelantan, thus dropping the Pengkalan Kubor and Wakaf Baru stations.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is expected to travel to Beijing at the end of this month to finalise the renegotiated deal.
He is also expected to discuss China's purchase of Malaysian palm oil, but this arrangement would be separate from the ECRL deal contrary to previous reports about a bundled deal.
Under the initial alignment, the ECRL would have comprised a rail line costing RM46 billion from Wakaf Baru in Kelantan to Gombak (Phase 1) and another RM9 billion line from Gombak to Port Klang (Phase 2).
There would also be a RM1.28 billion extension from Wakaf Baru to Pengkalan Kubor, and a RM10.5 billion upgrade for double tracking. In total, this would have cost RM66.8 billion.