The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a 620km high-impact project under the 11th Malaysia Plan, will be built and funded by China. The government is hopeful that it would spur the country’s transportation industry development and help to speed up growth of small towns along the way.
However, PKR Bandar, Terengganu Assemblyman Azan Ismail worries that the project may end up in a same fate as the East Coast Expressway (LPT2), which is struggling to recover its building cost.
“The highway is very much under-utilised,” he says. “It lacks of traffic volume and toll collections are also not up to par as what was projected prior to the construction of the highway.
“That is why this railway project looks as though it would have a recurring problem. The state government of Terengganu paid for the LPT2, are they expecting the same to take place for the ECRL?
“It is really not a wise decision to spend that much in this economic situation that country is facing at the moment.”
Azan says he does not see any reason why the railway is needed.
“In terms of ROI (Return of Investment) I don’t see how it will yield returns even in the next 100 years. There is no public reason as the people don’t need this rail, and if we are talking about efficiency and timing, it also does not support the building of the railway, especially when we are possibly entering pre-economy crisis soon.
“Maybe the PM (Datuk Seri Najib Razak) could say that he wants to modernise towns, but otherwise, logically, it just looks like a reason for him to show that he is doing something for the people to regain the public’s confidence in him,” he adds.
Even with 60% of the railway project being located in Terengganu, the people will not necessarily benefit from it.
“The state government forked out RM1.85 billion and until now there is no recovery. If this is a form of reward that Najib is giving to Terengganu for its past years of revenue contribution, while it may sound rewarding, the railway only passes the town centres but there is no indication of regional development in its plans.
“The locations are not strategic at all and it will not encourage regional development no matter how you look at it,” he says.
Azan says none of the state’s representatives have spoken or given their views on the project.
“They are all keeping quiet as if they don’t know anything about this project. Nothing had been discussed or projected, there no information on the project and lacking in discretion.
“Even if the government has stated that the project is conducted as a PFI (Private Finance Initiative), there is no reason for another country to take interest in Malaysia’s social obligations.
“What is in it for China that it wants to interfere with Malaysia’s social development? The only logical reason for China’s involvement is that it is making a huge profit out the project. If you look at the towns the railway will pass, these could be towns that are rich in gold reserves, mineral reserves and timber that could be worth billions.
“But if that is true, that would be the most stupid move taken by our government and that is to sell out the country on purpose,” says Azan.
He adds that in terms of investment returns, it would take at least 100 to 200 years to break even. The amount to be spent, a rough estimation of RM35 billion out of the total reported cost of RM55 billion, does not justify this amount of spending all used on a railway project.
“The people in Terengganu don’t need a railway. The government cannot even ensure basic fundamental investment in the society let alone this railway.
“We need a better infrastructure system, a better town organisation in both urban and sub-urban areas. The state’s infrastructure is in a mess as there are no changes for 40 years, including the inter-connectivity between towns.
“Terengganu is very hilly, it does not make sense for a train to pass through,” he says.
Azan also points out that Terengganu should be developed based on a status it received during the late Tun Hussein Onn’s time as being home to one of the best natural ports.
“That should be one of the developments that should receive investments and it can be easily transformed into a renowned port for our neighbouring countries.
“We need these kinds of facilities to support some of the existing facilities such as Terengganu’s international airport.
“It doesn’t cost that much to realise these developments and RM35 billion is more than enough. We need an upgraded land and water transportation system as trains were never a topic of discussion in Terengganu given its highland and hilly landscapes,” he says.
Azan is hopeful that there is room for second opinions on the project and a feasibility analysis can be conducted before the project commences.
Source : Soo Wern Jun@The Heat Malaysia Online