PETALING JAYA: The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and the High-Speed Rail (HSR) projects had to be cancelled as they make no economic or strategic sense, a Cabinet member said today.
Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong, in defence of the decisions made by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said the ECRL was hastily implemented without open tenders.
Liew said former prime minister Najib Razak mooted the idea of a KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail in 2010 but Singapore only agreed to the idea in 2013 after much persuasion.
“As HSR involves Malaysia and Singapore, the Najib government was unsure if the project would eventually go to a China contractor. Japanese, Korean and French contractors were also interested,” he said in a statement today.
The government, he said, had originally hoped that work on the HSR would begin in 2014, to be completed by 2020.
Liew, who is Johor DAP chairman, said in the last days of December 2015, Najib had suddenly announced that the main station of HSR – Bandar Malaysia – would be given to a Chinese corporation.
“I put out a statement then stating that such an arrangement was unfair to other bidders of HSR. The Bandar Malaysia deal later fell through in May 2017,” he said.
Liew said as the HSR project moved too slowly and involved international bidding as well as a joint decision with the Singapore government, the Najib government suddenly announced the ECRL project in 2016.
“When ECRL was proposed, the Sarawak Report alleged that the stated cost was nearly double the actual cost and the difference had something to do with 1MDB. There was no plausible explanation from the Najib government on this.
“When I opposed the ECRL project in early 2017, MCA and some Chinese media attacked me for being ‘anti-China’.
“I told them that such attacks won’t gain MCA any votes as all Malaysians, ethnic Chinese voters included, are against any deals that are financially suspicious and that this was somewhat linked to 1MDB.”
Liew said for the future, what should instead be done was for all parties to rework the idea of a Pan-Asian Railway for the greater common good of Asia.
Liew said the east coast needed better rail services. This could be done through double-tracking and electrifying the existing Gemas- Tumpat line.
“To link it better, there can even be a line from Kuala Lumpur to Mentakab, tunnelling through the centre spine, to link to Gemas-Tumpat.
“In the larger scheme of things, Tumpat can also link to the Thai part of the Pan Asia Rail Link.
“Likewise, the passenger-only HSR from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore would never generate the sort of traffic like that of the HSR between Beijing and Shanghai.
“I have doubts whether the KL-Singapore HSR can even generate income to pay for operations, not to mention returns on investments,” he said.
As for China and Malaysia, the DAP national political education director said both countries should further explore the idea of a Pan-Asia Railway linking Singapore to Kunming.
Liew said for this Singapore-Kunming rail link to work, expanding the rail network in Malaysia was certainly a good idea, but pointed out that it should be one that also carries goods and not just passengers.
“Having a freight train from Port Klang to China is still a realistic and viable alternative to passage through South China Sea,” he said.
Mahathir had said the ECRL and Trans-Sabah Gas Pipeline (TSGP) projects would be cancelled until Malaysia could afford them.
He said Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang understood the reasons behind the cancellation of the two Chinese government-backed projects.