KUALA LUMPUR: The RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project, which remains in limbo after Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that the feasibility study was still being conducted, is apparently not a priority with many regular travellers to the region who would rather have better roads and highways.
A check by Bernama found that many of them would prefer to have the existing highways and roads to the east coast states upgraded, as they find it more convenient to use their own transport despite the traffic congestion during festive periods.
Engineer Nik Benjamin Nik Alias, 30, said he did not understand how the ECRL or any railway project would help reduce traffic congestion during festive seasons as most people, single or married, would want to use their cars when they arrived at their hometown.
“Therefore, it will be better for the government to focus on reviving abandoned highway projects or upgrading the existing roads as the locals need to use the roads on a daily basis, not just during festive seasons,” he told Bernama.
Nik Benjamin said the government should be wiser in assessing the people’s needs before implementing a project allegedly for the people.
“The PAS-proposed Lebuhraya Rakyat (People’s Highway), for example, why is that there was no initiative to expedite the completion of the project compared to other mega projects? I think the people need this highway more as they can use it every day and not just during festive seasons,” he explained.
This is in line with Deputy Works Minister Mohd Anuar Mohd Tahir’s remarks that the government would give focus on the East Coast Expressway Phase 3 (LPT3) compared to other mega projects for the convenience of the people in Terengganu and Kelantan.
However, he said any decision to implement the 147km highway project from Kampung Gemuroh, Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu to Pengkalan Kubor, Kelantan, would take into account the government’s current financial situation.
The implementation of the project will inadvertently revive the effort of former Kelantan Menteri Besar, the late Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who had wanted to build the 73km-long Kota Baharu-Kuala Krai Highway or better known as Lebuhraya Rakyat after being abandoned for over two decades.
Trader Siti Nor Afzan Kasiman explained that it would be more practical to drive her own car rather than taking the train to return to her hometown as she has small children and might need to make several stops along the way.
”I cannot do so if I take the train. In fact, it is much more worth it to drive my own car even with the implementation of toll collection at the East Coast Expressway,” she told Bernama.
Nevertheless, Siti Nor Afzan did not refute the possibility that rail transport would be the third option for those travelling to the east coast, especially during festive seasons, as it would reduce travel time and avoid traffic congestion.
“If the ticket price is reasonable and can reduce travel time, there’s nothing wrong for the ECRL project to be implemented. I think it could be the best alternative as bus and flight tickets are usually sold out during festive seasons,” she said.
Meanwhile, former Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Said said the cost of the ECRL project was too high and it was impractical to be implemented when the country’s financial situation was unstable.
“I think it is better if the allocation be used to upgrade the quality of road surface and also the facilities along the East Coast Expressway, or to upgrade the coastal roads into four lanes for the comfort of the users.
“The costs for all that would be cheaper than the cost to implement the ECRL project,” he said recently.
Ahmad, who is also Kijal assemblyman, said the ECRL tickets were also expected to be higher than flight tickets.
“Can the people in the east coast states afford to pay hundreds of ringgit for an ECRL ticket? Maybe they will try it just to get the experience, but sooner or later, they will want to use their own cars or take low-cost flights,” Bernama quoted him as saying.
The 688km-long rail link project across parts of Selangor, Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan is aimed at reducing travel time and increasing the use of rail transport.