North or south? Experts differ over ECRL alignment

Experts cannot agree on whether the East Coast Rail Link should traverse north or south of Kuala Lumpur.

PETALING JAYA: A transport expert has supported the government’s move to revert to the original alignment of the East Coast Rail Link’s central section to traverse northwards of Kuala Lumpur.

But another expert argues otherwise, saying a southern alignment is more cost-effective – to the tune of RM20 billion – and facilitates better rail and air connection.

Talk of a possible realignment of ECRL has sparked a dispute on social media between Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong and his predecessor, Loke Siew Fook.

The northern alignment chosen by the Barisan Nasional government was changed by the Pakatan Harapan administration, which realigned the line to the south, shortening it by 40km and resulting in some RM20 billion reduction in costs.

Transport consultant Goh Bok Yen believes the proposal to revert to the original north-based alignment is the right move.

“The northern alignment is demand-driven. You have both freight and passenger movement as it passes heavily industrialised and densely populated areas, unlike the southern alignment.

“The idea of ECRL is to act as a land bridge to link the east coast to the west coast, eliminating the need for ships to go around Singapore, but it would be a waste if it did not also serve the industrial hubs along the way,” he said.

This would ensure better connectivity for the industries and, more importantly, its sustainability as it would have sufficient cargo and passengers.

Goh said if ECRL is aligned to the south, where there is insufficient demand, it would lose money, likely for years, if not decades, until the demand grows.

He said a south-based ECRL alignment bypasses Serendah in Selangor, which has a cargo transit hub linked to the national Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) network and a heavy industrial presence, including companies like Perodua, Tan Chong Motors and UMW.

“For passenger traffic, the north-based alignment taps into the Taman Melati LRT station which is a multi-model passenger transit hub for the east coast.

“Express buses stop there and passengers can connect to the LRT and MRT. If you go for the south-based alignment, the train passes by underdeveloped areas like Nilai, south Kajang and Putrajaya with negligible passenger traffic,” he said.

‘ECRL should stick to the south’

Meanwhile, Rosli Azad Khan said the old alignment was “conceived hurriedly without proper planning” resulting in its RM60 billion price tag.

He said Malaysia could save some RM20 billion, which could be diverted to other sectors like health and education, from the south-based alignment.

Even at around RM40 billion, Rosli said, the price tag is too expensive for a single-track railway which is not critical to the country’s overall logistics strategy.

“Railway services, whether passenger and freight running on a single track, will not be able to match the overall speed on an existing highway.

“So, ECRL will not produce any inherent advantage. There is no advantage in pursuing the north-based alignment, where the overall land acquisition and construction costs are much higher.”

He said the high land costs in urban corridors would also discourage private sector participation as private rail sidings to link to the ECRL.

He said ECRL can also play a more effective role in rail and air connection through the south-based alignment because of the Express Rail Link’s connection to airport terminals and to the MRT2 Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya rapid transit line.

“If the government is thinking of using ECRL to spur new economic growth, then the new alignment via southwest Pahang, Negeri Sembilan and south Selangor would present a better opportunity.

“The land acquisition costs would be much lower as they are mainly agricultural land,” he said.

Private sector companies can also participate by building inland ports and have private rail sidings for cargo like manufactured goods, palm oil, cement and other bulk building materials such as aggregates and steel products.

“There are a lot more manufacturing capabilities south of the Klang Valley compared to the north and this will provide the needed cargo and passenger base for ECRL,” he said.

Rosli added that population statistics also show there are a lot more people living in the south of the Klang Valley compared to the north.

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