KUALA LUMPUR: Last month’s ceremony to relaunch the RM44 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) was greeted by cheers and sigh of relief especially among contractors and local communities clearly excited with the expected avalanche of benefits from the massive project.
The ECRL project will drive many benefits, creating a positive impact to those living near the rail line namely the three East Coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang as well as Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, and the Federal Territory of Putrajaya.
Many are taking a peek at the numerous opportunities that could be leveraged from the large-scale project which is expected to be ready by December 2026, especially in driving economic development and spurring high impact sectors of logistics, trade and tourism.
ECRL, as predicted by many, could become a game-changer to advance Malaysia’s economic and social development ambitions.
According to Transport Minister Anthony Loke, the upgraded ECRL project now encompasses 640 km route with 417 km or 65.2% due to a revise of alignment from Kota Baru to Dungun known as Section A and the whole new range entire from Mentakab to Port Klang known as Section C.
“The ECRL line from Dungun to Mentakab, known as Section B at 223 km, is 34.8% of the total ECRL range, which is not affected by any changes,’’ he said after the recent ECRL relaunch at the Dungun tunnel site, Terengganu.
The national rail project according to him is a catalyst to spur development in the east coast states and across the Titiwangsa mountain range, spurring new industrial hubs that will offer plenty of jobs to locals, kick up commerce and trade as well as boosting tourism.
His statement was echoed by the deputy president of the Terengganu Malay Contractors Association of Malaysia (PKMMT) Zamri Awang Hitam who said, the relaunch of the ECRL project will bring about positive impacts to local contractors who have been looking for opportunities to benefit from from the large-scale project.
According to him the last mega-project implemented in Terengganu was the East Coast Highway 2 (LPT 2), completed a few years ago.
“No other mega project was brought to the state after that. Not even small projects and this has caused many contractors to go bust,“ he said, adding that 40% quota dedicated to local contractors for the project would help local contractors to recover from hardship.
The construction of ECRL has been delayed since July last year when the Pakatan Harapan government, fresh from a stunning election victory, seek to renegotiate with China and the project’s main contractor, China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC) especially regarding the project’s exorbitant cost and aspects of its implementation.
Months of difficult negotiations bore fruits when the government succeeded in lowering the ECRL’s cost from RM65.5 billion when it was signed by the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government to RM44 billion, for a whopping RM21.5 billion in saving.
The project now starts from Kota Baru via Mentakab, Jelebu, Kuala Kelawang, Bangi / Kajang, Putrajaya and ends at Port Klang for 640 km route against 688 km as originally planned.
Terengganu will have six stations, namely Kampung Raja, Kuala Terengganu, Pengkalan Berangan, Dungun, Kemasik and Chukai, which include four passenger stations and two passenger and cargo combined stations.
Zamri said the association had identified potential contractors capable of seizing opportunities derived from the ECRL project.
PKMMT according to him, has many contractors who possessed expertise in various aspects including site work, electricity and so on.
Meanwhile, Terengganu Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry deputy president Dr Tengku Khairi A Rahman said the participation of local contractors in the ECRL construction project would also stimulate growth in the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly those involved with the supply of building materials.
The rail project would also create a direct positive impact on the economic chain along the route including Terengganu.
“In fact, local contractors will certainly employ skilled and semi-skilled workers among the local population and this will create many new job opportunities especially for the younger generation.
“During the construction of the ECRL, the presence of thousands of workers at the construction site will generate the local economy that benefits food traders, homestay operators, rental car entrepreneurs and other small entrepreneurs,” he told Bernama today.
In the long run according to him, the shorter travel distance to the East Coast compared to existing conventional transport would further boost the tourism sector, especially in facilitating increasing arrivals of domestic tourists.
Lecturer at Terengganu’s Sultan Zainal Abidin University (UniSZA) Faculty of Business and Management associate professor Dr Ahmad Azrin Adnan said, in addition to the positive economic impact, ECRL also contributes to environmental safeguard through the ‘green logistics’ concept.
“In addition to that, the cost of goods can also be reduced because the cost of freight transport by rail is lower than land transport. The increased public utilisation of ECRL will also reduce the use of private vehicles which will indirectly reduce the rate of road accidents,” he said.
Residents of another East Coast state who will benefit directly from the ECRL project, Kelantan, are confident the project will change the state’s economic landscape, in line with the growth experienced by states in Malaysia’s West Coast.
President of Suara Kelantan Association Che Isham Shahrudin Che Hamat Nordin said job opportunities would be more readily available following an increase in the participation of local contractors in ECRL to 40% from 30% previously.
This newly-introduced approach would directly benefit young people in the state.
Meanwhile, Kelantan deputy chief minister Datuk Mohd Amar Nik Abdullah said the Tok Bali Supply Base Company (TBSB) was currently working on upgrading its port to become a full-fledged port.
“With the addition of an ECRL cargo station, it will accelerate development especially in Tok Bali and Pasir Puteh in general. It will also spur economic development which will have a positive impact on the local population,” he said. — Bernama