KUANTAN, Pahang state, Malaysia — Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak described the establishment of the RM 55 billion 688 km East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) as a ‘game changer’ and ‘mindset changer’ for Malaysia as it will significantly cut travel time to and from the east coast of the peninsula.

He said the rail journey from the Integrated Transport Terminal (ITT) in Gombak, Selangor to Kota Bharu, Kelantan was expected to be less than four hours compared to the average eight hours and even up to 12 hours or more, during the festive seasons, thus making the ECRL a comfortable alternative transportation medium once completed.

“The ECRL project also sets the tone for an economic spin-off effect and positive social impact for the east coast states. It will be a catalyst for economic equality between the west and east coast as it will stimulate investment, spur commercial activities, create ample jobs, facilitate quality education and boost tourism in Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.”

Najib said this in his speech during the ECRL groundbreaking ceremony held at the ECRL KotaSas Central Station Project site here Wednesday.

It was witnessed by, among others, China State Council vice-premier Wang Yang, China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC) executive director and chairman Liu Qitao, and Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) chairman Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah.

Also present were Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai and the three east coast states Menteri Besar (Chief Ministers), Adnan Yaakob (Pahang), Ahmad Razif Abdul Rahman (Terengganu) and Ahmad Yakob (Kelantan).

Najib noted that the ECRL, which would become the nation’s longest rail project with a total of 688 kilometres of rail link, costing RM55 billion to be built by the China’s CCCC, one of the leading transportation infrastructure groups and named as the third top international contractor in the world with MRL tasked as the project owner.

Malaysia also received an attractive financing terms for the ECRL, with 85 per cent of the project financing including a soft loan of 3.25 per cent from China Exim Bank, with the moratorium period of seven years, while the balance 15 percent to be funded through a sukuk programme managed by local investment banks, he added.

Najib also stressed that the government had mapped out the interest of Malaysians in the project, including coming to an agreement with China that at least 30 per cent of Malaysian contractors to be involved in this high-impact project, while the ECRL industrial training programme that was launched on June 14, would provide Malaysian students with the necessary skills to work with the ECRL.

“Therefore, I urge the local contractors with capabilities and know-how to seize this opportunity and participate in this momentous project that will stimulate economic growth for the East Coast Economic Region (ECER).

“We plan to incorporate 3,600 Malaysian students under this training programme where they will be trained according to the syllabus jointly developed by two prominent Chinese universities and nine institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.

“Students that complete the training will automatically be offered jobs by MRL, the project owner and CCCC as the main contractor or their subcontractors,” he said.

Najib said the ECRL alignment would also promote the development of industrial areas and the growing trend of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) that would nurture compact residential districts and commercial centres along the rail stations, hence benefiting the major towns designated as main stations for the project.

For example, he said, the ECRL would link the key economic industrial areas with the ECER such as the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP) and Gambang Halal Park in Pahang, Kertih Biopolymer Park (Terengganu) and Tok Bali Integrated Fisheries Park (Kelantan).

“I would like to emphasise that the ECRL is rakyat-centric. The government has forecasted the gross domestic product (GDP) for the three east coast states to grow by 1.5 per cent at the current rate with the implementation of this project.

“The viability of the ECRL is undisputed as it is estimated that 5.4 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo will use the service annually by year 2030 as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast. (US$1=RM4.33)