ECRL expected to restart soon

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

The status of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project is expected to be revealed next week, once the negotiations on its revised pricing and job scopes are concluded today.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is expected to announce the revised deal next week, according to sources.

Chief negotiator Tun Daim Zainuddin is leaving for China today to conclude final negotiations ahead of the official announcement. According to news reports, Daim will hold a press conference at the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing to reveal the outcome of the negotiations.

The controversial RM130 billion project was one of the major projects involving Chinese funds and companies to be stalled for review by the Pakatan Harapan government upon assuming power last year.

“An agreement on the ECRL is expected to be inked very soon. The construction of the ECRL will likely recommence following that,” the source told The Malaysian Reserve.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng had previously stated that China had offered reductions to the controversial project previously tagged at RM81 billion. The 688km rail network links the west coast to the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia through the Titiwangsa mountain range.

China Communications Construction Co Ltd was awarded the multibillion contract and will likely complete the project under the revised terms with some works subcontracted to local companies.

The ECRL is a key component in China’s One Belt One Road vision in this region and recent reports suggested that both countries are willing to seek a compromise as China continues to be a key trading partner of Putrajaya.

Dr Mahathir previously said while Malaysia will continue to be involved in the railway project — if the cost is agreeable — a price tag of over RM55 billion would not be affordable as it would result in a total cost of RM140 billion, including interest costs.

He said Malaysia would require 30 years to repay the loan to finance the mega project, an unlikely option as the country already has to shoulder the 1Malaysia Development Bhd debt.

Under the previous administration, the initial basic construction cost of the ECRL project was RM66.78 billion.

Dr Mahathir informed the Dewan Rakyat earlier that besides cost reduction, the rail project might proceed if all parties agreed to build a single-track rail line, instead of a double track as planned.

Media reports also suggested that the revival of the ECRL is attached to China’s prospective purchase of Malaysia’s palm oil.