Kelantan, Malaysia’s most northern State and one of the poorest in the country, will see its services and agriculture sectors benefiting from the East-Coast Rail Link (ECRL), according to MIDF Research Analyst, Abdul Fadhli Zil Ikram Dzulkifly said.
“Change through logistics growth will spur supply and demand for the services sector which contributes to the bulk of Kelantan’s gross domestic product and agriculture production,” he said.
The main beneficiary in this case would be companies operating within and around the Malaysia Thai Joint Development Area, he told Malaysia news agency Bernama.
In August 2017, China and Malaysia broke ground for a RM55 billion mega rail project, the 688 km ECRL to link the east and west coasts of the country, as well as the peninsula’s main shipping ports.
The ECRL is forecast to carry 26 million tonnes of freight per annum by 2025. In addition, about 5.07 million passengers are forecast to use the service per annum by 2025, with the figure expected to grow to 5.97 million by 2035.
Of the total length of the ECRL, 54.9 km would be in Kelantan, connecting Tok Bali for both passenger and cargo, Jelawat (passenger), Kota Bharu (passenger) and Wakaf Bharu (passenger and cargo).
Abdul Fadhli said the shortened travel time for people to market their products is definitely a shot in the arm for both the services and agriculture sectors.
“The project is also expected to create more job opportunities, especially those related to the construction sector, due to a potential increase in construction activities vis-à-vis the ECRL and Sultan Ismail Petra Airport upgrade.
“In my opinion, the whole alignment of the railway network can be taken advantage of to promote tourism in the areas,” said Dr Shahrin Nasir, Deputy Director (Industrial Linkages & Commercialisation) Malaysia Institute of Transport (MITRANS), Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam.
A study on the development of a rail network was conducted as early as 1981 including the ECRL alignment, then referred to as the East-West Railway Network, connecting Kota Bharu to Port Klang- near Kuala Lumpur. The rail has always been part of the development agenda pursued by the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) as the backbone for the development of the East Coast Economic Region (ECER).
Under the ECER, detailed planning for the ECRL started in 2007. However, the biggest challenge was to ensure that it would be a preferred service for passenger and cargo movement.
Abdul Fadhli said building volume or traffic for transit oriented development (TOD) to maximise investment in property or projects within or adjacent to the ECRL alignment and attracting foreign direct investments would be one of the biggest challenges for the project.
The railway business needs to have a new uplift to be sustainable, similar to what KTMB has done by introducing ETS to its services, Shahrin opined.
“With a reliable service, customers will be convinced to use it. Rail has low environmental problems and if Malaysians can be taught to see the advantage in this regard, the ECRL could be a preferred service for them,” he added.