Prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has revealed that he is alright with the idea of building the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), but stressed that the cost should be reduced. According to Bernama, the reason the premier held renegotiating talks with China’s government was to address the matter.

Mahathir said the current terms outlined by the previous government were not beneficial for Malaysia which, among others, entailed that the money should be paid regardless of the construction progress. The entire ECRL construction will reportedly cost RM55 billion, a figure which was allocated by the former government during Budget 2017.

“All these terms need to be renegotiated, and if we get better terms, of course we will continue but we hope to reduce costs a lot because of a lot of wrong things being done. Example, borrow from China RM55 billion, we don’t think it should cost that much. The condition, is the contract given to Chinese company, used its own workers, brought everything from there. So what is there for Malaysia. We want to gain something for Malaysia,” Mahathir said.

To recap, former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak chose to engage China to build and finance the ECRL project because the country offered the best possible deal, of which includes a seven-year relief from servicing the loan as well as the lowest interest rate.

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The engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPC) contract was awarded to China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), while the financing agreement was to be with the Export Import Bank of China (EXIM). A special-purpose vehicle under the Minister of Finance Incorporated, Malaysia Rail Link (MRL), was tasked as the project owner.

Initially, the railway plan consists of two phases – Phase 1 features 21 stations across a 600.3 km route, linking Kota Bharu in Kelantan to the Integrated Transport Terminal Gombak (ITT Gombak) in Selangor (a future interchange for the LRT Kelana Jaya Line) and Phase 2, which is an 88 km combined track length from Gombak North to Port Klang, and an extension link between Kota Bharu and Pengkalan Kubor.

The Phase 1 link will reportedly allow passengers to travel from Kota Bharu to ITT Gombak in under four hours. The train is capable of operating at speeds of up to 160 km/h.