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Prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad held a press conference today to officially announce that the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) is back on track after a suspension and lengthy negotiations with China.

A statement from the PM’s office said that the government chose to go back to the negotiating table as it did not want to pay RM21.78 billion compensation without getting any benefits. The result is a mutually beneficial for both Malaysia and China, and an improved deal for Malaysia compared to the previous agreement. It stressed that early criticism of the ECRL was about the high cost of the deal signed by the BN administration, and not the project per se.

The cost is now RM44 billion, which is a reduction of RM21.5 billion or 32.8% from the previous total of RM65.5 billion. The cost per kilometre is now RM68.7 million, compared to the previous RM95.5 million, the government said.

With the signing of a supplementary agreement (SA) between Malaysia Rail Link (MRL) and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), the ECRL will continue. Both companies have agreed to form a 50:50 joint-venture company to manage, operate and maintain the ECRL rail network.

“CCCC will provide technical support and share the operational risk after the project’s completion. In addition, Malaysia can also leverage on CCCC’s expertise in operation and maintenance (O&M), hence improving the long-term viability of the project,” Mahathir told the press today, adding that the arrangement would ease the financial burden on Malaysia, which previously had to bear the entire O&M cost.

The original route cuts through the main range via Bentong; the new one heads down to N9 after Mentakab

Also, the percentage of local participation in ECRL would also be increased to 40% of the civil works, from the original deal’s 30%, he said.

The new ECRL line maintains the standard gauge design, and is 640 km long. The 160 km/h train (80 km/h max for freight) will pass 20 stations from Kota Bharu in Kelantan to Port Klang in Selangor, and the journey will take approximately four hours. The new route passes through five states and Putrajaya, as opposed to the previous four states – the new one being Negeri Sembilan.

The new route will serve as a land bridge between ports in Klang and Kuantan; and will be connected to the KLIA ERL, MRT Line 2 (SSP Line) and KTM’s Komuter and ETS services. This is described as an improvement over the previous interchange with the LRT at Gombak.

The government highlights that the new route does not bore through the Klang Gates Quartz Ridge in Gombak – the longest pure quartz dyke in the world – thus preserving the environment. From Mentakab in Pahang, the new route goes south into N9 before heading to Port Klang via Bangi/Kajang and Putrajaya. The original route was a more direct route through the main range via Bentong and Gombak, after Mentakab.

MRL CEO Datuk Seri Darwis Abdul Razak said that work on the ECRL will begin as early as May, subject to the approval from relevant authorities. The estimated date of completion is now at the end of December 2026, compared to the original June 2024 target.