ECRL's fate still undecided pending report from MRL-CCCC, says Chinese envoy

BATU GAJAH (Jan 3): Both the Malaysian and Chinese governments have not decided on the fate of the suspended RM81 billion 688-km East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) as they are waiting for a report from the project owner Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd and main contractor China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC).

At a press conference after a briefing by CRRC Corp Ltd (CRRC) Batu Gajah Plant's management today, Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian, however, said there is no timeline as to when both companies would table the report.

"I have no information about that (when the report will be tabled), but I believe it will be soon. Both governments are talking about the continuation of ECRL, and want the negotiation to be on project owner and contractor level, and we are still waiting for their report before making any decision," Bai said.

"ECRL is a good project for Malaysia, because rail is more affordable for people to transit, so we hope this matter can be resolved with mutual respect between both countries," he added.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad recently said the Malaysian government intends to downsize the ECRL project instead of total cancellation, as the latter would incur substantial compensation.

Nonetheless, China has yet to agree on such proposal.

Bai was the special guest invited by Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook to attend the briefing today, and both of them travelled to CRRC's plant at Batu Gajah here through KTM Bhd's Electric Train Service (ETS) with media delegates.

Loke, at the press conference, said the gesture to invite Bai along on this trip also shows that the relationship between Malaysia and China remains intact and strong.

"I believe there will be more collaboration between both countries in the future, especially in the transport industry. On behalf of the Malaysian government, I have invited CRRC to invest further in this plant," Loke said.

"I called this railway diplomacy, and my vision is the same as CRRC, 'Rooting in Malaysia, fast tracking Asean', so I hope one day, CRRC could export their rolling stock from Malaysia," he added.

CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Co Ltd President Fu Chengjun said it is part of the group's strategies to have more local involvement at the plant.

However, he said local talent in the railway industry is scarce, and the group is working with several local academic institutions to introduce more training programmes to cultivate additional skilled workforce in this sector.

CRRC's Batu Gajah plant has been in operation for three years after its completion in 2015; Fu said the plant has created about 400 job opportunities for Malaysian.

Fu said so far, CRRC has invested RM400 million in its Batu Gajah assembly plant, which has a capacity of producing 200 train cars a year.

"Currently we are involved mainly in local projects like the ETS, and we hope to tender more local projects moving forward, before we look for projects in overseas," he said. —

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