BENTONG, June 23 — Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob today launched the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project’s first tunnel boring machine (TBM1) to signal the start of excavation for the Genting Tunnel.

He said TBM1 is a state-of-the-art machine built specifically for this project and is the largest rail construction machine in South-east Asia meant to bore through Titiwangsa Range along the Bukit Tinggi area to link Bentong with Gombak, Selangor.

The 16.39km tunnel is part of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project that will cover a distance of 665km.

The project was to improve connectivity between Selangor and the east coast states, not only as passenger transport, but also to transport cargo from Port Klang to Port Kuantan.

Ismail Sabri said the project will cost upwards of RM50 billion but it will create thousands of job opportunities in the region that it passes through.

In order to subsidise costs for the project, Ismail Sabri said a joint company will be formed between Malaysia Rail Link (MRL) and China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC).

“MRL said they can generate side income to help pay for the costs of the project and as such this company will have an equal 50:50 split including costs and risks.

“It will provide technical and technological support to ensure the ECRL’s long-term success,” Ismail Sabri said during the launch today at Bukit Tinggi, Pahang.

“This is in line with the earlier agreement between MRL and CCCC to hire around 40 per cent of local sub-contractors and suppliers which is estimated to come to RM10 billion,” he added.

TBM1 is huge and its head alone weighs 900 tonnes, is 25m long with an 8.98m diameter cutter head. Along with its supporting back that houses the control room, the entire TBM1 weighs 1,600 tonnes and measures 266m in length.

The project is estimated to take three years to complete at an expected excavation rate of 400 to 600m per month.

Upon completion of the project, it will be the longest rail tunnel in South-east Asia.

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong said he hopes Ismail Sabri’s presence today will boost workers’ morale.

“The project is around 30 per cent now and was going to hit 37 per cent by year’s end. All projects in all states are going on simultaneously along the 66km rail.

“We hope to get it ready by 2026 to connect Kota Baru to Gombak in Selangor and we hope we can be operational by 2027,” he added.

Wee said TBM1 had its test-run in April, and thus far, it has excavated 181m of the Genting Tunnel entrance called Portal 1.

Wee said some 23,000 locals would be hired for the duration of the project which is about 70 per cent of the workforce needed for the project.

Also in attendance today were Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Yakob, Ambassador for the People’s Republic of China to Malaysia Ouyang Yujing and CCCC vice-president Sun Ziyu.