KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 — Malaysia is set to make history as the first South-east Asian country to implement an LTE-Railway (LTE-R) communications network using 4G on the 665km-long East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) passenger train.

Malaysia Rail Link (MRL) chief executive officer Datuk Seri Darwis Abdul Razak said the communications network would help to enhance safety and allow fast communication and signalling, compared to GSM-R mobile networking technology for railways.

“This communication uses 4G. So in the future, if you want to update to 5G, the infrastructure is there, just need to update the software. The communication system for train services is very important especially when it comes to safety.

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“Using this you can see the image. Some people are always confused about whether this means that people will have internet connectivity throughout the journey including going through tunnels. The answer is yes, we are working closely with the network provider to put up their network so that people will experience full connectivity through the journey,” he said at the Concorde Club’s forum discussion here today.

The discussion on ‘The ECRL: Moving On Track’ was organised by the Concorde Club, led by Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) chairman Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai. It is an informal group of editors and senior journalists who meet with politicians and key policymakers.

LTE-R is based on the same 4G LTE technology used by mobile phone network providers and was developed for the next generation of mission-critical communication which is essential for railway operation and maintenance besides providing stable multimedia services. The world’s first LTE-R network was used in South Korea on their Wonju-Gangneung high-speed train.

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ECRL is a proposed railway infrastructure project designed to improve connectivity between Peninsular Malaysia’s East Coast states (Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang) and the West Coast states (Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and the Federal Territory of Putrajaya), which are currently only partially connected by rail.

On the progress of ECRL which is set to travel at a maximum speed of 160 kilometres per hour (km/h), Darwis noted that the project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2026, has achieved 54.14 per cent as of October 2023 with 25 tunnel breakthroughs out of 40 tunnels overall.

“A very remarkable achievement for us in 2023. The target for 2024 is more promising, we should be able to catch about 73 per cent by the end of 2024 and of course, by the end of 2023, our target is roughly between 56 to 57 per cent completion.

“Next year, we also target to reach 3000/4380 spans beam launching, 35 tunnels breakthroughs, 20 commencement of passenger station and completion of first stage track laying with 210km,” he added.

Darwis also pointed out that main construction works including structural works, track laying and beam launching are actively being carried out along the ECRL line, which was initially launched in 2017 before it got back on track in 2019.

He also said Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah will grace the first track laying works between ECRL’s Kuantan Port City station in Gebeng and Dungun, Terengganu on December 11.

Elaborating further, he said the track-laying machines help lay around 1.5km to 2.5km of tracks per day, compared to the conventional method which is 500 to 700 metres of tracks per day.

He said the ticket prices for ECRL services will most likely be announced in 2026 after getting approval from the Land Public Transport Agency (APAD)

In an effort to preserve and protect the country’s wildlife and the environment, Darwis said about 27 Wildlife Box Culvert (WBC) crossings, bridges, and tunnels were built.

“Preservation of forest land by 90 per cent reduction of the forest reserve utilisation from 2000 hectares based on the original design to 270 hectares,” he added.

The ECRL line from Kota Bharu to Gombak is set to be completed by December 31, 2026, while the Gombak to Port Klang stretch is scheduled for completion by December 31, 2027. — Bernama