ECRL northern alignment, more than meets the eye — Vivian Sheila Danker

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OCTOBER 12 — Recently there has been plenty of hullabaloo on social media and in the mainstream media on a crucial section of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

In one corner is the federal government which has reverted to the original northern alignment which passes through Serendah from Port Klang and onwards to the East Coast. In the other is the Selangor state government which is insistent on the southern alignment which passes through the southern parts of the state.

At the crux of the matter is the issue of which alignment can deliver the best economic and social impact while minimising environmental degradation.

At the risk of falling prey to impassioned political stances, which usually dictate the ebb and flow of policymaking in this country, I am writing this as objectively as possible — prioritising facts over petty partisan politics.

First, let’s look at the economic gain. If the northern alignment is followed, the ECRL would ferry an estimated 5.03 million passengers compared to 4.07 million for the northern alignment. With regards to freight volume, the northern alignment will see 26.12 million tonnes of cargo being shipped which is close to three times more than the 9 million tonnes of cargo that would be shipped via the southern alignment.

However, then there is the issue of cost. The northern alignment costs slightly more at RM50 billion compared to the southern alignment at RM47.4 billion. Nevertheless, the northern alignment is longer and passes through more townships and cities, resulting in four extra stations compared to the southern alignment. As such, the project cost when viewed on a per station basis favours the northern alignment at RM2.08 billion per station compared to RM2.37 billion per station for the southern alignment.

At the crux of the matter is the issue of which alignment can deliver the best economic and social impact while minimising environmental degradation. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
At the crux of the matter is the issue of which alignment can deliver the best economic and social impact while minimising environmental degradation. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

An additional bonus of the northern alignment is that it comes with the Serendah bypass since it passes through the burgeoning town. The Serendah bypass provides a smooth, safe and cost-effective rail freight transportation to Port Klang with flexible travel slots and short movement times. It will also enhance safety of commuters in KL Sentral since cargo trains carrying dangerous commodities will no longer go through downtown Kuala Lumpur.

The southern alignment does not include the Serendah bypass. In fact, the Selangor state government has announced that the bypass will be done as a separate project altogether. As such, the northern alignment is essentially a two-in-one deal with the ECRL and Serendah bypass. It will also greatly reduce the operations costs of construction as additional environmental reporting and other due diligence processes can be done simultaneously, with lesser financial hassle.

Second, let’s look at social impact. According to the publically available environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, the northern alignment only needs to reclaim 11 residential areas compared to the 23 of the southern alignment. It also impacts fewer Orang Asli villages — two for the northern alignment compared to seven for the southern alignment and Malay reserves — two for the northern alignment compared to three for the southern alignment.

Thirdly, let’s gauge the environmental impact of the project. The EIA is transparent with its findings where it concluded that the northern alignment has minimal environmental degradation. The proposed Gombak landbridge is set to reduce encroachment into natural preserves and the alignment will not traverse through the Batu Dam or Klang Gates Quartz Ridge.

The northern alignment also passes traverses through 1.85km of forest reserves compared to the southern alignment’s 4.33km. In terms of water catchment areas — which is a crucial aspect for all Selangorians who despise water cuts — the northern alignment passes through 65 per cent of water catchment areas in the state. Comparatively, the southern alignment is expected to pass up to 95 per cent of water catchment areas in Selangor, especially since the Serendah bypass is to be implemented as a separate project.

Given these reasons, the northern alignment proves to be the better choice of the two, economically, and has a less negative environmental and social impact. My only hope now is that policymakers can set aside their political loyalties and be guided by facts when deciding on the ECRL alignment.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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