Environmentalists: Put ECRL on Hold
Photo Credit: Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd
The East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will connect Port Klang on the east coast with Kuantan Port on the west coast before winding its way north along the coast all the way to Kota Baru in the north. The RM55 billion project will be a boon to travelers and commuters alike. It will cut traveling time down to a few short hours and enable much faster transportation of cargo. Once it’s ready in 2024, the 688km-long electric train line with its 22 stations will revolutionize travel in Peninsular Malaysia as “a modern and environment friendly,” according to Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd.
That’s what the project’s proponents say.
Environmentalists beg to differ. The new train line with its high-speed rail, they point out, will cut through several major rivers and dissect hundreds of hectares of protected forest in the Central Forest Spine (CSF), which is designed to connect eight forest complexes with their increasingly fragmented habitats. ECRL will also traverse large swathes of biodiverse coastal forest and wetland. By doing so, the railway line will serve to further endanger many already embattled species from Malayan tigers to Malayan tapirs and from Malayan sun bears to Asian elephants.
“The railway will affect so much of our ecosystem,” Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, president of the Malaysian conservationist group PEKA (Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia), stressed. “Malaysia should have a forest spine, but now it’s all broken,” she added. “This is where our wildlife runs into problems, trying to cross these areas.”
The Malaysian Nature Society and another conservationist group has joined PEKA in calling on the Malaysian government to put the project on hold and conduct a thorough environmental assessment to ensure the railway line will not inflict undue damage to areas where it will be constructed. “We urge the federal government to undertake a comprehensive cost benefit analysis of the project,” they wrote.
The environmentally sensitive areas where the railway line will pass through, they added, “provide vital services to the nation including protecting 90% of the nation’s water supply, aiding in local climate control, flood mitigation as well as protecting vast areas of irreplaceable biodiversity.” Importantly, they noted, the railway line will fragment already fragmented natural habitats even further.
Despite such warnings, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, minister of Natural Resources and Environment, has thrown his support behind the project. Traveling by car from Kuala Lumpur to Kelantan can take up to 15 hours, while doing so on the new high-speed train will take less than a third of that, or a mere 4 hours. Apart from the improved convenience, this will have marked environmental benefits, he stressed. “Once this (ECRL) goes through, people will not travel by car any more,” the minister said. “Can you imagine the millions of tonnes of CO2 not discharged into the atmosphere?”
We can. But we can also imagine massive harm done to Malaysia’s wildlife.