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I AM writing in reference to renewed media interests on the proposed Kuala Lumpur-Johot High Speed Rail (HSR) project.

I feel that there’s been a lot of distortion on this subject, which is of utmost national importance at a time our economic recovery is picking up pace as we transition to the Covid-19 endemic stage.

Allow me to draw on my experience as a 67-year-old man who has seen the country gone through different phases of development. Historically, Malaysians are known to be averse to mega projects.

I still remember the hue and cry when the government wanted to build the North-South Expressway (NSE) in the 1980s. But just a few years after completion, the highway proved to be a major artery linking key economic zones on the peninsula, spurring industrialisation which led to the country being labelled an  “economic tiger” in the mid-1990s.

Other infrastructural projects like the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), the first Penang Bridge and the Sepang Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCC) also faced similar scepticism when the ideas were first conceived.

Today, there are two bridges linking Penang and the mainland. An undersea tunnel or a third bridge linking the two land masses is likely in the pipeline. And nobody imagined the exponential growth of the LCC in Sepang, especially prior to the pandemic.

Without these mega infrastructure projects, the country may still be the agrarian economic backwater that it was when it achieved Independence in 1957. The connectivity enabled by these projects had allowed the country to leapfrog into the industrialised age and beyond.

I see striking similarities between the current hesitation in building the HSR and the opposition towards the mega infrastructure projects mentioned above. The proposed HSR is not just about building tracks and running wagons on them to move people.

In much the same way the NSE generated economic spillover effects in the 1980s, I am quite sure the proposed HSR will achieve the same results. Examples in China, Taiwan and Europe show how towns and cities along the high-speed rails have seen a massive economic transformation within a short time. Malaysia should and will be able to replicate this with the HSR.

The proposed HSR can complement existing infrastructures like conventional rail, highways and airlines and at the same time create new opportunities and  markets.

Furthermore, if the proposed HSR shelved in January is revived, it will be able to create massive job opportunities for skilled and semi-skilled positions. A project of this scale would need a sizeable workforce of civil engineers, electronic professionals, programmers, administrative executives and accountants, whether directly or from the downstream industries. This comes at a time when unemployment and underemployment are pervasive owing to the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.


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