No SCORE: Sarawak Minister suggests that the proposed Miri-Bintulu rail corridor may become a white elephant

TRANSIT took note of this article from the Borneo Post, in which Sarawak’s Infrastructure Development & Communications Minister comments unfavourably about the proposed Miri-Bintulu railway corridor, which is part of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).

The feasibility of the railway link is being examined as part of the organized development which is to benefit the economy of Sarawak.

‘Railway system not viable as public transport in state’ (Borneo Post)
June 28, 2011

INFRASTRUCTURE Development and Communications Minister Dato Sri Michael Manyin Jawong has stated that it is not viable to construct a railway system for public transport usage in the state at the moment, due to the low population of Sarawak.

Although a study on Railway Development Master Plan for Central Region of Sarawak was in its final draft stage and scheduled to complete by August this year, Manyin (BN-Tebedu) added that the cost was too expensive even if the tracks were to be used for the transportation of goods.

“In Europe for instance, the Copenhagen underground railway system cost a total of RM731 million per kilometer (km). The Madrid railway system in Spain cost some RM43 million per km to build.

Seoul spent about RM392 million per km for its railway system while China’s railway system cost around RM30 million per km.

[TRANSIT: Clearly the Minister is quoting the wrong types of railways here. Where he refers to Copenhagen & Seoul he is referring to the urban, underground MRT railway systems. In the case of Madrid, this is also the MRT system but Madrid is a special case because of its huge scale, which allowed average cost per kilometer to be significantly low.

As for China, we presume that he is referring to either the average cost of railway construction throughout the country, rather than urban rail in one specific city.]

“As for the state, if we were to build our railway network now, within six months, it will become a white elephant due to the small population,” he explained when responding to Wong King Wei (DAP-Padungan) during his winding up speech at the sitting yesterday.

Wong later told reporters that a written reply in November 2006 pointed out that the government had planned to build a railway network dubbed the Borneo Railway System from Bintulu to Miri.

The cost then was estimated at RM10 million per km but after a couple of years, it triple-folded to RM30 million per km, he said.

“Worse still, the minister didn’t provide any details like from where to what point. Just stating that it’s in central region.

“I also asked whether it’s for passenger or cargo, and the minister replied cargo as announced in 2006. So this planned railway for central region is nothing new,” claimed Wong.

He thus urged the ministry to come up with details on the proposed railway system, which the minister earlier foresaw as a white elephant project given the low population in the state.

On comparison with other countries including China, Wong challenged the Barisan Nasional (BN) government to disclose details of relevant studies especially cost involved.

TRANSIT Says:

We have to admit that we are not sure about what the Minister was trying to say in his response to Padungan’s question about the railway corridor. Suggesting that the project may become a white elephant does not directly answer the question about the details of the project (which is what Padungan asked about). And in any case, the “white elephant” argument has never stopped development from happening anywhere in Malaysia.

The real important question here is how viable a railway from Miri to Bintulu would be. Is there economic growth potential that can be gained from building a railway connection between the two cities? Is there potential for growth and development along the railway corridor? Will the investment generate economic activity beyond the actual spending, thereby having a significant multiplier effect on the Gross Domestic Product for Sarawak?

And if not, then should be money be spent elsewhere … like in building a better public transport system for the state by creating public transport organizing authorities for each Division, and investing in bus services … not to mention, rapid transit development in Kuching, the 4th largest city in Malaysia.

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2 thoughts on “No SCORE: Sarawak Minister suggests that the proposed Miri-Bintulu rail corridor may become a white elephant”

  1. As the Transit webmaster said, the Minister did not know what he’s talking about. You can’t compare a Bintulu – Miri rail proposal with that of Copenhagen Metro (which is one of the most expensive rail project in the world, but Denmark’s a very rich country too).

    Think Kerteh – Gebeng rail, which is built by Petronas oil money. The Miri – Bintulu stretch, if it is going to be built at all, will be for its appeal to freight transport as much to passenger. Miri – Bintulu is 200km, assume a cost of 35 million per km (as in the Ipoh – Padang Besar double track), then it will cost 7 billion. But land cost in Sarawak should be substantially cheaper than west cost malaysia, and maybe we need only a single track in Miri.

    Assess rail projects in the long term. But this is something our politician can’t quite figure out how to do.

  2. Get started with Rail Network connecting Kuching-Pontianak, Kuching-Kota Kinabalu via Brunei. Use a Standard Gauge track and not the KTM’s meter gauge. So passenger train can travel faster(180km/h – 250km/h). So travel time between Kuching and KK will be shorter. Even freight train service will benefit ports connected by branch lines.

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