KUALA LUMPUR: WWF-Malaysia hopes that the renegotiated and realigned East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project will continue to retain tunnels, elevated tracks and wildlife crossings.
Such a move would go towards the prevention of forest fragmentation, said its conservation director, Dr. Henry Chan.
He said based on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), carried out in 2017 for the project and information from past dialogues with Malaysian Rail Link Sdn Bhd and consultants, it was understood that apart from the original main tunnel, a total of 44 tunnels as well as 27 wildlife crossings will be needed.
This is for various stretches along the original alignment to prevent forest fragmentation, as the alignment cuts through various forest reserves.
"As such, we hope that the tunnels, elevated tracks and wildlife crossings will still be retained as part of the project specifications in areas where the alignment would still pass through forests.
"This is to ensure wildlife movement is not impeded, prevent easy accesses into the forests by poachers and to safeguard the ecosystem services provided by these forests.
"It needs to be noted that large mammals such as tigers, elephants, tapirs and sun bears are found in and near some of the forested areas which the ECRL and the spur lines will cut through," he said in a statement.
Chan also welcomed the government's move in realigning the rail tracks to ensure that it will no longer cut through the peninsula's main range and as such any possible impacts to the Klang Gate Quartz Ridge would be avoided.
"Additionally, we note that recent reports in the media indicate that the Department of Environment has not received an EIA for the new alignment.
"As the new alignment could also have environmental impacts, we strongly call on the government to assess the environmental impacts of this new alignment and incorporate measures at the design stage to prevent impacts such as forest fragmentation.
"We also strongly urge the government to have a dialogue with stakeholders, including environmental groups, to explain the changes to the project and obtain feedback," Chan said.
WWF-Malaysia also calls on the government to ensure that sufficient budget is allocated to mitigate all environmental impacts and the implementation of environmental and wildlife management and monitoring plans, which are also crucial components of the project.
Chan said forming an independent monitoring committee will also help to provide a check and balance on the implementation of these plans.
"We hope that in the case of the ECRL and any other proposed projects, environmentally sensitive areas are avoided and stringent environmental safeguard measures will be incorporated where impacts are identified.
The ECRL project was started by the previous government under Barisan Nasional but was suspended last year by the Pakatan Harapan government because of its high cost.
On April 12, MRL and China Communications Construction Company Ltd (CCCC) signed a Supplementary Agreement (SA) which paved the way for the resumption of the project.
Under the new agreement, construction of Phases 1 and 2 of the ECRL will be resumed at a cost of RM44 billion, a reduction of RM21.5 billion from the original projection of RM65.5 billion.
The rail line will have a new alignment which cuts its distance by 40km to 648km (from 688km previously) and reduces its cost per kilometre from RM98 million to RM68 million.
The 640km ECRL will link Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang to Negri Sembilan, Selangor and Putrajaya.
The passenger trains will travel at 160km/h, cutting travel time from Kota Baru to Putrajaya approximately 4 hours.
The ECRL Project is expected to be completed by end of 2026.