Chinese State Councilor Wang Yong (R) meets with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during his visit for inaugurating a ground-breaking ceremony of the East Coast Rail Link in Kuantan, Malaysia, on Aug. 9, 2017. (Xinhua/Chong Voon Chung)
KUANTAN, Malaysia, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- A mega railway to be built by China was officially launched on Wednesday in the Malaysian city of Kuantan, a milestone for China-Malaysia ties as China pushed forward the Belt and Road Initiative.
At a cost of 55 billion ringgit (12.83 billion U.S. dollars), the 688-km East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will help upgrade public transportation infrastructure in the east coast, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak when inaugurating a ground-breaking ceremony of the project.
The ECRL is the first artery railway built in the east coast, which has been connected to the west coast only "via a network of roads and highways, and small rail lines that were woefully inadequate."
Describing the project as a game-changer for Malaysia, Najib said it will significantly cut travel time from Gombak in suburban Kuala Lumpur to Kota Baru in the northeastern state of Kelantan from seven to four hours.
The railway will be built by China Communications Construction Company Ltd., a leading transportation infrastructure group that also built a landmark bridge in the northwestern state of Penang.
Chinese State Councillor Wang Yong also attended the ceremony.
When meeting with Najib prior to the ceremony, Wang praised the ECRL as a "flagship project" jointly built by the two countries under the Belt and Road Initiative, which will boost economic transformation and balanced development of different regions in Malaysia.
He expressed his hope that both China and Malaysia could seize the historic opportunity brought by the Belt and Road Initiative to achieve win-win results and joint development.
China is willing to work closely with the Malaysian side and build the rail link into another landmark project so as to benefit the Malaysian people as soon as possible and help realize regional development and prosperity, Wang added.
The ECRL will be an electric railway line crossing Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Selangor states. It will accommodate passenger trains at a maximum speed of 160 km per hour and goods trains at a maximum speed of 80 km per hour. Construction of the rail link is expected to be completed by 2024.
The project will benefit the 4.4 million population along its route, said Liow Tiong Lai, Malaysia's minister of transport in a statement on Wednesday. He estimated that the ECRL will serve 5.4 million passengers annually by 2030.
The Export-Import Bank of China financed 85 percent of the railway with soft loans, while the Malaysian government provided the remaining 15 percent via issuing bonds, according to Najib.