Before he was voted out of office and slapped with criminal charges, former prime minister Najib Razak presided over a hugely ambitious rail expansion plan.Newly elected prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has suspended several key projects, citing cost overruns and concerns about China’s involvement.Public transit programs in the Kuala Lumpur region made significant gains under Najib, but revelations about the nexus of infrastructure projects and corruption leave the future of rail development in question.This is the fourth in a six-part series of articles on infrastructure projects in Peninsular Malaysia. KUALA LUMPUR — Before the May 9 election that swept Najib Razak and his Barisan Nasional coalition from power, the then prime minister of Malaysia presided over one of the largest and most expensive national rail construction projects ever undertaken in Asia. The $62 billion undertaking would build four new lines and extend two existing ones in Kuala Lumpur’s rail transit network, and add a combined 1,256 kilometers (780 miles) of new track throughout the country. It would tie peninsular Malaysia’s west coast to its east coast with a fast line for passengers and cargo, and link to Singapore with a high-speed train from Kuala Lumpur and a second, shorter cross-border train. Elections have consequences, though. In the weeks after the victory that returned him to the prime minister’s office he occupied from 1981 to 2003, the new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, systematically drove his predecessor and one-time protégé’s transit program off the rails. Citing escalating costs, and concern about China’s role in financing and building some of the new rail network, Mahathir cancelled a 40-kilometer (25-mile), $11.25 billion driverless subway line in Kuala Lumpur. He suspended work on the $17 billion, 350-kilometer (217-mile) Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed line. In early July, his administration announced the suspension of the projected $14 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a 688-kilometer (428-mile) fast electric rail line from Kuala Lumpur’s port on the Strait of Malacca, across the Malaysian peninsula to northeastern port cities along the South China Sea. Malaysia also is pursuing a criminal investigation of fraud and malfeasance against a top transit official prompted by the transfer of valuable government-owned land close to a transit station at no cost to the developers. The year-old MRT1, one of the longest driverless metro lines in the world. A second MRT2 line is under construction. Prime Minister Mahathr cancelled a third MRT line. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay. Mahathir’s actions impeded nearly 1,100 kilometers of new track and blocked more than $42 billion in spending on his predecessor’s rail project. However, Mahathir has insisted that neither the high-speed rail line nor the ECRL are cancelled. Mahathir said he would seek to negotiate new contracts with banks and contractors to significantly reduce costs, which he said were much higher than the previous administration’s estimates. “In a way, it’s postponed,” Mahathir told reporters during a visit in June to Japan. “At this moment, we need to re-study and, if we are short of funds, we can delay the implementation of the project or reduce the scope of project.” Mahathir took one more step: He dissolved the SPAD, the Land Public Transport Commission, the national agency charged with policy, planning and development of Najib’s ambitious rail plan. Though the edict surprised the commission’s top executives and its 1,000-member staff, the operational significance does not appear to be especially onerous. Newly named Transport Minister Anthony Loke announced the formation of the APAD (Agensi Pengangkutan Awam Darat, or Land Public Transport Agency), a new planning body. The similarities run deeper than the near-identical names: the APAD will absorb the SPAD’s staff and assign similar responsibilities. “For now, in terms of operations, direction, licensing and studies, SPAD is operating as normal,” Loke said at a news conference. Mahathir’s actions represented an extraordinary rebuke to his predecessor. The long rail links and shorter metro line were signal projects of the former prime minister. They were in various stages of international bidding for design and construction, and due to be finished by the mid-2020s. The restructuring also has political value. It means that Mahathir gets to attach his name and support to ongoing projects started by Najib, and be celebrated as an infrastructure champion if the suspended projects are revived. The new administration’s objections, Mahathir said, were rooted in a trail of corruption that was shaking all of Malaysia. Rail construction costs and losses from a national development fund supervised by Najib were part of the reason that Malaysia’s national debt had nearly doubled during Najib’s administration to $250 billion, a level that threatened the country’s strong credit rating. Mahathir said he took action to “avoid being declared bankrupt.” With his new power, Mahathir could have made deeper strikes at his predecessor’s rail projects. Construction had begun on just one of the suspended projects, the trans-peninsular line. The government says about $5 billion has already been spent on the line, which is being financed and built by Chinese companies. To avoid even greater shocks to Malaysia’s economy and its international reputation, Mahathir has taken no action to impede ongoing construction of two new metro lines in Kuala Lumpur or a new 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile), $1.34 billion electric commuter line from southern Malaysia to Singapore.