Japan touts safety in last ditch pitch for Malaysia-Singapore high speed rail deal

Hokkaido celebrating the departure of its first shinkansen bullet train on March 26. Japan's shinkansen technology boasts zero deaths in its 51-year history.
Hokkaido celebrating the departure of its first shinkansen bullet train on March 26. Japan's shinkansen technology boasts zero deaths in its 51-year history.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Japanese rail executives touted the strong safety and maintenance record of Japan's shinkansen train network and knowledge transfer in a last-ditch pitch to Malaysia for the proposed Malaysia-Singapore high-speed railway (HSR).

"We are confident that we would be able to contribute to the Malaysia-Singapore HSR project with our experience and technology," said Mr Yuji Fukasawa, executive vice-president of East Japan Railway Company, better known as JR East, in his presentation to Malaysian officials at a symposium here yesterday.

Japan is facing stiff competition from China, whose state-owned firms have poured billions into Kuala Lumpur's transport hub and also purchased the power assets of beleaguered state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The symposium acted as a showcase for Japan's shinkansen technology, which boasts zero deaths in its 51-year history. Japanese executives and government officials also highlighted the strong safety and maintenance record while advertising opportunities for training and knowledge transfer.

Noting the shinkansen's safety record, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said it was something the KL-Singapore HSR "must also emulate".

Malaysian and Singapore officials are still in the midst of discussions over details of the HSR.

The chairman of the Land Public Transport Commission of Malaysia, Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, told reporters yesterday that a bilateral agreement should be reached by the middle of the year. He did not elaborate.

In selecting the winning partner for the project, he said the track record and experience of each country would  be considered during the bidding process. Although cost is one of the key factors, Mr Syed Hamid said that safety remains a "top priority".

Malaysia is expected to bear the lion's share of the building costs.

State-owned China Railway Group, a high-speed railway operator, has expressed interest in bidding for the KL-Singapore HSR link. Last month, it announced that it would invest US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) to set up a regional centre in Bandar Malaysia, a 1MDB-linked development. The proposed HSR would run between Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and Jurong East in Singapore.

Last November, another Chinese state-owned enterprise, China General Nuclear Power Corp (CGN), bought 1MDB's power assets for RM9.83 billion (S$3.4 billion).

Both deals have helped Prime Minister Najib Razak to resolve some of 1MDB's debt problems.

Japan has already lost a bid for an HSR project in Indonesia to China last year. The Chinese clinched the deal when President Joko Widodo's administration opted for a business-to-business venture, leaving the government out of providing funding or loan guarantee.

HSR service was first introduced in China in 2007. China now holds the record for the longest HSR network with over 19,000km of track in service. In 2011, two high-speed trains collided in Zhejiang province, killing at least 40 people.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Japan touts safety in last-ditch pitch for high-speed rail deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe