TOKYO - The international tender for the supply of the Malaysia-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) trains could be called by the fourth quarter of next year, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Wednesday (Nov 16), according to the New Straits Times (NST).
Datuk Seri Najib, who is on a three-day visit to Japan this week, briefed reporters on the HSR project on Wednesday (Nov 16), after earlier holding talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.
Mr Najib said Malaysia and Singapore are on track to sign an agreement on the project by early next month.
Mr Najib also said most of the issues relating to the rail project, which will link Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, have been "more or less" resolved.
The Straits Times on Monday reported a Transport Ministry spokesman as saying that Singapore and Malaysia are working towards signing an agreement on the project at the Leaders' Retreat on Dec 5.
The report followed an earlier NST article saying that the signing will be witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Malaysian leader at their annual retreat, which will be held in Johor next month.
Mr Najib's comments on Wednesday came after he briefed Mr Abe on the developments involving the HSR project during their bilateral talks.
Japan has expressed interest in the project, which is also being eyed by firms from China, South Korea and Europe.
"There are several milestones in the implementation of this project but the most significant would be the international bidding process, which according to our plan, will be issued in the fourth quarter of 2017," Mr Najib was reported saying.
"I have reassured Prime Minister Abe that the process to arrive at the final decision (on the contract) would be done in an open, transparent and objective manner," he added.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Abe also made a pitch for the project to use the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train system.
"We had a very good discussion on the high-speed railway programme between Malaysia and Singapore and I expressed strong expectation regarding the adoption of Japan's bullet train technology," he was quoted telling reporters.
The Star newspaper on Wednesday also reported that Japan is drawing up a special financing package for the project.
A memorandum of understanding for the HSR project was signed in July this year by Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan. It was witnessed by the two prime ministers.
Conceived in 2013, the 350km rail project - 15km of which will be in Singapore - is expected to begin construction in 2018 and start operating in 2026.
The HSR, with a top speed of more than 300kmh, is expected to cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, compared to the current four- to five-hour road journey.
Besides the Singapore-KL express service, the line will also have a domestic service within Malaysia, stopping at Iskandar Puteri, Batu Pahat, Muar, Ayer Keroh, Seremban and Putrajaya.
There will also be a shuttle service between Singapore and Iskandar Puteri in Johor.
The Singapore terminus will be at the upcoming Jurong Lake District.