Opposition in Malaysia will scrap high speed rail if elected

Malaysia's opposition alliance said yesterday it will scrap a planned High Speed Rail (HSR) line between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur if it won federal power, and replace it with a railway connecting two key cities in East Malaysia - Tawau in Sabah and Kuching in Sarawak.

The proposal to ditch the HSR project and pump the estimated RM35 billion (S$11 billion) saved into East Malaysia was presented by Pakatan Harapan (PH) on the sidelines of a Parliament session, ahead of Prime Minister Najib Razak's tabling of the 2016 Budget tomorrow.

The opposition claimed the HSR line would largely benefit only those working in and around Kuala Lumpur and in Singapore, and that the project is unnecessary at this point because Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are already served by excellent air and road links.

Selangor MP Ong Kian Ming, a member of PH's Budget drafting committee, argued that the HSR would likely cost more than a rail network linking Sabah and Sarawak, and would significantly add to Malaysia's debt levels if both were to be built together.

"HSR is not as important given that there are many cheaper and affordable options to travel between Malaysia and Singapore. The multiplier effects would be lower compared to a new railway network in East Malaysia and hence, the preference for the second cheaper and more necessary rail project," he told The Straits Times.

Sabah and Sarawak have long been stronghold states of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. With Sarawak state polls to be called by next year, the move by the opposition is seen as a concerted play for East Malaysian votes. National elections are due in 2018.

Democratic Action Party chairman Tan Kok Wai said the new railway and other financial benefits to be allocated to Sabah and Sarawak in the opposition's "alternative Budget", are meant to develop the two states "long neglected" by BN.

The HSR plan has gained traction, with about 150 firms responding to Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission and Singapore's Land Transport Authority's Request For Information exercise this month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Opposition in Malaysia will scrap high speed rail if elected'. Print Edition | Subscribe