Take time to get S'pore-KL high-speed rail right

We should not lose sleep over any delays to the opening of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail connection ("High-speed track to the future", last Friday; and "Singapore-KL High-speed Rail: MOU a significant step forward" and "S'pore-KL rail link could hit tracks in 10 years' time", both published last Wednesday).

Time and tide can wait for the careful nurturing of historical and cultural ties.

We must get things right by first ensuring that the tender process of the complex deal is fair, transparent and objective.

Proper due diligence is even more paramount in an era of growing rail and cheque-book diplomacy.

All proposals must be assessed according to a clear set of criteria, based on the high-speed rail's project requirements, independent of all other commercial activities and exogenous factors.

Their main priority must be to serve the diverse needs of our respective countries and communities.

Additional safeguards, beyond the co-location of Customs, Immigration and Quarantine facilities, should be considered, to give our people greater peace of mind amid growing extremism in the region.

For example, there could be an automated scanning system for boarding passes, passports and luggage at the departure and arrival gates on both sides of the Causeway.

The Singapore-KL high-speed rail can set new global benchmarks for cross-border rail safety, with minimum impediment to passenger flow.

Its clear distinction of international and domestic services should be commended, as it rationalises the basis of asset ownership and contributions.

Singapore and the region have ample liquidity for any rail infrastructure project, if the business case, including passenger and cargo traffic as well as other ancillary revenues such as the sale of food on board the train, is compelling and sustainable.

Cheap and fast are not always synonymous with high quality.

The onus is on all interested parties of the project to offer a world-class value proposition at a fair price.

This should establish their credentials for future opportunities across Asean.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Take time to get S'pore-KL high-speed rail right'. Print Edition | Subscribe