Singapore and Malaysia have made "very good progress" on a bilateral agreement on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.
This agreement should clearly set out a sound basis to build and operate the system and specify details like cost sharing, he said in an interview with Malaysian news agency Bernama, adding that executing the project well is also important.
And he hopes both countries can sign this agreement when he and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak meet at the Leaders' Retreat soon.
"It is a very ambitious, very complicated and very expansive project, in terms of scale," PM Lee told Bernama chairman Azman Ujang in the interview on Monday, a transcript of which was released yesterday.
"We have to try our best to anticipate what the likely issues are, when we build it, when we operate it, and have a clear understanding of how we will deal with it if a situation arises," PM Lee added.
Several high-speed rail systems in the world have been lobbying very hard to get this contract - the Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese high-speed rail. Each has its strengths, and we will have a very difficult decision evaluating the bidders who come along and deciding which one is the best overall.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail project, in an interview with Bernama.
The project would not bring just economic benefits, but it would also make it much easier for people on both sides to go back and forth, and strengthen prospects for friendship and harmonious relations, he said.
Asked for his advice to the officials involved, PM Lee said the first thing for both countries was to "have a sound agreement... on the basis of how the project is structured, how it is going to be executed, and how it is backed by the two governments".
Both sides have been discussing the agreement for over a year, he noted, saying: "We are almost there, and I hope that when I meet Prime Minister Najib at the next retreat, we will be able to sign the agreement."
On Tuesday, Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan met Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan. Datuk Abdul Rahman said they met "to harmonise last-minute details of the bilateral agreement on the Malaysia-Singapore high- speed rail project before the signing ceremony in December".
In July, both men signed a memorandum of understanding for the rail project, which was witnessed by the two prime ministers, as a first step towards the agreement. Construction work is expected to start in 2018, with trains running in 2026.
PM Lee said execution - designing the system, calling for tenders and evaluating the proposals - will be key.
"Several high-speed rail systems in the world have been lobbying very hard to get this contract - the Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese high-speed rail," he said. "Each has its strengths, and we will have a very difficult decision evaluating the bidders who come along and deciding which one is the best overall."
Asked about the cost sharing of construction, PM Lee said things like that had to be clearly specified, and it was one of the items that made the project complicated.
Noting that it was like the Channel Tunnel from London to Paris, he said: "When you have two authorities involved, you have to decide how to partition, where the line is drawn. I build my part, you build your part, and we have to meet at the same point. If it does not meet, then we have a big problem."
He added: "It is complicated but there is a will. And there is a good will, and we would like to make it succeed."
Asked if a third bridge between Singapore and Malaysia was still needed or viable, PM Lee said: "We are not currently planning for a third bridge.
"I have seen some statements in Malaysia suggesting one, but the high-speed rail is a very ambitious project. I would focus all my energies doing that one before we launch a new big project," he added.