Rail link to Iskandar gets thumbs up from Singaporeans

An LRT train leaves KL Sentral station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 19.
An LRT train leaves KL Sentral station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 19.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

This week's announcement that the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail project will include a regular service between Iskandar Puteri and the Singapore terminus in Jurong East brought big smiles to Singaporeans who live in or own homes in Johor.

It will cut their journey across the border to a fraction of the time it now takes to cross the Second Link, a ride that can stretch up to three hours during peak periods.

Mr Thusitha de Silva, 53, director of analytics firm Cerulli Associates, said traffic jams along the Second Link have become frequent in recent years, especially after toll fees were lowered in 2010, and similar fees for the Causeway were raised in 2014.

"Both links now have the same congestion problem, especially during rush hours," said the avid golfer who built a semi-detached weekend home in Iskandar, previously known as Nusajaya, in 2007 to be near a 36-hole golf course.

"If there is a park-and-ride option, on some days, I'd rather do that than have my thumbs on the wheel for hours in a jam," he said.

Another advantage of the shuttle to Iskandar Puteri: Commuters can clear immigration checks for both countries when they board the train as Customs facilities will be co-located.

Observers told The Straits Times that a speedy and seamless ride could see more Singaporeans consider living or retiring in Johor, where the cost of living is lower.

Dr Norshahril Saat of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute feels the enhanced transport link "will encourage Singaporeans to buy houses or move to Johor".

He added that towns along the rail link could also develop retirement communities targeted at Singaporeans, but the Johor government has to address issues like the perception that Johor is less safe.

Johor will also have to address its locals' concerns over the rising cost of living and property prices as the state develops, he noted.

Meanwhile, the rail link could see commuters give up their cars, added retired financial analyst Jatin Doktor, 54, who sold his Singapore home and moved to Iskandar Puteri with his wife in 2013.

He currently owns both a Singapore- and a Malaysia-registered car, as Singaporeans and permanent residents cannot drive Malaysia-registered vehicles into Singapore. Mr Doktor said he will likely give up his Singapore car when trains start running around 2026.

"We come back to Singapore two to four times a month to catch up with friends and go for concerts," he said. "With the rail link, the last mile won't really be an issue if there's ample parking at the rail terminus."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'Rail link to Iskandar gets thumbs up from Singaporeans'. Print Edition | Subscribe