By slashing travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to just 11/2 hours, the high-speed rail will draw the people and economies of both sides closer, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Singaporeans can zip up to Kuala Lumpur, watch a show or do business, work on their laptops on the way back and be home for dinner, he said. "It will not seem like going overseas at all."
"We can think of Singapore-KL in the same way that people think of London-Paris, Taipei-Kaohsiung and Tokyo-Osaka," he added, citing major cities connected by fast rail.
When two cities are closely linked, both benefit, he said. "There's more competition but there's more business to be done. It means vitality, it means a wide variety of options, it means a more rapid pace of growth."
In short, the rail link will make it "very easy to get in touch to do business, to make friends, to be one integrated economy".
At a joint press conference in Putrajaya, Mr Lee and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak both acknowledged that the targeted timeframe to have the trains up and running by 2026 is "very tight".
There's more competition but there's more business to be done. It means vitality, it means a wide variety of options, it means a more rapid pace of growth.
PM LEE, on the benefits of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur being closely linked.
But the two leaders said they were committed to working closely together to ensure it will be met.
PM Lee added in a Facebook post last night: "Good execution will be crucial. We need to work closely together on many joint decisions and implementation issues. PM Najib and I will give full attention to this, because we want this major project to be done right."
Both men also highlighted the spin-offs for regions along the line.
The express service from Jurong East in Singapore to Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur will pass through six other stations in Malaysia, such as Muar and Batu Pahat, without stopping. But separate services will connect these stations to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
In Singapore, the terminus will be part of the Jurong Lake District, slated to be Singapore's second Central Business District.
In a Facebook post, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong noted that construction could start as early as 2018.
The Jurong East terminus will also be connected to upcoming MRT stations on the Jurong Region Line and Cross Island Line to enable seamless transfers.
The high-speed rail and Jurong's rejuvenation, he said, are "important game-changers that will keep our economy strong and vibrant, create more good jobs and improve the quality of life for Singaporeans".
Yesterday's press conference was held after the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the project, which captured various points of agreement such as a 2026 target for the start of operations.
Calling it "a very ambitious timetable", PM Lee noted that MRT lines in Singapore typically take 12 to 15 years from inception to service.
He acknowledged that this rail project was on "a very tight timeline and there are many potential bumps". The global economy may or may not be an obstacle - as long as both countries set aside resources, the project will proceed.
"But the project itself has got many complexities. They all have to be put together like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle," he said. "And we must make sure that we can all do things right in order to get the project done in the most expeditious time."
One area in which agreement has yet to be reached is how to structure and evaluate the tender process, PM Lee noted when asked how both governments will ensure that this is fair and transparent.
Both governments will have to make a joint decision on questions such as how the project will be structured, how tenders will be called, the sequence of tenders, what each package will comprise, and how the tenders will be evaluated, he said.
"So that when we make the decision, we are quite sure that we get the best value and best choice for the project, and it's something that both sides will be working closely together on," he added.
Datuk Seri Najib stressed both countries' commitment to a fair tender process, saying: "We are both committed to ensuring this will happen. The image and integrity of both countries will be at stake."
The first tender will be called next month by a joint project team with members from Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Malaysia's MyHSR Corporation. This international tender is to appoint a joint development partner, which will provide technical support to both countries.
Separately, the LTA said it will call a tender next month for consultants to carry out advance engineering studies for the Singapore stretch of the rail line.
The study will cover the alignment of the rail link, the architectural and engineering design of the station, and noise and vibration issues.
The study is expected to start by the first quarter of next year and will take about 18 to 24 months to complete.
Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who signed the MOU on behalf of Singapore, hailed it as "a significant milestone" after three years of negotiations.
"Much hard work lies ahead but, for the moment, we can pause and celebrate!" he said.