The terms for a joint venture company to operate the cross-border MRT system between Woodlands and Johor must be agreed on "within the next few months", Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.
This is so that a bilateral agreement to finalise details for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link can be signed by the end of this year, when the two countries' leaders meet for their annual retreat.
The agreement will include the amount of concession fees the operating company has to pay the authorities, which can be finalised only after rail operators SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia agree on terms to form the joint venture.
Speaking to reporters after a joint ministerial meeting on Iskandar Malaysia, Mr Khaw said both Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to negotiate with an experienced operator to run the line.
Singapore's preference has always been to call an international tender and award the contract to the best bid, he noted.
"But after discussing with our Malaysian counterparts, they felt the project is a little bit too small and may not have competitive bids," he said. Both sides thus agreed to jointly appoint an operating company for the first 30 years.
Both governments welcome the negotiations between SMRT and Prasarana, said Mr Khaw.
"Hopefully, they can reach an agreement on how to structure the joint venture, and we can then begin negotiating the first concession terms with them," he said.
Asked why SMRT was invited to form the joint venture, he noted that Singapore has only two rail operators - SMRT and SBS Transit.
" So we leave it to them to discuss with the Malaysian partner who is most keen on this project," he said, adding that based on preliminary discussions, SMRT and Prasarana seem to "have a good fit".
SMRT spokesman Patrick Nathan said: "If successfully appointed, SMRT looks forward to serving the growing transportation needs between Johor Baru and Singapore."
Yesterday, officials also discussed the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) line which will be ready in 2026, and noted an industry briefing earlier this year on an upcoming tender for an assets company received strong interest. The tender will be called by the end of this year.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said agencies have been doing detailed masterplans for Jurong and Woodlands - the respective sites for the HSR and RTS stations here. "Both these centres will become commercial centres for businesses because they have good connectivity. They will be ideal for businesses with Asia, Asean and Malaysian linkages."
Singapore Institute of Technology Assistant Professor (engineering cluster) Andrew Ng said the target completion date of 2024 for the RTS link may be achievable, barring any coordination and cooperation issues between both countries.
Dr Mustafa Izzuddin of the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute said it is imperative for the RTS link to take off as it "illustrates that the close bilateral cooperation between Malaysia and Singapore has not been taken hostage by domestic political exigencies".
Officials noted the progress on the rollout of automated immigration clearance systems at the land checkpoints. They also welcomed the upcoming signing of a memorandum of understanding to establish Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Pulau Kukup Ramsar as "sister wetlands".
A joint programme will be launched this year to attract more visitors to both nature sites.