Singapore and Malaysia to boost travel links with rail, road projects

Projects aimed at raising connectivity, easing border congestion

Singapore and Malaysia will take several steps to improve connectivity between them and ease congestion at the border, said the prime ministers of both countries yesterday.

But this better and quicker connectivity will not come at the expense of security, they stressed.

"The more convenient it is for people to move back and forth, the more benefits there will be to both sides," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a press conference marking the end of a two-day leaders' retreat with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Businesses will get a boost and people-to-people links will be enhanced too, he added.

One way to increase connectivity is through the much-discussed high-speed rail project, which will send people zipping between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in 90 minutes.

The project was a key part of talks between Mr Lee and Datuk Seri Najib during their retreat.

But the leaders also talked about new travel links that have been on the table for a while, such as a Rapid Transit System (RTS) and a Friendship Bridge.

The RTS - a train system connecting Johor Baru and Singapore that was announced in 2010 - is still in the works, they said at a press conference yesterday.

"We hope that we'll be able to move into Phase 2 looking at some of the technical and financial options," said Mr Najib.

Singapore has confirmed that its terminal will be located in Woodlands North near Republic Polytechnic, a stop on the Thomson-East Coast MRT line.

Once Malaysia decides on the location of its terminal, the countries can discuss the connection - whether bridge, tunnel or a combination of both, said Mr Lee.

Mr Najib added: "By the time we meet again, we would probably have resolved the RTS issue."

He was referring to the next leaders' retreat, which will be held in Malaysia next year.

The Friendship Bridge, proposed at last year's retreat as a symbol of friendship between Singapore and Malaysia, was also discussed in this year's talks.

It would be the third bridge crossing between Malaysia and Singapore, after the Causeway and the Second Link in Tuas.

This is something the two countries will study, as existing links reach full capacity, said Mr Lee. Another link - in whatever form - would be helpful, he added.

Even as the leaders planned to boost connectivity, they also had an eye on reducing congestion.

Both sides are working towards more train trips between Johor Baru and the Woodlands Train Checkpoint. The number of ferry services between Changi Ferry Terminal and Tanjung Belungkor in Johor may also rise, after both countries signed an agreement yesterday providing for more trips.

At the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints, Singapore will automate all its 164 motorcycle counters by end-2016 and Malaysia has plans for similar counters.

This would speed up immigration clearance for motorcycles by up to 30 per cent, said both leaders in a joint statement yesterday.

On Singapore's end, it is also developing a BioScreen project to use biometric identifiers to speed up immigration clearance.

Despite moves to cut down on clearance times at checkpoints, security will not be compromised, both prime ministers said.

"This is a matter of efficiency, but also a matter of security and rigour, because we cannot afford to have people cross the border without having been properly checked, screened and made sure that they are safe and do not pose a security or an immigration risk," said Mr Lee.

asyiqins@sph.com.sg