High-speed rail 'not necessary' yet

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visiting a technology exhibition in Cyberjaya yesterday. He said that a high-speed train between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur would benefit only a few states between the two cities. PHOTO: BERNAMA
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visiting a technology exhibition in Cyberjaya yesterday. He said that a high-speed train between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur would benefit only a few states between the two cities. PHOTO: BERNAMA

CYBERJAYA • A proposed high-speed rail (HSR) link connecting Kuala Lumpur and Singapore would be nice to have, but is not necessary for the time being, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.

"For Malaysia at the moment, a high-speed train is not really necessary, especially as it is only within Singapore and Kuala Lumpur," the Malay Mail online news quoted him as saying. He added that its development would benefit only a few states between the two cities.

"So we will not build the high-speed train yet, but we will want to improve the quality of service given by our railway system, and that has been done to some extent, by double-tracking and electrification," Tun Dr Mahathir said at a forum.

Malaysia had previously requested a deferment of the HSR project between Malaysia and Singapore due to cost constraints.

Last September, both neighbours agreed to defer the project till May 2020, and Malaysia has reimbursed Singapore $15 million for abortive costs incurred on account of the delay.

Malaysia is adding a second rail track and infrastructure for an electrified railway service on its national railway grid run by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), from Johor Baru to Padang Besar in Perlis in the north.

There is already an electric train service linking Gemas in Negeri Sembilan to Padang Besar town that can travel faster than the traditional KTM service.

At a retreat last week, Dr Mahathir and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that Malaysia is exploring a possible way forward for the HSR, with the aim of reducing costs.

Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan government has been looking to cut its expenditure by either delaying or cancelling mega projects brokered by the previous Barisan Nasional government, citing that the national debt has surpassed RM1 trillion (S$328 billion).

Dr Mahathir's comments yesterday came after Malaysia and China last week agreed on a deal that would lower the cost of building the 640km East Coast Rail Link to RM44 billion, down from the original RM66 billion deal.

Both Malaysia and China also agreed on a 50-50 joint venture to operate the line across the Malaysian peninsula, reducing the financial risks for Kuala Lumpur.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2019, with the headline 'High-speed rail 'not necessary' yet'. Print Edition | Subscribe