Betting big on high-speed rail

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has bet big on the high-speed rail (HSR), given its hefty price tag and 10-year gestation period.

So far, most of his biggest projects centre on Kuala Lumpur, with upcoming skyscrapers such as Malaysia's tallest building, Merdeka PNB118, the Tun Razak Exchange financial centre, an expanded LRT system and the new MRT lines.

With the HSR, he is reaching out to those living outside Greater KL - also known as the Klang Valley - to get a taste of the modernisation that his government has promised since coming to power seven years ago.

Malaysia's MRT project has shown how homes and shops have sprouted, and land values surged, once a nearby station is confirmed. The first MRT trains will begin running early next year.


Right now, the HSR will seem completely alien in places like Muar and Batu Pahat, where pre-war houses remain unmolested by the "heritage tourism" that is becoming popular in the country.

The mega infrastructure project will help expand business and travel opportunities in these towns, especially for Singaporeans.

Travel north to have lunch, to shop, or sleep overnight in Muar or Putrajaya. Or buy a property or open a small business at these stops.

Today, many Malaysians who cannot afford to live in Greater KL live outside it, in towns like Seremban or Rawang in the north, and drive or take the "low-speed" rail into the city to work.

We can perhaps imagine that some adventurous Singaporeans would do the same at the HSR stops, just like there are Singaporeans and Malaysians who live in Johor Baru or Iskandar Puteri (Nusajaya's new name) and commute by car or motorcycle to work in Singapore.

And we can expect more Malaysians from these pit-stop towns to hop into Singapore to dine, go to a concert, or party until the first train leaves the next morning.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline 'High-speed rail's big reach'. Print Edition | Subscribe