JB-Singapore RTS link still on, says minister

But Malaysia looking at ways to reduce costs for cross-border MRT line, he says

An artist's impression of the upcoming Woodlands North Station, part of the Rapid Transit System Link between Johor Baru and Singapore.
An artist's impression of the upcoming Woodlands North Station, part of the Rapid Transit System Link between Johor Baru and Singapore. PHOTO: LAND TRANSPORT AUTHORITY

Malaysia will go ahead with plans to build a cross-border MRT line between Johor Baru and Singapore, but wants to look at ways to lower costs, said new Transport Minister Anthony Loke.

The government has agreed to continue with the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, a 4km line that will connect Bukit Chagar station in JB to Woodlands North, he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting yesterday.

"Of course, we will review the agreements. We want to review the terms and conditions, and the Finance Ministry will look into how to reduce the cost of the project," said Mr Loke. "But we are committed to continue with the project."

Since it swept into power in the May 9 polls, the new Pakatan Harapan government has set its sights on slashing expenditure to reduce the hefty RM1 trillion (S$336.4 billion) national debt accumulated by the administration of former premier Najib Razak.

Among other things, it has taken aim at expensive mega ventures such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project, which the new prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has said will cost Malaysia RM110 billion. He has indicated that the project will be scrapped subject to discussions with the Singapore Government.

Mr Loke told Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday that while Malaysia will have to re-examine the much smaller RTS project, including its cost, the link is "still on the table".

"I was made to understand that the cost of the project is RM4 billion for the Malaysian government but, of course, we are looking at how to reduce cost... We have just made the decision; we have to initiate negotiations and discussions with our counterparts in Singapore," he told the broadcaster.

The rail agreement was inked in January between Singapore and Malaysia under the previous Barisan Nasional government. Rail operators SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia were expected to form a joint venture next month, and construction was slated to begin next year.

Leaders on both sides of the Causeway had previously hailed the RTS, which is set to open by end-2024, as playing an important role in boosting the cross-border economy between Johor and Singapore, and easing commutes.

About 400,000 Malaysians work and live in Singapore, and many make the daily journey back and forth from Johor.

Just last month, Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who visited the sites at the Woodlands station and Bukit Chagar station, said works for the link were on track for completion.

"We are bullish about the upcoming RTS Link, linking Woodlands North Station to Bukit Chagar Station in JB," he wrote on Facebook. "When completed in 2024, it should be the preferred mode of transport for commuters crossing the Johor Strait."

Mr Khaw said the trip between the two stations takes just five minutes, and would "significantly cut down the Causeway jams".

Former Johor menteri besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin said in January that the link would benefit not just Johor residents, but also those from other states seeking employment in Singapore. And Singapore citizens, he added, may travel more easily to Johor for shopping and recreation, boosting the economy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline JB-Singapore RTS link still on, says minister. Subscribe