KL seeks high-speed rail delay pending review

The Straits Times understands that Malaysia's request to postpone the 350km link was conveyed at the meeting.
The Straits Times understands that Malaysia's request to postpone the 350km link was conveyed at the meeting. PHOTO: EDELMAN

Request conveyed when its minister met Khaw in S'pore to discuss project last week

Months after the new Malaysian administration signalled that it was rethinking the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) link, its minister in charge of the project held an official meeting with his Singapore counterpart last Saturday.

Malaysian Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali told The Straits Times yesterday that his meeting with Singapore's Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in the Republic was "official... good and productive".

"I explained Malaysia's position on the project. The (Coordinating) Minister for Infrastructure will have to bring it to Singapore's Cabinet," Datuk Seri Azmin said.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Transport confirmed the meeting was held. "The ministers discussed the HSR project and agreed to continue discussions in the coming weeks," she said.

The Straits Times understands that Malaysia's request to postpone the 350km link was conveyed at the meeting. "Our position is to have the rail project postponed pending review," said a spokesman for the Malaysian Prime Minister's Office.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's administration had initially expressed its desire to scrap the HSR project due to cost concerns after claiming that it had inherited more than RM1 trillion (S$336 billion) in debt from the previous Barisan Nasional government.

However, it later softened its stance, saying it would first have to negotiate with Singapore as there were penalties for cancelling the deal inked in December 2016.

Kuala Lumpur most recently said it would seek a deferment of the project it estimates will cost RM110 billion and was originally slated to be completed in 2026.

But it had yet to convey this request formally to Singapore.

Mr Khaw said last month that Singapore has spent more than $250 million on the project, and is likely to pour in another $40 million by the year end.

 
 

It had written officially to Malaysia in a diplomatic note on June 1 asking for clarity and a meeting to be held by July 31.

Mr Azmin, charged with handling negotiations for Malaysia, had said he would try to meet the deadline but was busy with duties at the ongoing Parliament sitting.

In a letter to the Singapore Government dated July 23, Mr Azmin stated that the Malaysian government was studying the details of the HSR project and will commence discussions with the Republic soon.

Singapore had welcomed Malaysia's suggestion to commence discussions on the project that will shorten travelling time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to only 90 minutes.

On Aug 6, Mr Azmin said he had met "senior officials" in Singapore the previous weekend when he visited Malaysian Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who was then hospitalised in the Republic. He said that "the official meeting will take place some time in August".

However, Singapore's Ministry of Transport said on Aug 7 that no meeting had taken place or had been scheduled between Mr Azmin and Singapore officials overseeing the HSR.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2018, with the headline 'KL seeks high-speed rail delay pending review'. Print Edition | Subscribe