Malaysia hopes to revive KL-Singapore high-speed rail project, says PM Ismail

Artist's impression of the upcoming Bandar Malaysia high speed rail station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. PHOTO: EDELMAN

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia is in discussion with Singapore on the revival of the aborted Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Monday (Aug 22).

The country hopes to speed up the revival of the project with its neighbour down south at the earliest date, said Datuk Seri Ismail.

Malaysia's Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong is discussing the matter with his Singaporean counterpart, Mr S. Iswaran, Mr Ismail said during an interview with the national news agency Bernama as well as foreign media.

If revived, the HSR project's terms and conditions would see some changes, Mr Ismail said.

"It is an ongoing discussion. If possible, we want it to be speeded up because Malaysia also has plans to establish HSR between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok," the prime minister said, as quoted by Bernama.

A Singapore Ministry of Transport spokesperson said in response to a Straits Times query, "Singapore is willing to discuss any new proposal for a Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail from Malaysia in good faith, starting from a clean slate. We await details of a new proposal from Malaysia."

Outlining his vision, Mr Ismail said the railway line could go up to China, as China and Thailand are also in the process of building high-speed train line, Bernama reported.

Malaysia and Singapore signed a legally binding bilateral agreement on the HSR project in December 2016, witnessed by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The 350km HSR was slated to have seven stations, and would have cut travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared with more than four hours by car. The railway line was to be completed in 2026.

Singapore started work on the project, including appointing a company to design its HSR infrastructure. It later called an international joint tender with Malaysia for an assets company.

But the project was suspended at Malaysia's request, after a change in the Malaysian government following the May 2018 General Election.

In September 2018, the two countries agreed to suspend the project for about two years, and Malaysia reimbursed Singapore $15 million for costs incurred by the deferment.

On May 31, 2020, Singapore agreed to Malaysia's request to further suspend the HSR project for seven more months till Dec 31.

In November 2020, Singapore's Ministry of Transport said Malaysia had proposed changes to the HSR, and Singapore was discussing them in good faith. The project was terminated after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on those changes by the final deadline of Dec 31.

In January last year, Singapore's then Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament that Malaysia had to compensate the Republic in accordance with the HSR agreements, noting that Singapore had spent about $270 million on the project thus far.

The compensation included abortive costs, such as for consultancy services, design of infrastructure, and manpower to deliver the project. It did not cover land acquisition costs as the value of the land could be recovered.

Malaysia paid about $102 million as compensation to Singapore with a joint statement in March pointing out that both countries had reached an "amicable agreement" on the amount following a verification process by the Malaysian government.

In November last year, PM Lee disclosed that Mr Ismail had suggested reviving the HSR during a bilateral meeting in Singapore.

Mr Lee said Singapore was open to fresh proposals from Malaysia on the project and that the transport ministries of both countries would discuss the matter.

In May this year, after a three-day visit to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that Malaysia is exploring "some new ideas".

He said: "We will wait for their proposals; we will examine their proposals with a fresh pair of eyes on a clean slate."

Meanwhile, on the issue of reducing congestion on the Causeway and the Second Link, Mr Ismail said at the interview on Monday that the Malaysian government is looking into the need for a third link between Johor and Singapore, Bernama reported.

"It is still at the planning stages; we will see if there is a need for it," he said.

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