KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There will still be no decision on Thursday (Oct 31) by the Malaysian government on the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link project.
Despite the pressing need for the proposed Johor Baru-Singapore connection and the possibility of a hefty compensation payable to Singapore, Malaysia is seeking another six-month extension to review the RM4 billion (S$1.3 billion) project.
This is the third request for more time.
The initial six-month grace period approved by Singapore expired on Sept 30.
This was followed by a one-month extension granted by the republic, which meant that the Malaysian government was to have made a decision by Thursday.
The extra time was given without Singapore making any financial demands over the delay in the project.
Officials told The Star that the latest request for a six-month extension was made known to Singapore on Monday - 48 hours before Thursday's deadline.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said in a Facebook post that an announcement would be made by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at 3pm on Thursday. He also questioned The Star's story: "This is totally MISLEADING and unethical journalism! You run the front-page news based on unverified and unnamed sources?"
It was learnt that the Transport Ministry was still unable to resolve certain issues on its side, prompting the need for more time for the review.
These issues include the relocation of the RTS depot, currently proposed to be in Singapore, and the rail system to be used.
An official said Singapore could reserve the right to backdate claims for damages relating to the delay, or even reduce the review period sought by Malaysia.
Work on the 4km link was suspended in May.
The proposed RTS will use the same rolling stock and signalling system as Singapore's Thomson-East Coast line in the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system.
According to one official, some observers said that an MRT system was costlier to build and maintain, and Malaysia could be looking for a less sophisticated system to bring down the cost of the project.
Last month, The Star reported that Malaysia was studying the option of getting the private sector to fund and operate the RTS.
The request for a further extension is expected to set off a storm in Johor, where officials have been pressing for an expedited resolution to the issue due to worsening congestion at the Causeway.
At present, more than 367,000 people use the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex daily, with 254,000 of them at the Johor Baru side and 113,000 at the Second Link.
In unveiling Budget 2020 on Oct 11, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng announced that the government would proceed with the RTS project.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad confirmed this but said "it will take some time".
Both governments signed a bilateral agreement last year to build the cross-border MRT link from Woodlands in Singapore to Bukit Chagar in Johor to help alleviate congestion at the Causeway.
Under the proposal, the RTS will have two stations, with the Singapore terminus located in Woodlands North and the Malaysia terminus in Bukit Chagar.
Both stations will have co-located Singaporean and Malaysian customs, immigration and quarantine facilities.
Initially targeted for completion by Dec 31, 2024, the RTS will be the second rail link between the two countries after the KTM Tebrau shuttle service.
However, the agreement with Singapore spells out that the KTM shuttle train service will have to cease operating within six months after the RTS starts operating.
Should Malaysia choose to scrap the RTS project, it may have to pay Singapore up to RM200 million for the preparatory work that the Republic has done on its side.
With contribution from The Straits Times