PUTRAJAYA - 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 newly minted 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 Johor Baru to Woodlands North, he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday (May 30).
"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 government expenditure in the face of the hefty RM1 trillion (S$340 billion) national debt racked up by former premier Najib Razak's administration.
Among other things, it has taken aim at pricey mega-projects, such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project, which according to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will be scrapped subject to discussions with the Singapore government.
Mr Loke on Wednesday told Channel NewsAsia that while Malaysia will have to re-examine the 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, while construction was expected 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 cross-border economy and easing commutes.
About 400,000 Malaysians work and live in Singapore, with most of them making the daily commute from Johor and returning in the evening.
Just last month, Singapore's 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 that the trip between the two stations takes just five minutes, and would help "significantly cut down the Causeway jams".
Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, formerly the Menteri Besar of Johor, said in January that the link would benefit not just residents in Johor, but also those from other states looking to seek employment in Singapore for higher wages. And Singapore citizens, he added, may travel more easily to Johor for activities such as shopping and recreation, boosting the economy.