Singapore, Malaysia in talks over HSR project as deadline nears

The project was first suspended after a change of the Malaysian government following a general election in May 2018.
The project was first suspended after a change of the Malaysian government following a general election in May 2018.PHOTO: EDELMAN

Singapore and Malaysia are still in discussions over the twice-delayed high-speed rail (HSR) project, which has until Dec 31 before officials have to make a final decision on its status, a Singapore Ministry of Transport spokesman has said.

The ministry was responding to a Malaysian news report on Sunday, quoting an unnamed source, that said Malaysia is planning to continue the project without Singapore's involvement and end the line - which starts in Kuala Lumpur - in Johor, not Jurong East.

Asked for its comment, a Singapore Ministry of Transport spokesman on Sunday said both countries are still in talks.

"Singapore and Malaysia are in discussions on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project. As communicated in the Dec 2 joint statement by both prime ministers, we will announce further details on the HSR project in due course," the spokesman said.

The report in The Malaysian Insight (TMI) news site quoted the source as saying that the Malaysian government will pay Singapore just under $105 million as compensation if it opts to proceed with the project on its own.

"Malaysia will need to compensate Singapore with a payment of $104.67 million. It must be paid by Dec 31," the source said.

Malaysia's Ministry of Transport declined comment when contacted. The TMI report said the Malaysian Cabinet decided last Friday that Malaysia will not continue working with Singapore on the project.

If Malaysia were to complete the HSR project on its own, it would cost around RM65 billion (S$21.4 billion), excluding the trains, the source told TMI.

The original 350km rail project was to run from a terminal station in Bandar Malaysia in downtown Kuala Lumpur, cross the Strait of Johor near the Second Link, and stop at a terminal in Jurong East. The HSR was slated to have five other stations in between.

The HSR project was announced in 2010, and was touted as being able to cut travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared with more than four hours by car.

Both countries signed the bilateral agreement, a legally binding international pact, in Putrajaya in December 2016, witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

On Dec 2 this year, PM Lee and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin held talks on the project via videoconference, but no further information was given.

The project was suspended after a change in the Malaysian government following the May 2018 general election.

The first extension in September 2018 ended in May this year, but the suspension was extended for a second and final time, till Dec 31.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2020, with the headline 'Singapore, Malaysia in talks over HSR project as deadline nears'. Subscribe