SMRT, Prasarana Malaysia sign MOU to form joint venture for JB-Woodlands rail link

(From left) Chairman of Prasarana Tan Sri Dato' Khalid Abu Bakar, Prasarana President and Group CEO Datuk Seri Azmi Abdul Aziz, SMRT President and Group Chief Executive Officer Desmond Kuek, and SMRT Chairman Seah Moon Ming. ST PHOTO: TRINNA LEONG

KUALA LUMPUR - Rail operators SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Monday (Sept 25) to form a joint venture company for the Woodlands-Johor Bahru link.

This will pave the way for both sides to work on a joint venture agreement and the incorporation of a joint venture company that will operate the rail line allowing commuters to travel from Woodlands to Johor Bahru by Dec 31, 2024, SMRT said.

The Johor Bahru-Singapore Rail Transport System (RTS) Link Operating Company (OpCo) will be expected to "design, build, finance, operate, maintain and renew the RTS Link operating assets like trains, tracks and systems", it added.

Prasarana said "the 4km-long RTS Link will serve the growing transportation needs between Singapore and Johor Bahru". It is also expected to be a boon to the tourism between the two countries.

Last month, the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, voiced his reservation about the rail link in a media interview, raising concerns over its proposed design, and operator.

However, Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan told the media on Monday that "the design of the RTS Link is still at a discussion stage".

"I had an audience with his Majesty last week. Obviously some of the perceptions that he had were based on third-party information. So we gave him the true story," said Datuk Seri Rahman.

Mr Rahman said Sultan Ibrahim had provided an alternative alignment which the government have agreed to look into. "We took heed of some of his ideas and hence tried to improve the alignment," he said. "We should be able to complete the study on the new alignment in about a month or so. Thereafter we will present it to our counterpart in Singapore. And we will thrash it out if there are any disagreement or differences of opinion," he added.

The project's cost is not finalised yet, with Mr Rahman stating that the sum will only be known once the alignment is determined. Though the Malaysian government has identified Bukit Chagar in Johor as its stop, it still has not decided on the route towards the proposed station.

As for the joint venture company, Mr Rahman said it is unlikely that the structure would be equally split.

"We don't believe it's a 50-50 basis. Logically speaking if it's 50-50, then sometimes there's deadlock in making decisions," the minister said. "Both sides agree and acknowledge the fact that one party has to take some slight majority".

Mr Seah Moon Ming, Chairman of SMRT, said: "As an inter-country metro connection between Singapore and Malaysia, the RTS Link is a significant milestone for better connectivity and public transportation links between our two countries that will serve us for decades to come".

The RTS can move 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction between the Bukit Chagar and Woodlands. The link is a northern extension of the 43km 31-stop Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL), which joins Woodlands and East Coast to the city.

Construction is expected to begin in 2019, with Prasarana's financing likely to come from the government's guarantee for the firm to go to the market to raise funds.

The MOU was signed by SMRT President and Group Chief Executive Officer Desmond Kuek and Prasarana President and Group CEO Datuk Sri Azmi Abdul Aziz.

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