Singapore, Malaysia rail operators ink MOU on JB-Woodlands link

At the ceremony were (from left) Prasarana chairman Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission chief development officer Prodyut Dutt, Prasarana president and group CEO Azmi Abdul Aziz, SMRT president and group CEO Desmond Kuek, Malaysian minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan, SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming, and senior group director Sim Wee Meng of the Land Transport Authority’s Rail Infrastructure and Expansion Group. PHOTO: SMRT

Rail operators SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) yesterday to form a joint venture company to finance, build and operate the Johor Baru-Singapore rail link that will be ready seven years from now.

The signing ceremony for the Rail Transport System (RTS) Link paves the way for both sides to work on a joint venture agreement and the incorporation of a joint venture company that will operate the line, the two companies said.

The JB-Singapore RTS Link Operating Company, or OpCo, is expected to "design, build, finance, operate, maintain and renew the RTS Link operating assets like trains, tracks and systems", SMRT said in a statement.

The train system will be able to carry up to 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction between Johor's Bukit Chagar terminus station and the Singapore terminus in Woodlands North, where it will join the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line.

The MOU was signed by SMRT president and group CEO Desmond Kuek and Prasarana president and group CEO Azmi Abdul Aziz.

Commuters can travel from Woodlands to Johor Baru using the RTS Link by Dec 31, 2024.

Officials said yesterday that 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.

SMRT chairman Seah Moon Ming, who was present at the ceremony, 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."

Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is overseeing the project, said the costs will be known only when the alignment is determined.

Though the Malaysian government has identified Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru as its stop, it still has not decided on the route towards the proposed station.

Asked about the joint-venture company, Datuk Seri Rahman said it is unlikely the structure would be equally split. "We don't believe it is a 50-50 basis. Logically speaking, if it is 50-50, then sometimes there is deadlock in making decisions," he said. "Both sides agree and acknowledge the fact that one party has to take some slight majority."

Last month, the Sultan of Johor voiced his reservation about the rail link in an interview with the New Straits Times newspaper, raising concerns about the proposed track, including an elevated bridge that would link Woodlands and Bukit Chagar. He had said the proposed curved design of the rail link in the Strait of Johor as well as the elevated bridge were impractical and would be an eyesore.

Mr Rahman said yesterday 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 Mr Rahman, referring to the Sultan.

"We took heed of some of his ideas and hence tried to improve the alignment," he added.

The minister said there are several alternatives for the bridge design that are being studied.

"There is high, low, diagonal (or) parallel bridge to the Causeway," 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."

The project's bilateral agreement between all parties will be signed in December, he added.

Similar to the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail line, the RTS Link will have a joint Customs, immigration and quarantine facility at both terminus stations.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2017, with the headline Singapore, Malaysia rail operators ink MOU on JB-Woodlands link. Subscribe