Parliament: Auditors to check maintenance regimes of Singapore-Malaysia cross-border rail operators

An artist's impression of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail Terminal in Jurong East.
An artist's impression of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail Terminal in Jurong East. PHOTO: FARRELLS

SINGAPORE - The maintenance regime for the future Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail (HSR) and Singapore-Johor Rapid Transit System (RTS) will be closely watched by railway safety auditors overseeing the rail systems.

Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng said this in Parliament on Monday (Nov 6), adding that under a proposed law, those found guilty of obstructing the work of these officers can be fined and jailed.

He was responding to Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan during the debate on the Cross-Border Railways Bill.

Mr Tan, alluding to an MRT tunnel flooding in October and an ongoing "fiasco" involving SMRT's maintenance lapses, had suggested that maintenance operations for the HSR and RTS projects must be audited from the start.

Mr Ng said the Bill provides for the Land Transport Authority to appoint authorised officers - rail safety inspectors and independent safety officers - who will inspect, investigate and enforce regulatory requirements.

In the event of non-compliance, LTA also has the right to suspend or cancel an operator's licence, or to impose a financial penalty of up to S$1 million, or 10 per cent of the licensee's annual revenue, he added.

The Cross-Border Railways Bill supports the planning, construction, operations and regulation of the Singapore-KL HSR, which will be completed by end-2026, and the Singapore-Johor RTS, to be ready by end-2024.

It covers the licensing of operators to run train services and maintain railway assets, and funding for the projects' construction, among various things.

During the debate on the Bill, MP Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Tan also raised concerns about a provision that gives LTA the power to enter or take over private land, in order to construct or maintain rail infrastructure.

Owners must be given at least two months' notice under the Bill, but Mr Tan said this is too little time and suggested a period of six months instead.

In reply, Mr Ng said the Government will try to minimise the impact of the HSR development on landowners.

"However, should acquisition or temporary displacements be needed we will give sufficient time for occupants to relocate," Mr Ng said, adding that a longer notice period may be given on a case-by-case basis.

MP Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC), meanwhile, asked whether Singapore and Malaysia would need to jointly agree to shut down cross-border train services, in circumstances such as a terrorist attack.

Mr Ng replied that under the Bill, Singapore could suspend train services in the Republic without concurrence.

Another issue that Mr Tan raised had to do with the issue of equity control of companies that are essential to the running of the HSR.

Referring to a recent amendment to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore Act in October, he said this gave the port authority oversight over substantive changes to the shareholding of licensees that provide essential services at the port.

He suggested that for reasons of security and safety, the Cross-Border Railways Bill should have similar equity control requirements for HSR entities, such as the operators licensed to build and maintain rail assets or run train services.

Mr Ng said that the contracts between Singapore-Malaysia and these operators will already include requirements for such entities to "seek specific approval before they can make significant changes to their equity composition".

The Bill was referred to a select committee for review, and a notice will be issued by the Office of the Clerk of Parliament to invite written representations from the public on the Bill.

The committee will consider these written representations and issue a report of its discussions, including any proposed changes, before the Bill is read for a third time in Parliament.