Malaysia has decided to proceed with the construction of a cross-border Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link with Singapore, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.
But it has proposed amending the scope and structure of the project - which has been delayed several times - to cut costs by 36 per cent.
Details of the proposals - including the use of a different rail system - were revealed by Malaysia just as the suspension it had requested from Singapore in order to review the project drew to a close.
With the proposed changes, the total cost of the 4km link is estimated to be RM3.16 billion (S$1 billion), instead of the original RM4.93 billion, said the Malaysian government in a statement.
Malaysia plans to involve the developer/owner of the land in Bukit Chagar - which the RTS will connect to in Johor Baru - in the project so that the land cost can be waived. The land has a market value of about RM800 million.
Malaysia is also proposing the use of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, instead of using Singapore's MRT system, which was the original plan.
Singapore said it welcomes Malaysia's decision to proceed with the project. "Both sides are now discussing the changes to the project, which Malaysia is proposing in order to reduce the project cost," said Singapore's Ministry of Transport in a statement.
"As the changes will require amendments to the RTS Link Agreement, the discussions will take some time. Both sides are working hard on this," it added.
The legally binding agreement to build the RTS Link - which would connect Woodlands North station on Singapore's Thomson-East Coast MRT line to Bukit Chagar - was signed in January last year.
During a press conference held at the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex yesterday, Tun Dr Mahathir reiterated the need for a third bridge linking Singapore and Malaysia, adding that Singapore had refused this idea.
He said the RTS Link will help to alleviate the congestion at the Causeway "a little bit", and pointed out what he saw as a limitation of the rail link.
"Many from Johor go to Singapore on motorcycles. Unless you can put the motorcycles on the train, these people cannot have their motorcycle in Singapore," he said.
"(The RTS) doesn't resolve the problem of motorcyclists who go to and from Singapore every day."
Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke made clear yesterday that the RTS Link would carry only passengers. Looking forward, he said that it will take a "few more months" before the amended bilateral agreement can be signed, and work can commence.
A joint venture agreement between Singapore's SMRT and Malaysia's national rail operator Prasarana Malaysia will also need to be inked, said Mr Loke.
This joint venture will then have to be appointed as the RTS Link operator, through a concession agreement that has to be signed with Singapore's Land Transport Authority and the Malaysian government.
Mr Loke said the alignment of the RTS Link - which will cross the Strait of Johor via a 25m-high bridge - will remain the same.
He declined to say whether the RTS could be operational by the target date of Dec 31, 2024 - as set out in the bilateral agreement - adding that such details will be announced when the amended deal is inked.
In May this year, Malaysia and Singapore signed a deal to suspend the RTS project until Sept 30, with Malaysia reimbursing the Republic $600,000 for abortive costs. Malaysia later requested another month of extension until yesterday, which Singapore agreed to.