RTS Link deferral possible if in line with bilateral agreement: Singapore

Singapore has said it is "possible to defer project deadlines and review project parameters" on the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link with Malaysia, provided it is done within the framework of the bilateral agreement on the rail link and with the mutual consent of both sides.

"For example, Malaysia can request to suspend the RTS Link Project, as was done for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) Project," Singapore's Ministry of Transport (MOT) said in a statement yesterday.

Alternatively, Malaysia can terminate the existing RTS Link bilateral agreement and request to negotiate a fresh agreement with Singapore, MOT added in the statement, in response to Malaysia's request for six more months to deliberate on a cross-border rail link between Johor Baru and Woodlands.

In its reply, MOT noted that on March 27, Malaysia requested a six-month deadline extension for it "to respond to Singapore on matters related to the RTS Link Project, while Malaysia reviews the RTS Link Project's scope, structure and costs previously agreed between the two countries".

The legally binding bilateral agreement to build the 4km cross-border link - which would connect Woodlands North station on Singapore's Thomson-East Coast MRT Line to Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru - was signed in January last year. The agreement stated that the line was to start operating by Dec 31, 2024.

However, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament last month that the RTS Link service was no longer on track to commence by that date. Malaysia has sought several extensions on a deadline to confirm its partner for the RTS Link's joint venture.

The joint venture, comprising Singapore's SMRT and Malaysia's Prasarana Malaysia, should have been formed by June 30 last year. It should then have been appointed as the RTS Link operator, through a concession agreement with Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Malaysian government by last September.

However, Malaysia indicated it was considering replacing its joint venture partner. It has delayed confirming this partner three times, first until September last year, then December. On Dec 28, it asked to be given until Feb 28 this year to do so.

Dr Balakrishnan told Parliament last month that on Feb 28, Malaysia asked for another extension of this deadline, to March 31. He said both governments are at the stage where they are obliged to jointly call an open tender to appoint the RTS Link operating company (OpCo).

"In the spirit of bilateral cooperation, Singapore has been willing to engage Malaysia on its proposals for Malaysia's joint venture (JV) partner for the RTS Link OpCo," he said. "Unfortunately, Malaysia has repeatedly delayed confirming its JV partner."

On Monday, Malaysia's Transport Minister Anthony Loke said his country needs until September to study how it can reduce the cost of the RTS and how the link will be utilised. Mr Loke had estimated its cost at RM4 billion (S$1.33 billion).

Last September, both countries signed an agreement to defer the KL-Singapore HSR for two years, and Malaysia reimbursed Singapore $15 million in abortive costs incurred by the deferment.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2019, with the headline RTS Link deferral possible if in line with bilateral agreement: Singapore. Subscribe