Malaysia looking at affordable alternatives to RTS Link with Singapore, says Mahathir

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made the announcement at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Kuala Lumpur on April 9, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia has proposed, and Singapore has agreed to consider, suspending the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Project for six months from April 1, in a manner similar to that for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong have also instructed their officials to further deliberate on the matter and to finalise the terms of the suspension. Both leaders announced this in a joint statement after their retreat on Tuesday (April 9).

Tun Dr Mahathir said at a press conference alongside PM Lee that Malaysia will be looking at "affordable and sustainable alternatives to the RTS Link Project".

A 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 2018, with trains to start running by Dec 31, 2024.

However, the new Malaysian administration, which took power last May, has sought more time to study the project's cost, among other things.

"Singapore is willing to consider suspension of the project," Dr Mahathir said.

PM Lee said Singapore understands Malaysia's position.

"We have tasked our attorneys-general to work out the supplemental agreement quickly to give effect to the suspension, similar to what we did for the HSR suspension last year".

Malaysia had previously requested for the HSR between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to be deferred due to cost constraints. Last September, both neighbours agreed to the deferment till May 2020, and Malaysia has reimbursed Singapore $15 million for abortive costs incurred by the delay.

Both leaders on Tuesday noted that Malaysia is exploring the possible way forward, with the aim of cost reduction.

Malaysia's Pakatan Harapan government has been looking to cut its expenditure down by either delaying or cancelling mega projects brokered by the previous Barisan Nasional government, citing the national debt having surpassed RM1 trillion (S$330.5 billion).

Both leaders also stressed their commitment to address traffic woes at their land checkpoints.

Dr Mahathir noted that traffic congestion on the Causeway and Second Link remains a major problem for commuters.

"Currently, about 250,000 to 300,000 people are crossing the Causeway on a daily basis," Dr Mahathir said.

"Resolving congestion is a priority for Malaysia. Both sides are committed to address this issue and we'll continue to explore new initiatives to tackle this problem," he added.

Referring to the customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) facilities, he said: "This may include improvements in physical infrastructure, review of interboundary policies and regulations, and improvements in the quality of cross-border services."

PM Lee said: "Dr Mahathir pointed out the RTS Link will not solve the problem of motorcyclists going to Singapore and I said, yes, we have to expand the capacity of the CIQ on both sides because the numbers will grow."

He added: "Singapore plans to expand our CIQ further and these are things that will take some time, but will eventually make a significant dent to the problem."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.