SINGAPORE - Singapore and Malaysia are in discussions on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project, and hope to come to a conclusion by the end of the year, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (July 30).
PM Lee added he is hopeful that discussions on the HSR project will bear fruit over the next three to four months.
"The Malaysian side has given us certain proposals on the changes, which we are studying carefully and we'll discuss further with them," he told reporters following a ceremony at the Causeway to mark the official resumption of the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link.
The basic thinking behind the HSR - that Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are two cities with significant links, and improved transportation connectivity will lead to more business and closer ties - remains true, said PM Lee.
The 350km rail line would cut travelling time between Malaysia's capital and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared with more than four hours by car. It would also halve the current end-to-end travel time of about five hours by airplane.
Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had initially wanted to scrap the HSR as part of a review of his country's mega projects, in a bid to trim a RM1 trillion (S$325 billion) national debt. The Pakatan Harapan administration later clarified that it wanted to delay the onset of construction, as a cancellation would have entailed a high amount of compensation under the HSR agreement.
The project was then shelved for two years until May 31, when then Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that Singapore had, in the spirit of bilateral cooperation , agreed to a final extension of the suspension period for seven months till the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Singapore's new Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the two countries will aim to start work on the RTS Link between Woodlands and Johor Baru as soon as possible. He noted that this partly depends on the pace of preparatory work as well as availability of workers, given the prevailing Covid-19 situation.
Malaysian media reported last week that construction work on the RTS Link could begin in January next year, once approvals are obtained from the authorities of both countries.
"We want to start work as soon as we can, and importantly, to complete by end of 2026," he said.
Mr Ong said he has spoken with his Malaysian counterpart Wee Ka Siong on finding ways to strengthen bilateral transport ties while keeping coronavirus transmission low, and that he also held a short meeting with Malaysia's Senior Minister Azmin Ali about the possibility of resuming the HSR project.
With the completion of the RTS Link agreement on Thursday, PM Lee said he was optimistic that Singapore and Malaysia could likewise finalise the details for the HSR project by year-end.
"I hope it will go through, but there's always a lot of work to be done, and I have no doubt that the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on the Malaysian side too, they have kept working very hard on this project," said PM Lee.
In a joint statement issued after the ceremony, both countries said they had agreed on three key agreements to resume the RTS project, including a joint venture to form an operating company.
Singapore rail operator SMRT Corp has signed a joint venture agreement with Prasarana Malaysia to form this company, which is named RTS Operations.
This Singapore-incorporated company will design, build, and finance the RTS Link operating assets including trains, tracks and systems, said SMRT and Prasarana in a joint media release on Thursday. It will also operate and maintain the rail line between Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru and Woodlands North in Singapore.
Said SMRT chief executive Neo Kian Hong: "We are excited to work with Prasarana to provide a service on the third land link between Singapore and Malaysia, which will improve the commute of people who work and live on the two sides of the Causeway."