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 this year, in a manner similar to that for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) Project.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Singapore Prime Minister 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 in a joint statement after their retreat yesterday.
Tun Dr Mahathir said at a news 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 last year, 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 others. "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 Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR Project to be deferred due to cost constraints. Last September, both neighbours agreed to the deferment until May 2020, and Malaysia has reimbursed Singapore $15 million for abortive costs incurred by the delay.
Both leaders yesterday noted that Malaysia is exploring a 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 national debt having surpassed RM1 trillion (S$330.6 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 addressing this issue, and we will continue to explore new initiatives to tackle this problem," he added. "This may include improvements in physical infrastructure, review of inter-boundary policies and regulations and improvements in the quality of cross-border services, the CIQ," he said, referring to the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine facilities.
PM Lee said: "Dr Mahathir pointed out that the RTS Link will not solve the problem of motorcyclists who come into Singapore. I said, yes we have to expand the capacity of the CIQs on both sides to process the people who are crossing because the numbers will grow.
"Singapore has plans to expand our CIQ further and these are things which will take some time, but they will eventually make a significant dent in the problem."