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 .
"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 after a ceremony at the Causeway to mark the 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 aeroplane.
With the completion of the RTS Link agreement yesterday, PM Lee said he was optimistic that Singapore and Malaysia could likewise finalise the details for the HSR project by the year end.
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 start 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 yesterday that the two countries will aim to start work on the RTS Link between Woodlands and Johor Baru as soon as possible.
This partly depends on the pace of preparatory work as well as availability of workers, given the prevailing Covid-19 situation, Mr Ong noted.
"We want to start work as soon as we can and, importantly, to complete by end of 2026," he said.
Malaysian media reported last week that construction work on the RTS Link could begin in January next year, once approvals are obtained from the relevant authorities of both countries.
Mr Ong said he has spoken with his Malaysian counterpart Wee Ka Siong on finding ways to strengthen bilateral transport ties while keeping virus 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.
In a joint statement issued after the ceremony, both countries said they had agreed on three key agreements to resume the RTS Link, including a joint venture to form an operating company.
Singapore rail operator SMRT Corporation 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.
It will also operate and maintain the rail line between Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru and Woodlands North in Singapore.
One key change to the project is the switch to an LRT system like those used in Malaysia, instead of using the same trains and rail systems on Singapore's Thomson-East Coast Line, which is run by SMRT.
A Singapore Ministry of Transport spokesman yesterday said this LRT system is similar to a medium-capacity MRT line here, such as the upcoming Jurong Region Line.
Asked if any of Singapore's existing RTS contracts will be affected or cancelled due to the changes, the spokesman said: "The LRT system is compatible with our original infrastructure design based on the TEL system, with minor design updates to cater to the change of operating systems."