Singapore and Malaysia officially resumed the project for the cross-border Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Woodlands and Johor Baru with a ceremony to mark the occasion, one day ahead of a final deadline following multiple postponements.
Not surprisingly, it will get rolling later than planned - service is targeted to start end-2026 - with several changes woven in. The RTS, for example, will now be a light rail transit (LRT) system.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post yesterday evening that the RTS Link would improve connectivity and ease congestion along the Causeway when it is ready.
"So it was apt that we marked this milestone with a bilateral ceremony at the Causeway, which has connected our two countries for almost a hundred years."
PM Lee, along with Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, witnessed the ceremony at which Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung and his Malaysian counterpart Wee Ka Siong marked the official resumption of the project.
The 4km line, previously slated to be operational by end-2024, will connect passengers between Johor's Bukit Chagar terminus station and the Singapore terminus in Woodlands North. The Customs, immigration and quarantine facilities will be co-located so passengers have to clear immigration only once, at the point of departure.
Both countries also reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring the rail link is well-integrated with local transport networks. The Singapore terminus is at Woodlands North on the Thomson-East Coast (TEL) MRT Line, which will serve 32 stations from Woodlands to Bedok by 2024.
Several key changes have been made to the project.
The RTS Link will now be a standalone LRT system, instead of using the same trains and systems as Singapore's TEL. As a result, the RTS Link will no longer use the existing TEL depot at Mandai. A new depot will be built in Wadi Hana, Johor Baru. The cross-border link's capacity remains unchanged at up to 10,000 passengers per hour in each direction.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Transport said that the project would use an LRT system similar to that of a medium-capacity MRT system in Singapore and it would be capable of meeting the peak capacity of 10,000 passengers an hour, in each direction.
Separately, Malaysia has changed its infrastructure company (InfraCo) to a wholly owned subsidiary of Mass Rapid Transit Corporation. The Land Transport Authority remains as Singapore's InfraCo.
The rail link is expected to bring relief to the Causeway, which 300,000 people used to cross daily before the pandemic struck.
The signing turns the page on a project which was agreed to by leaders of both countries a decade ago, but has seen several delays.
Both countries signed a binding agreement to build the link in January 2018, but key project deadlines were missed after the Pakatan Harapan coalition led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad came to power in Malaysia less than five months later.
The deadline to come to new terms was subsequently pushed back four times at the request of Malaysia. The last suspension, to the end of this month, was due to factors such as Covid-19 and Malaysia's change of government.
Asked if he was confident that the RTS Link would begin ferrying commuters by 2026, Mr Ong said: "We work with whatever government is in charge and we also, as a country, deeply respect and abide by the agreements (we sign) and I'm sure our partner countries are the same."
PM Lee said in his Facebook post: "The pandemic has shown how deeply entwined our two countries are. Even in these difficult times, we continue to work together, and look forward to doing still more together."
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