Singapore-KL high-speed rail

Singapore-KL High Speed Rail: Big gains for Singapore a decade from now, say experts

But economic impact during construction period is unlikely to be big here, say experts

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak observe Singaporean Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan as they sign the High Speed Rail MOU. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The high-speed rail linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is expected to be a shot in the arm for the local economy when it starts running a decade from now, creating jobs and spurring growth.

But it is unlikely to have a big economic impact during construction, said experts, citing the short length of Singapore's section of the rail.

The rail line will span 350km, but only 15km will lie in Singapore.

"To us, that's a relatively small stretch," said engineering firm ECAS-EJ Consultants' managing director Chan Ewe Jin, who is also vice-president of the Institution of Engineers Singapore. "I don't think it will have much of an impact."

Singapore Contractors Association president Kenneth Loo agreed: "We're building far more MRT lines than that."

With multiple MRT lines in the works and the Singapore stretch of the high-speed rail likely to run mainly underground, one question is whether firms specialising in such work will be over-extended.

But Mr Loo does not see it as an issue. When a memorandum of understanding on the project was signed on Tuesday, it was noted that the rail construction is expected to begin in 2018. "By that time, some of the current MRT works will be near completion, so you won't have excessive demand," said Mr Loo.

If there are any immediate benefits, they are likely to be in terms of skills transfer, said Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport deputy chairman Ang Hin Kee.

As Singapore does not have experience with high-speed rail technology, this is an opportunity to build expertise, he said. "It will not be your typical MRT construction."

He also said the major impact will come when the line starts running. It will create job opportunities directly, as people would be needed to run and maintain the rail system.

There are also wider benefits as "the area around the terminus at Jurong East will open up new business opportunities for retail, accommodation and tourism".

Both countries' leaders have highlighted the line's "multiplier" effect.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the shorter travel time will make it easier to do business across borders and spur growth. "There's more competition but there's more business to be done. It means vitality, it means a wide variety of options, it means a more rapid pace of growth," he said, noting that regions around the stations will gain too.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the same on Facebook, placing the rail in the context of the upcoming Jurong Lake District, where the Singapore terminus will be. The rail and Jurong Lake District, set to be the second Central Business District, "will keep our economy strong and vibrant, create more good jobs and improve the quality of life for Singaporeans".

The spillover effect is a foregone conclusion for major real estate company CapitaLand. Said its president and group chief executive officer Lim Ming Yan: "This increase in traffic (between both countries) is expected to benefit our portfolio of shopping malls and serviced residences in both countries, especially those located near the rail terminus and intermediate stations."

CapitaLand owns 19 malls in Singapore, including three in Jurong East.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2016, with the headline Singapore-KL High Speed Rail: Big gains for Singapore a decade from now, say experts. Subscribe