SINGAPORE - On Jan 16, during the eighth Singapore-Malaysia leaders' retreat, Singapore and Malaysia signed a legally binding bilateral agreement to build a cross-border 4km Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link that will let commuters travel seamlessly between Woodlands North and Johor Baru.
This came just over a year after the same leaders signed an agreement, at their previous retreat in Putrajaya in December 2016, to build the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) Link.
"The RTS Link will help to boost connectivity, strengthen our economic and business links, and enhance people-to-people relations," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singapore on Jan 14.
When fully operational, the RTS Link will be able to carry as many as 10,000 people every hour in each direction. This means an additional capacity of 60,000 passengers crossing the Causeway during peak hours, easing the perennial congestion at the Causeway.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the enhanced connectivity would also boost economic cooperation in Iskandar Malaysia (IM) in Johor. Singapore is currently the second-largest foreign investor in IM and Johor.
Indeed, massive infrastructure projects such as the RTS and the HSR would turn Johor into Malaysia's new economic powerhouse, Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin said earlier this month.
"These mega projects - together with other developments taking place here - will generate 250,000 employment opportunities in the state," The Star reported him as saying, naming as well the Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking rail system and the Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development project in Pengerang.
Construction of the RTS is expected to begin in 2019 and the link is set to open by Dec 31, 2024. By 2025, one could hop on a train from Singapore to Johor Baru every eight minutes, or every four minutes during peak hours.
The link will be run by a joint venture between rail operators SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia.
Learn more about the features of the RTS with the links below:
As for the HSR, the link is expected to reduce travel times between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes once the trains are up and running by the end of 2026, compared with approximately four hours now by car.
According to Bernama, the HSR is expected to contribute RM21 billion (S$7 billion) to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Malaysia and Singapore and create 111,000 jobs by 2060.
Many of these jobs will be in running and maintaining the rail system.
Mr Ang Kin Hee, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the construction of the HSR is a good opportunity for Singapore to build its expertise in high-speed rail technology, which is different from that used in standard MRT construction.
And with greater connectivity and increased traffic between the two capitals, a boost will also come to industries such as retail, accommodation, tourism and logistics in both countries, especially in areas located near the rail stations.
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.
In tandem with this, property developers and construction firms stand to benefit, as well as owners of land along the HSR route being potential beneficiaries.
This includes the Jurong Lake District, where the HSR's only Singapore station will be located.
Slated to be Singapore's second Central Business District, Jurong Lake District "will keep our economy strong and vibrant, create more good jobs and improve the quality of life for Singaporeans", said Mr Lee.
However, though the HSR will give the local economy a fillip when it starts running, it is unlikely to have a big economic impact during construction, said experts, with Singapore's section of the rail being much shorter.
Out of the 350km of rail line, just 15km will lie in Singapore. Trains will run every 30 minutes, increasing connectivity and easing congestion at the regular routes between the two countries.
But the rail link will provide more than just an easier way to get from point to point.
As Mr Lee said after the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing in Putrajaya: "It will draw our peoples and our economies together, and we can think of Singapore and KL in the same way as people think of London-Paris, Taipei-Kaohsiung or Tokyo-Osaka.
"Just as you can come down from KL, have lunch in Singapore and go back to KL, so too people can zip up from Singapore to KL comfortably, watch a show, do some business, come back, do some work on the laptop on the train, and be home in time for dinner with the family."
According to the New Straits Times (NST), Prime Minister Najib Razak said the two projects, along with two other massive transformations and construction projects, will contribute greatly to Malaysia's goal of becoming an advanced high-income nation.
"With the completion of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR and RTS, Johor (will rise) to a higher level, as (the rail links) will bring the next level of growth to the state," he said.
Observers told The Straits Times that a speedy and seamless ride could see more Singaporeans consider living or retiring in Johor, where the cost of living is lower.
The enhanced transport link could "encourage Singaporeans to buy houses or move to Johor", according to Dr Norshahril Saat of the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.
Singapore-KL high-speed rail: An interactive guide: Find out more about the HSR, including its special features, express services and project timeline.
Singapore-KL high-speed rail: What to see, where to shop at each stop: Here are some places of interest for travellers and food lovers to visit once the HSR is up and running.
Environmental impact study for KL-Singapore high-speed rail ready for public viewing: Learn about the environmental impact of the HSR on the surrounding environment.
Japanese government plans to back bid for KL-Singapore high-speed rail project: Report: Read more about which countries are interested in investing in this project.
Connectivity that rises above politics: An editorial about how the collaborative spirit between Singapore and Malaysia can help advance each country's own national interests.