The much-anticipated high-speed rail (HSR) project to connect Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is targeted to be up and running in about 10 years' time, cutting travel time between the cities to 90 minutes compared with four hours by road.
The 2026 target is among points agreed on in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to pave the way for more detailed planning of the ambitious rail link.
The MOU was signed in Putrajaya yesterday, witnessed by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak. It will guide the crafting of a legally binding bilateral deal to be signed by both governments towards the end of this year.
"There are one or two issues and some details that still need to be worked out, but the main picture is there," said Mr Lee. He was speaking at a joint press conference with Datuk Seri Najib, after the MOU was signed by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister, and Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan, Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department.
Some key points of agreement include the types of services, how the rail system will be run and where responsibility for its assets, like the trains and tracks, will lie.
Three services will run along the rail line that will have eight stations, of which only one will be in Singapore - at Jurong East.
These are: an express service between the two end-stations - Jurong East and Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur; a shorter shuttle service connecting Singapore and Iskandar Puteri in Johor; and a domestic service linking the seven stations in Malaysia.
To run the cross-border services, a train operating company will be appointed in an international tender. Another firm will run the Malaysian domestic service.
The rail service, with a top speed of over 300kmh, will bring both cities closer, said the prime ministers.
Mr Najib said: "We'll not see Singapore as too distant, but two cities that are very closely connected in the true sense of the word."
Passengers will clear Customs and immigration for both authorities when departing the respective countries, and not upon arrival.
The economic gains are plentiful too, said the leaders. Mr Lee sees many spin-offs from the development of the regions around the terminus. And Mr Najib expects about 30,000 jobs to be created when the project gets under way.
But as with giant projects, the execution will be crucial, said Mr Lee. Both sides need to work closely, he said, "but we are all committed to putting full attention to this, because we want this major bilateral project to be done right".
While each government is responsible for developing, constructing and maintaining the civil infrastructure and stations in their own country, rail assets will come under an assets company to be appointed in an international tender.
Joint panels will be formed. One is a bilateral committee, with officials from both governments, to regulate the cross-border services.
The other is a joint project team to manage joint aspects of planning and development. It will prepare the tender for the HSR, expected to be issued next year, said Mr Najib, who earlier hosted a lunch for Mr Lee and his delegation.
University student Rachel Chia, 22, welcomed the HSR service. "If it is safe and reliable, it will be preferable to driving or taking the bus across the Causeway, as we would be able to skip the jams entirely."
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