Bill change proposed for cross-border rail links

Proposal will help operators of two S'pore-Malaysia links to seek private funding

A key amendment has been proposed for legislation governing the running and building of two rail links between Singapore and Malaysia, to support the commercial viability of both projects.

The proposed change to the Cross-Border Railways Bill will give appointed operators in charge of railway assets and train services more room in negotiating for funding from private financiers.

The proposed amendment and other minor changes were made public yesterday in a report by a Select Committee tasked to review the Bill, following its second reading in Parliament last November.

The Bill supports the future Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail, which is targeted to be ready by the end of 2026, and the Singapore-Johor Rapid Transit System link, which is set to open by the end of 2024.

The current Bill will prohibit railway asset and train service operators of both lines from assigning or transferring commercial contracts and any right, benefit or privilege under such contracts to a third party.

This means operators cannot use their contracts - which will be awarded by Singapore and Malaysia through tenders - as a form of security to obtain private financing.

This restricts the ability of operators to obtain funding from private financiers, who would, in the event of operators running into financial difficulties, want to be able to lay claim on the operators' income from the contracts, for example.

The proposed amendment by the Select Committee, which took into consideration written feedback from members of the public, will remove this restriction of transferring commercial contracts.

However, to ensure government oversight, the Select Committee recommends that transfers of the contracts be subject to the transport minister's approval.

The eight-member Select Committee, chaired by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, presented its report to Parliament on Wednesday, and will ask for the amendment to be passed at the next Parliament sitting.

Five members of the public submitted their written feedback to the committee last November.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2018, with the headline 'Bill change proposed for cross-border rail links'. Subscribe