No official word from new Malaysia govt on RTS Link to JB

An artist's impression of the Woodlands North Station, part of the planned RTS Link between Woodlands and Johor Baru.
An artist's impression of the Woodlands North Station, part of the planned RTS Link between Woodlands and Johor Baru.PHOTO: LTA

Singapore has not heard "anything officially" from Malaysia on the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Woodlands and Johor Baru since its new government came into power.

Updating the House yesterday on the rail link - which will be an extension of the upcoming Thomson-East Coast MRT line - Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke told Channel NewsAsia on May 30 that "the RTS will proceed", although Malaysia would "have to re-study the project in terms of cost and so on".

"The following day, he also told our Shin Min newspaper that he hoped the project could be accelerated," Mr Khaw said. "However, we have not heard anything officially from the Malaysians on their intentions on the RTS Link."

Singapore's SMRT and Malaysia's national rail operator Prasarana Malaysia were to have incorporated a joint venture company to operate the RTS Link by June 30 this year.

"That did not happen, as Prasarana had suspended discussions with SMRT after Malaysia's general election," Mr Khaw revealed. "This means that both countries should now proceed to call an open, international tender to appoint the RTS Link operator, unless we mutually agree on a postponement of the deadline."

Under the agreement, both countries are to call an open tender to appoint an operator should Prasarana and SMRT fail to form a joint venture.

Mr Khaw added: "We look forward to the completion and operation of the RTS Link, which will be able to transport 10,000 travellers per direction per hour between Singapore and JB."

In the meantime, he said, Singapore "will continue to work with Malaysia to reduce congestion through other means".

Both sides lowered tolls during the off-peak hours at Tuas Checkpoint earlier this year to encourage motorists to travel outside the peak periods.

"We also agreed to Malaysia's suggestion to increase the number of KTMB Tebrau Shuttle services from 26 to 31 daily, which has been implemented since mid-February," he said.

But he said these measures "are not the complete solution", and that the RTS Link is needed to cope with the "several hundred thousand commuter trips" made daily through land checkpoints of the two countries.

An MRT extension into Johor Baru was first mooted in 1991. Then Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan said the Woodlands MRT line - now part of the North-South Line - would be designed to accommodate an extension into Johor Baru. Such an extension was endorsed and agreed to in principle by both countries, Mr Mah noted.

But the project was revisited only two decades later, when it was announced in 2012 that such a link would be up by this year. The latest target, before Malaysia's new government came into power, was 2024.

Christopher Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'No official word from new Malaysia govt on RTS Link to JB'. Print Edition | Subscribe