Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to defer construction of a cross-border MRT link until Sept 30.
As part of the deal, Malaysia will reimburse Singapore more than $600,000 - for abortive costs incurred as a result of the six-month suspension of the planned 4km Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link.
Singapore Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke yesterday signed an agreement to formalise the suspension of the link, which will connect Woodlands North station on the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line to Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru.
Speaking at a joint media conference at the Ministry of Transport's (MOT) headquarters at PSA Building, Mr Khaw said Singapore hopes for the RTS project to resume after the suspension, either in the current form as prescribed in last year's bilateral agreement or incorporating any changes to the project scope that both sides agree on.
"If not, the RTS Link project will be deemed to have been terminated by Malaysia, and Malaysia will reimburse Singapore for the costs we have incurred in fulfilling our RTS Link obligations till now," he said.
Malaysia will have to pay more than $66 million should it choose to terminate the project.
OPTIMISTIC ABOUT PROJECT
I remain optimistic that the project could resume in due course. The cross-border congestion is real, and only a decisive project like the RTS can make a material difference to the current situation.
TRANSPORT MINISTER KHAW BOON WAN, in a Facebook post.
Mr Khaw said the decision to suspend the RTS Link project will affect the Land Transport Authority's contractors and bidders involved in the development, as well as SMRT, which is Singapore's joint venture partner for the RTS Link operator.
An MOT spokesman said ongoing civil tenders for the project will be extended until further notice as the suspension is relatively short.
In a joint statement following the signing, both countries said the transport ministers "recognised the urgent need" to alleviate traffic congestion at the Causeway, which sees about 300,000 crossings daily.
Asked how much Malaysia was looking to reduce the costs of the project by, Mr Loke said he could not give a number as discussions between the governments and ministries are ongoing, and will continue in the next few months.
"We are looking into getting the private sector to be involved in this project as well, so I think this is very much a commercial decision," he said.
Mr Loke said that if the infrastructure costs can be reduced, this will benefit passengers as RTS fares could be lower. Based on the current plans, it will cost Malaysia RM4 billion (S$1.3 billion) to build its side of the RTS Link, including the Bukit Chagar station, he added.
Mr Loke said Malaysia hopes to continue with the RTS project, but "in other forms and in different approaches" so costs can be reduced.
In Singapore, the RTS Link station will be built on a 10ha site in Woodlands North. The MOT spokesman said LTA has carried out excavation works at the station site to reduce by 15m in height what was previously a forested hill. Minimal works will be carried out during the suspension to maintain the site.
Meanwhile, Mr Khaw said Singapore is open to proposals from Malaysia, but noted that different solutions come with "different price tags and different performance".
The RTS project, Mr Khaw said, is based on Singapore's MRT system. It is projected to carry a peak load of 10,000 commuters in one direction every hour. "Other options would be cheaper, but the carrying capacity would be less," he added.
Malaysia had earlier requested to suspend the project for six months from April 1 to review the scope, structure and costs of the project.
The RTS Link was targeted to begin operations by Dec 31, 2024.
Mr Khaw said the suspension would result in the RTS being delayed by a "couple of years", should both sides agree to proceed after September as per the bilateral agreement. However, Mr Loke said it was too early to say when the RTS project could be completed, should it resume.
"We will try very hard to make sure we can still meet that deadline, if possible, because there are ways and means to do it. Even though there is some delay right now, I think we can catch up in other aspects," he added.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Khaw said Singapore agreed to suspend the project in the spirit of bilateral cooperation, and called the move a "temporary setback".
"But I remain optimistic that the project could resume in due course," he wrote. "The cross-border congestion is real, and only a decisive project like the RTS can make a material difference to the current situation."