PM Lee: High-speed rail agreement significant milestone
S'pore, M'sia sign high-speed rail agreement
PUTRAJAYA Singapore and Malaysia yesterday signed a historic agreement to construct a high-speed rail line that is slated to start by Dec 31, 2026.
The line between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur will be 350km long and have eight stations. It will cross the Strait of Johor by travelling on a 25m-high bridge.
The landmark deal will transform the way both countries interact and do business, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart Najib Razak said yesterday at a press conference after their annual leaders' retreat.
They called it a "marquee project" in a joint statement, saying it will bring their countries even closer together, improve connectivity, deepen people-to-people ties and catalyse further economic cooperation.
Mr Lee hailed the agreement as a significant milestone in the relationship between the two countries.
"It gives both sides a big stake in keeping relations stable and warm."
The ambitious rail link, conceived in 2013, will cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, compared to more than four hours by car.
The legally binding deal was signed by Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan.
It formalises technical, safety and security requirements as well as regulatory and commercial frameworks, among other things.
The signing also marks the shift from a planning phase to that of implementation, and comes after both sides inked a memorandum of understanding for the project in July.
Mr Lee said there is "strong political will on both sides" to ensure the project is done right and is a success.
He quipped: "I look forward to taking my first train ride up to Putrajaya in 10 years' time."
While the 10-year time frame is a "relatively short period of time" given the size and complexity of the project, Mr Najib said he is committed to meeting the deadline.
"We have to work very closely together and be very focused, and we must overcome all the challenges as we move ahead," he said.
Both countries will award a joint tender for a development partner early next year, to provide operational and technical advice as well as procurement advice on high-speed railway systems.
Mr Najib said an international tender will be called in the fourth quarter of next year for an assets company to design, build, finance and maintain rail assets and trains for the line.
A bilateral committee, led by senior government officials from both sides, will oversee the arrangements set out in the agreement.
Yesterday, both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen relations, amid a challenging global security and economic environment.
They also agreed on technical details for the Rapid Transit System link, which will connect the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line (TEL) to Johor Baru via another high bridge near the Causeway. The link will use the same rail systems and trains as the TEL.
Both sides will also hold a cultural showcase every three years alongside future retreats, starting 2018.
"This will further our cultural cooperation, which is very important because our relationship must be more than just economic and transactional," Mr Lee said.
"Ultimately, it is about friendship, friendship between the people, friendship and trust between the leaders. And arts and culture play an important role."
Other issues they discussed include trade, tourism, water and transboundary haze pollution. On water, the leaders agreed on the importance of taking the necessary measures to ensure reliable and adequate water supply from the Johor river as stipulated in the 1962 Water Agreement.
Mr Lee and Singapore officials later had dinner - which included durian - with the Malaysian delegation at Seri Perdana, the Prime Minister's official residence.
In a Facebook post yesterday evening, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said: "Our relationship with Malaysia is strong and flourishing. We are bound by history, kinship, culture and strong people-to-people ties."
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Going high the 'best solution' to bridge the Causeway divide
Singapore and Malaysia will sign an agreement for a cross-border MRT system, linked by a high bridge between Johor and Woodlands, by the end of next year.
The Rapid Transit System link will connect Johor's Bukit Chagar terminus station to the Singapore terminus in Woodlands North, where it will join the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line.
Announcing this at a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart, Mr Najib Razak, said a high bridge was the "best solution".
"This was a major point: How are we going to cross the Strait of Johor - high bridge, low bridge, tunnel?" Mr Lee said.
"After extensive discussions, we have agreed that a high bridge is the best solution and that clears the way for us to work towards a bilateral agreement, which I hope we can sign by the end of next year."
Both leaders said in a joint statement that the link will improve connectivity and reduce congestion at border crossings when completed.
It will be operated by a corporate entity, which will set fares based on the market.
Fares will not be regulated by the governments.
Mr Lee and Mr Najib endorsed the technical details for the link at their annual Leaders' Retreat here.
The Rapid Transit System link was first announced by Singapore and Malaysia in May 2010, and was initially targeted to be ready by 2018.
A new completion date and the detailed alignment for the link have not yet been finalised.
The second phase of a joint engineering study for the project began in April, and is still ongoing.
A Land Transport Authority (LTA) spokesman said that both sides are meeting frequently to finalise the detailed design by next year.
Separately, the LTA awarded a contract to a consortium comprising AECOM, MVA and KPMG to conduct a ridership and commercial study in June.
The ridership study is likely to be completed this year, said the LTA spokesman.
- THE STRAITS TIMES