THE terminal stations for the planned high-speed rail linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have finally been confirmed, but the leaders of the two countries revealed that the ambitious 350km project will not meet its original 2020 deadline.
The Republic's terminal will be at Jurong East in the Jurong Lake District, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday at the end of his retreat with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Basing the station there dovetails with Singapore's overall plans to transform the area into the country's second central business district, he said at a joint press conference at the Shangri-La Hotel.
"The terminal will change the face of Jurong and create opportunities for our citizens and businesses, draw the people of Singapore and Malaysia closer together, and connect our businesses with opportunities," said Mr Lee.
Once the project is operational, it will be able to shuttle passengers from Singapore to the Malaysian capital in just 90 minutes, compared to a four to five-hour journey if one was to drive.
Malaysia had earlier identified its terminal stations - Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Malacca, Muar, Batu Pahat, and Nusajaya in Johor.
While Singapore had been mulling three possible sites for its lone terminal - the other two being Tuas West and the city centre - it didn't come as too big a surprise that Jurong East eventually got the nod.
In April last year, Mr Lee had told a group of newspaper editors at the Istana that Jurong East was a "very attractive" option that the government was considering.
On Tuesday, Mr Lee explained that having the terminal in the city centre would be too costly and very difficult to construct due to the density of the area. Tuas would have been the "easiest" option but there are too few businesses located in that industrial area.
"In Jurong East, you have businesses, population and a regional centre that's already developing," said Mr Lee. "There are hotels, factories, shops and restaurants. Everything is in Jurong East."
One key issue that the two governments now need to work on is a new target date to complete the high- speed rail, after both Mr Lee and Mr Najib said doing so by the year 2020 was "unrealistic" given the current circumstances.
Officials on both sides will soon meet to discuss how best to structure the multi-billion-dollar project. The two premiers, who reaffirmed that both countries are "fully committed" to the project's success, hope that an agreement can be worked out by the end of this year, including a consensus on the timeline.
Mr Najib pointed out that the actual construction would take five years, in addition to a year to carry out the tender process and another year to design the high-speed rail link.
This could mean that the first trains could be up and running only by 2023 at the earliest, assuming Singapore and Malaysia can reach an agreement later this year. "This is a very complex project. There are many dimensions to it. We have to study it very carefully, but expeditiously at the same time," said Mr Najib.
Progress was made on some aspects of the project, with agreement reached on several issues such as the dual co-located Customs, Immigration and Quarantine configuration, the frequency bands to be reserved for the rail's operations, and locating the depot and stabling facilities in Malaysia.
During the half-day retreat, one of the top items on the agenda of the two leaders was how to improve connectivity between their countries.
Another major joint project is the rapid transit system linking Johor Bahru and Woodlands, which is targeted to be in operation by 2019.
Singapore's terminal station will be located at Woodlands North on the Thomson-East Coast Line near Republic Polytechnic. Malaysia has yet to announce where it wants to build its terminal, but Mr Najib said a decision will be made by the time the leaders have their next retreat in Malaysia in 2016.
"Once the two terminals are decided, then we can discuss the connection, whether it should be a bridge or a tunnel or some combination (of both). We are ready to progress as soon as both sides are ready," said Mr Lee.
The two premiers also discussed the so-called "friendship bridge" - a new bridge that Malaysia has proposed building in order to ease congestion at the checkpoints.
Mr Lee noted that this project needs to be studied carefully as the existing links are maxed out over time and the demand for capacity grows.
"Singapore is happy to enhance connectivity with Malaysia. The more convenient it is for people to move back and forth, the more benefits there will be for both sides," he noted.
"It's not just business, but also the people-to-people links. Also, it's for recreation and pleasure. You can go up, stay there for the weekend, have a meal and come back. These require very convenient inter-connects. An additional link, whether in the form of a friendship bridge or some other link, I think it will be helpful."