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KL-S'pore high-speed rail to start express service by end-2026

PM Lee, PM Najib witness signing of historic bilateral agreement; joint tenders will be called next year
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 05:50

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Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, PM Lee, PM Najib and his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at the signing of the HSR agreement by Mr Khaw (left, front) and Mr Abdul Rahman in Putrajaya on Tuesday.

Putrajaya

SINGAPORE and Malaysia have agreed to build a new bridge over the Strait of Johor, which will be used by the bullet trains plying the planned High Speed Rail (HSR) link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

The bridge will be constructed 25 metres above the water level, said Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission in a joint statement on Tuesday. The exact location of the bridge was not revealed.

The statement was issued shortly after the prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia, Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Razak, met in Putrajaya for their annual leaders' retreat.

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They witnessed the signing of a legally binding agreement for the HSR by Singapore's Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan.

The non-stop express service on the 350km-long dual-track HSR line is expected to commence operations by Dec 31, 2026.

The fast trains, which can reach a top speed of 350km per hour, will reduce the travel time between Singapore and the Malaysian capital to just 90 minutes, compared with four to five hours by road.

There will also be a domestic train service in Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur to Iskandar Puteri in Johor Baru, and a cross-border shuttle service between Iskandar Puteri and Singapore.

The HSR will open with eight stations - Jurong East station in Singapore, and Bandar Malaysia (KL), Putrajaya, Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Muar, Batu Pahat and Iskandar Puteri stations in Malaysia.

The customs, immigration and quarantine facilities will be co-located at three places - Singapore, Iskandar Puteri and Kuala Lumpur. This means that international-bound passengers will need to clear customs and immigration only once, at the point of departure.

With the bilateral agreement finally inked, the two countries can begin the process of calling for tenders, which will be carried out progressively next year.

The first tender will be called in early 2017 for a joint development partner to provide advice on operational, technical and procurement matters.

There will be a joint tender for an international operator to operate both the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore express service and the Iskandar Puteri-Singapore shuttle service. Malaysia will call a separate tender for another operator to run its domestic service.

A tender will also be called to set up a privately financed assets company to operate and maintain the rail assets. These assets include track work, power, signalling and telecommunications.

As for how the costs will be split, the two neighbours will design, build, finance and maintain the civil infrastructures and operate the HSR stations within their respective territories. The bulk of the HSR line - 335km of it - is on Malaysian soil, with the remaining 15km in Singapore.

Singapore's appointed infrastructure entity is the LTA, while for Malaysia it is MyHSR, which is wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance.

Many countries with high-speed rail systems have already expressed their interest to bid for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR, and these include China, Japan and South Korea, among others.

When asked about the possibility of Singapore and Malaysia awarding the international operator tender to a consortium of two or more countries, Mr Lee said it was premature to speculate on the permutations at this stage.

"I know there's a lot of interest from many constructors - people who build trains or operate trains - to participate in this project. I expect very competitive bids, and we will choose the best one," he said at a press conference at Mr Najib's office after their retreat.

"If they get together, it is well and good. But I've not seen it happen very frequently that the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese get together to bid for a project," he said.

Even with a gloomy economic outlook ahead, Mr Najib expressed confidence that the HSR was commercially viable and he did not foresee any problem with getting long-term financing.

"We are committed to the 2026 deadline. Ten years is a relatively short period of time, so we have to work very closely together, be very focused and overcome all the challenges," said Mr Najib.

On the whole, Mr Lee hailed the HSR as a "marquee project and significant milestone" in the bilateral relationship between Singapore and Malaysia. There is also strong political will from the two governments to ensure it is successful.

"(The HSR) will transform the way we interact, socialise and do business, for the better. It gives both sides greater stake in keeping relations strong and positive," he said.

Mr Lee and his delegation returned to Singapore on Tuesday night after having dinner with Mr Najib at Sri Perdana, the latter's official residence in Putrajaya.

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