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Japan shifts to high-speed gear to pitch for S'pore-KL HSR

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Just days after Singapore and Malaysia inked an MOU on a high speed rail linking the two countries, Japan is making rounds pitching to officials from both sides, adding that commercial operations can start in seven years after the bid goes through.

Singapore

JUST days after Singapore and Malaysia inked an MOU on a high speed rail linking the two countries, Japan is making rounds pitching to officials from both sides, adding that commercial operations can start in seven years after the bid goes through.

Leaders from Singapore and Malaysia signed the memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to commit their governments to the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail (HSR) project. A legally binding bilateral agreement is expected later this year.

Japanese government officials and corporate representatives got into action swiftly.

A spokesman from Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said that its minister Keiichi Ishii had already met up with Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai in recent days, and Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo on Friday to talk about the 350km high-speed rail (HSR) project. The spokesman was speaking to the media at the Second High Speed Rail Symposium in Singapore on Friday.

The officials did not reveal what details the countries will look at to decide who should win the bid. The project is the latest front in a battle between Japan and China to pick up HSR projects. Japan is expected to pick up orders from India and the US, but was upset at the last minute in Indonesia by the Chinese. While China touts affordability and easy financing options, Japan stressed on safety, reliability and low life cycle costs at Friday's symposium.

Although cost is a key factor, a high-level Malaysian official also said that safety is a "top priority". Malaysia is expected to shoulder most of the cost of the HSR.

When asked by The Business Times about Japan's chances for the bid, Mr Ishii on Friday said the possibility of winning is "very high". He did not give a cost estimate, however, saying that this depends on the specifications that will be revealed later.

Japan was pitching its Shinkansen to the Singaporean audience at the symposium, which included Mrs Teo. Mr Ishii stressed that the Shinkansen has not seen a single fatal accident or derailment in its 51 years of operations. Over 10.2 billion passengers have taken the Shinkansen over that time.

East Japan Railway Company (JR East) was the company fronting the bid. Primarily serving Japan's Kanto and Tohoku regions, its 1,470km Shinkansen network serves 289,000 passengers a day, said Yuji Fukasawa, executive vice-president of JR East.

In what might be the first timeline on how the project can proceed in Singapore, Mr Fukasawa presented a graphic detailing the time JR East thinks is needed to develop different aspects of the HSR project. Estimates would put the start of commercial operations coming in at the end of the seventh year. Singapore and Malaysia are looking to have the HSR up and running by 2026, 10 years from now.

Starting from next month, tenders will be issued for different aspects of the project. In JR East's view, the first step would be drafting up of regulations and manuals, which would take two years.

Training of key staff will start after these regulations are drawn up, together with research on construction technologies and the building of a training centre.

Construction of the test track, and of all sections is expected to start in the third year and will take about four years, ending in the sixth year. Test runs will begin thereafter. Commercial operations are then expected to start in the later part of the seventh year.

Urban planning expertise was roped in too, with Kazuaki Hiraishi, deputy general manager at Mitsubishi Research Institute, saying that Japan's Shin-Yokohama is a good case study for Singapore when looking at how to develop Jurong East, where the Singapore terminus will be.

Mr Hiraishi said the Singapore terminus should have direct access to the MRT system, making Jurong East a good location.

Based on his calculation, there will be about 75,000 passengers daily at the terminus, and together with those who will come to receive or send off these passengers, MRT would be the most efficient method of providing access. Hitoshi Mihara, deputy director at Hitachi Railway Systems, joined in the pitch, stating that it can customise its technology to suit Singapore's requirements and climate. The company is the manufacturer for Singapore's Sentosa Express.