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'Sound agreement' needed for S'pore-KL high-speed rail: PM

On reports from Malaysia on a third bridge, PM Lee says there's no such plan for the moment

Mr Lee, interviewed by Bernama chairman Azman Ujang on Monday, said the HSR is a complicated project because two governments are involved.


BOTH Singapore and Malaysia have made "very good progress" on a bilateral agreement for the planned high-speed rail (HSR) linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In an interview with Malaysian national news agency Bernama at the Istana on Monday, he spoke of the need to have a sound agreement to determine the project's structure, execution and how it will be backed by the two governments.

Talks on the HSR agreement have been ongoing for over a year and Mr Lee hopes to be able to get the legally binding document signed when he meets Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at their next leaders' retreat.

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Mr Lee described the 350 km-long HSR as ambitious, complicated and expansive. The aim is to have the first trains up and running by 2026.

"The project's execution will be very important - in designing it, in calling for tenders, evaluating the proposals. Several HSR systems in the world have been lobbying very hard to get this contract - the Japanese, the Koreans, the Chinese high-speed rail," he said.

Each proposal has its strengths, he said, so he expects that Singapore and Malaysia will have a tough time evaluating the bids that are submitted and deciding on the best one overall.

Touching on the issue of how the construction costs would be shared, he said this aspect needs to be clearly specified in the agreement.

"That is one of the things which makes this project complicated because there are two governments involved. It is like the project from London to Paris - the Channel Tunnel. When you have two authorities involved, you have to decide how to partition, where the line is drawn. I build my part, you build your part, and we have to meet at the same point. If it does not meet, then we have a big problem.

"So it is complicated, but there is a will. And there is a good will, and we would like to make it succeed."

Asked whether a third bridge linking Singapore and Malaysia was still necessary or even viable, with the HSR on the way, Mr Lee replied that there were no such plans for the time being.

"I would take it one step at a time. We are not currently planning for a third bridge. I have seen some statements in Malaysia suggesting one, but the high-speed rail is a very ambitious project. I would focus all my energies doing that one before we launch a new big project."

Turning to Singapore's upcoming presidential election, which must be held by August 2017 and which will be reserved for Malay candidates, he said the government is aware of people who will be eligible under the enhanced criteria.

The government does not have a specific candidate in mind at the moment, and it is up to the candidates themselves to come forward and stand for election to the highest office in the land. If no one who is Malay does so, then the election will be declared open to allow other races to participate.

Asked by Bernama chairman Azman Ujang whether Singapore could one day have a non-Chinese prime minister, Mr Lee replied that "this could happen in our lifetime".

"If you look at America, Barack Obama became president. In their case, it took 200-something years, or 100-something years if you count from the time of the Civil War. It is a long process, but it is possible, and I hope one day it will happen.

"The racial pattern of voting is something very deeply ingrained. It is so in Malaysia; it is so in Singapore - perhaps less so in Singapore, but it exists.

"If you look at America, even in this election, it was quite clear that the different ethnic groups had very different voting patterns. So that is a reality of human nature which we have to accept."