If you’ve been following the news, you may have heard of the kerfuffle surrounding the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail (HSR). First, it seemed like it was going ahead, then it was going to be scrapped, then postponed, then it seems like it’s resuming, and now it’s postponed again. If you got lost in the midst of all the back and forth, don’t worry – this article will help you make sense of it.
What’s the project about?
In the 1990s, a high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore was proposed. The HSR was projected to travel at 250km/h, and would bring the travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes. Normally, travelling to Kuala Lumpur takes hours – three by air, four to five by road, and seven hours by conventional rail services.
The plan for the project details that the HSR will be about 350km, and have a travel time of approximately 90 minutes. Construction is estimated to be 43 billion MYR, and will require the construction of a brand new line with dedicated tracks to allow trains to travel at a minimum speed of 270km/h. The Malaysian corridor would be handled by MYHSR Corp. On Singapore’s end, LTA would be in charge.
The service would run from Bandar Malaysia, at the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, to Jurong East in Singapore, with trains departing every 30 minutes. Passengers boarding at Bandar Malaysia would be able to go through Singapore Immigration before getting onboard. In addition to the main line, the KL-Singapore HSR would also offer a Malaysian domestic service that would stop at seven stations in Malaysia before entering Singapore.
So what’s going on with it?
When the KL-Singapore HSR was first proposed in the 1990s, it was shelved due to the high costs. In 2006, it was revived by YTL Corporation, which operates the Express Rail Link in Kuala Lumpur. However, the project was halted by the Malaysian government two years later, due to the high cost of RM8 billion.
The proposal was highlighted again in 2010 as part of the Malaysian government’s Economic Transformation Programme Roadmap, which was a bid to increase economic synergy between KL and Singapore. Studies into the feasibility of the proposal were conducted in December 2010 and January 2011.
On February 19 2013, the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore agreed to go ahead with the HSR project, and a committee was tasked to go into the “details and modalities”. The proposal was to be finalised by the end of 2014, and completion was targeted for 2020.
In the following years, both countries began acquiring the land necessary for the KL-Singapore HSR, and in February 2017, a consortium comprising of WSP Engineering Malaysia, Mott MacDonald Malaysia, and Ernst & Young Advisory Services was awarded a joint development partner contract. This consortium would provide management support, technical advice, development of safety standards and preparation of necessary paperwork for LTA and MyHSR.
The HSR project hit a roadblock in 2018 when Dr Mahathir Mohamad threatened to cancel or delay the project if he won the 14th Malaysian general election. The CEO of MyHSR urged all parties to avoid politicising the project, but by May of that year, Dr Mahathir announced that Malaysia would scrap the project. He cited its high cost as one of the reasons.
On June 12, he walked back his statements during an official visit to Japan, commenting that the project was merely postponed until Malaysia was in better financial shape. On July 11, Lim Guan Eng, Malaysia’s finance minister, said that the KL-Singapore HSR could still be considered if the total cost was halved. This was reaffirmed by Azmin Ali, the economic affairs minister.
So where are we at now?
As of writing, Singapore and Malaysia have formally agreed to postpone the HSR’s construction until the end of the year. On July 2020, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart Mr Muhyiddin Yassin, met at the Causeway in a ceremony to mark the official resumption of the HSR project.
The project was initially scheduled to begin construction in May 2020, but in September 2018, Singapore and Malaysia agreed to delay the project at Malaysia’s request. As part of suspending the project, Malaysia had to pay Singapore $15 million for costs incurred due to the suspension.
During this suspension period, both Singapore and Malaysia will continue discussions on the best way forward for the HSR project, while also reducing costs as much as possible.
What would the KL-Singapore HSR bring to Singapore?
Other than cutting down the travel time from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, the project is expected to contribute about S$6.7 billion in gross domestic product, and the creation of about 111,000 jobs by 2060. It would also kickstart the growth of the Jurong Lake District, with the project expected to boost the value of property in the area.
The HSR terminal was to be linked to the Jurong Regional Line (JRL) via Jurong Town Hall Station (JE6), through which commuters would have direct access. If the HSR project goes through, this station will become one of the main entry points for passengers commuting into Singapore from Malaysia.
Even if the HSR project does not go through, the JRL is still going forward – it will open in 3 phases, beginning with Phase 1 in 2026. It adds 24 new stations to Singapore’s MRT network, with Choa Chu Kang, Boon Lay and the future Tengah new town being the main beneficiaries. In addition, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will be connected to Choa Chu Kang and Boon Lay stations, which makes commuting easier for staff and students.
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