Malaysia hopes to revive KL-Singapore high-speed rail project, says PM Ismail

PUTRAJAYA – Malaysia is in talks with Singapore over reviving the aborted Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Monday (August 22nd).

The country hopes to speed up the relaunch of the project with its southern neighbor at the earliest, said Datuk Seri Ismail.

Malaysian Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong is discussing the issue with his Singaporean counterpart, MS Iswaran, Ismail said in an interview with national news agency Bernama as well as foreign media.

If revived, the terms and conditions of the HSR project will see some changes, Mr Ismail said.

“It is an ongoing discussion. If possible, we want it to be expedited as Malaysia is also considering establishing the high-speed train between Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok,” the prime minister said, as quoted by Bernama.

A spokesperson for Singapore’s Department of Transport said in response to a question from the Straits Times: “Singapore is willing to discuss in good faith any new proposed Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed train from Malaysia, departing from Malaysia. “A clean slate. We await details of a new proposal from Malaysia.”

Outlining his vision, Mr Ismail said the railway line could go up to China, as China and Thailand are also building a high-speed train line, Bernama reported.

Malaysia and Singapore signed a legally binding bilateral agreement on the HSR project in December 2016, in the presence of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The 350km HSR was to have seven stations and would have cut the travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes from over four hours by car. The railway line was due to be completed in 2026.

Singapore has started work on the project, including appointing a company to design its HSR infrastructure. It then launched a joint international tender with Malaysia for an asset company.

But the project was put on hold at Malaysia’s request, after a change of Malaysian government following the May 2018 general election.

In September 2018, the two countries agreed to put the project on hold for about two years, and Malaysia reimbursed Singapore $15 million for costs incurred from the postponement.

On May 31, 2020, Singapore agreed to Malaysia’s request to further suspend the HSR project for another seven months until December 31.

In November 2020, the Singapore Ministry of Transport said that Malaysia had proposed changes to the HSR and that Singapore was discussing them in good faith. The project was halted after the two parties failed to agree on these changes by the December 31 deadline.

In January last year, Singapore’s transport minister, Ong Ye Kung, told parliament that Malaysia should compensate the Republic in accordance with the HSR agreements, noting that Singapore had so far spent around $270 million on the project.

Jose P. Rogers