In a recent interview with the Nikkei Asian Review published yesterday, Malaysia Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad claimed that the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail (HSR) project has merely been postponed – not completely scrapped.
This comes after Dr Mahathir confirmed widespread speculation late last month and announced that Malaysia is pulling out of the HSR project. Dr Mahathir had explained then that the project will not benefit Malaysia, which is over one trillion ringgit in debt, largely thanks to the scandalous 1MDB project launched by toppled leader Najib Razak.
Dr Mahathir had said: “It is a final decision, but it will take time because we have an agreement with Singapore…It’s not beneficial. It’s going to cost us a huge sum of money. We’ll make no money at all from this arrangement.” He added: “(The HSR) is only a short track. It is only going to save people one hour by taking the HSR.”
According to a Reuters report, Dr Mahathir had said that scrapping such huge projects would help axe nearly a “fifth of its $250 billion national debt and liabilities.”
Speaking to the Nikkei, Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia is not saying no forever to the project but it is that the nation “cannot afford it at the moment.” While explaining that the decision requires greater though since high speed trains “do not contribute much” for short distances, Dr Mahathir left the door open for such a project to be built in the future.
When asked whether he would re-consider his final decision concerning the HSR project if Singapore offered a scaled-down version, Dr Mahathir said:
“There will be a need for high-speed rail in the future, probably right through the peninsula. But we cannot afford it at this moment. So we actually postponed the implementation of that project. High-speed trains are most effective where the distance is very long. But where the distance is short, it doesn’t contribute much. So we need to rethink high-speed rail. We cannot say we will never have high-speed rail in Malaysia. What we can do is we can postpone the project because it is far too costly at this moment.”