HSR from KL to Singapore: On again, off again

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

A timeline of Malaysia’s announcements on the HSR project

  • May 30, Dr Mahathir Mohamad announces scrapping of HSR project to reduce national debt
  • June 12, Dr Mahathir says HSR not cancelled but postponed
  • July 11, Malaysia’s Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng says HSR can still be considered if total cost is cut in half
  • July 18, Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali says HSR could still push through

In the latest official announcement from the government of Malaysia, Azmin Ali, Malaysia’s Economic Affairs Minister, said that the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project is not completely off the table. 

Much depends on the meeting Mr. Ali will be having with Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s Transport Minister, at the end of July. 

Mr. Azmin said on Wednesday, July 18, “Any party that wants to cancel the project can do so because it is allowed by the agreement, but it must be based on the terms of the agreement. All options including reducing the cost, cancelling the project or deferring it, are available to us. So we will table it and discuss with them.

We have not excluded the possibility of the project going on, but are not making any suggestion unless there is a consensus from both countries.”

While the Economic Affairs Minister has said that proceeding with the HSR is still to be talked about between the two countries, he affirmed Putrajaya’s commitment to make sure these talks will follow legal guidelines, and will be done in a way that protects the diplomatic relationship between Singapore and Malaysia. 

He said, “I wish to stress that any agreement which is made must be fair and just to both parties,”

The date for these talks is yet to be determined, although Mr. Azmin said that Singapore had requested for the meeting to take place before the end of July, and he announced his intent to comply with this time frame.

In 2010 Malaysia presented the proposal of constructing the HSR, a railway 350 kilometers long that would have shortened the normally 3 to 5 hour travel time between the two countries to a mere 90 minutes.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the two nations was signed on July 19, 2016, and a bilateral agreement was also signed later that year, in December. 

However, whether or not the HSR will indeed become a reality has been unknown since May 9 when Malaysia elected a new Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who said he would not push through with the project in order to decrease the national debt of RM 1 trillion.

In June, Dr Mahathir said while on a visit to Japan that the HSR project was not canceled completely, but merely postponed because of its high costs. 

On July 11, Malaysia’s Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng says HSR can still be considered for completion, since he had received offers for construction costs of the HSR to be cut in half.  

Khaw Boon Wan, in the meantime, said that on June 1 Singapore’s government had sent a diplomatic note to ask Malaysia to clarify wether the HSR would push through or not, and added that no reply had been given yet. On June 9 Mr. Khaw told Parliament that costs for the construction of the railway would reach around $300 million by the end of 2018, a significant portion of which would be wasted should the rocket be canceled.

Mr. Azmin said that the estimated cost of RM110 billion (S$37.03 billion) for the HSR had not been revealed by the Najib administration, accusing them of a cover-up, since the Barisan Nasional (BN) government had claimed that the HSR would only cost between RM55 billion to RM74 billion.

Hence the need, he said, for the current administration to disclose the total cost of the HSR, but whether or not the government could afford to complete the project still needed to be determined. 

He also said that the total sum for the cost of the project was arrived at based on the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ advice.

Najib Razak former Prime Minister of Malaysia, questioned this total, since the international tender process for the project would not be finalized until December 28, 2018. He said, “So we don’t even know how much the project will cost us and we know if it’s an international tender, it will be very competitive. We will have nations giving loans at 0 per cent or 0.1 per cent rates. I want to know, how can the minister state the price is RM110 billion when the tender has not closed yet.”