Singapore—Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the country’s Acting Transport Minister, gave an update on two cross-border rail projects with Malaysia. He said there has been no progress on these projects, he reported.
Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan was injured recently and is on extended medical leave. In the meantime, Dr Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister, has taken over some of his duties, specifically concerning talks with Malaysia on transport issues.
Dr Balakrishnan said that the Government has not yet received “any proposals from Malaysia” to continue working on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) since its progress was suspended in 2018, he told Parliament on Thursday, March 7.
In the meantime, Malaysia paid Singapore S$15 million due to “abortive costs incurred by Singapore due to the suspension.”
Dr Balakrishnan said, “Malaysia has requested that during the suspension period, both sides discuss the way forward for the HSR project, with the aim of reducing costs. We have yet to receive any proposals from Malaysia on this.”
Concerning the rapid transit system project, the Acting Transport Minister said that it will also most likely be delayed further. This project is an extension of Singapore’s Thomson-East Coast MRT line to Johor Baru.
Malaysia and Singapore should be jointly calling for “an open tender to appoint the RTS Link Operating Company or OpCo.”
While “Singapore has been willing to engage Malaysia on its proposals for Malaysia’s joint venture partner for the RTS Link OpCo, unfortunately, Malaysia has repeatedly delayed confirming its JV partner.”
In February, Malaysia had requested that the deadline be extended to March 31, 2019.
Therefore, the Acting Transport Minister said that the RTS initiative will not be on schedule to launch by December 31, 2024.
In mid-January, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan wrote in parliamentary response that the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) link project was experiencing delays in its scheduled timelines. In fact, he said the project is “not progressing well.”
Khaw said that Malaysia has delayed the confirmation of the joint venture (JV) partner for the project many times. This had caused project milestones to be missed.
A bilateral agreement dating from January of last year mandated a joint venture company consisting of Singapore’s SMRT and Malaysia’s Prasarana Malaysia to be formed by June 30, 2018. This joint venture company would have been appointed as the operator of the RTS Link, as per a Concession Agreement between the Malaysian government and Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) by September 30, 2018.
Neither one of these deadlines were met.
Furthermore, he said “There is urgency to this as, based on Singapore’s calculations, the open tender needs to be called by March 31, 2019, so that, as agreed under the bilateral agreement, the appointed OpCo can procure the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) core systems for the RTS Link before these procurement options expire.”
On its part, Singapore’s LTA had put together almost 70 employees and engineers for the project. It has also called civil tenders for constructing related infrastructure.
After last year’s General Election in Malaysia, the new administration put ongoing projects under review. Malaysia had said that the high-speed rail project between the two nations would be postponed, but that the RTS project would continue, according to Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke.
Khaw said that Singapore has extended understanding and patience after Malaysia’s elections, but “missing the agreed deadlines in the bilateral agreement to appoint the OpCo and thereafter failing to engage with Singapore to take steps to jointly call an open tender to appoint the OpCo has serious implications,” he added.
“The bilateral agreement is an international treaty that is binding on the countries that signed it, regardless of any changes in the government,” Khaw said.
He reiterated the ministry’s commitment to the project’s progress. “We will continue to take a constructive approach to move the project forward.”