Singapore—A further delay of three months has been agreed upon by Malaysia and Singapore to reach an agreement on the 4.2 km RTS link project that would connect Johor Bahru to Singapore’s Woodlands district due to the current coronavirus crisis. This was announced by both countries’ transport ministries on May 2 (Saturday).
The agreement concerning the S$1 billion RTS rail project has been moved to the end of July of this year. In a statement, Wee Ka Siong, the Transport Minister of Malaysia, said that the talks concerning the planned link had been affected by the restriction on movement implemented to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Singapore’s Transport Ministry said in a separate statement that the three month extension would be the final one, and also said that it hoped talks with Malaysia to discuss the link would end soon.
“Like Malaysia, we are optimistic that the discussions on the outstanding matters can be concluded within three months, using tele-conferencing and other means of communication,” the statement read.
This is the third time that Malaysia has asked for an extension on the rail project, which not only connects Johor Bahru to Woodlands, but also to Singapore’s metro train network. It was suspended in 2019 after the Mahathir administration announced plans to review existing deals and keep a tighter rein on its national finances.
Costs for the rail link went down from 4.93 billion ringgit (S$1.63 billion) to 3.16 billion ringgit (S$1 billion) after bilateral talks, the then Prime Minister Mahathir announced last October.
The link is perceived to be an important solution to persistent traffic problems on the Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia, which is used by around 300,000 people daily, the majority of whom are Malaysians who commute to Singapore to work. It was scheduled for completion in 2024. It has the capacity to transport around 10,000 passengers each way, which would serve to greatly lessen traffic congestion problems on the Causeway.
Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s Transport Minister, took to social media to announce the delay on Saturday, posting on his Facebook account that while there have been active talks between the two countries on the proposed changes to the RTS link thus far, the project itself has been suspended since the first of April due to the coronavirus crisis.
He wrote, “The pace has been affected by a number of events, including the change of Government in Malaysia. COVID-19 has added a new spanner in the works. At Malaysia’s request, we have agreed to further extend the suspension, for a third and final time, to 31 July 2020. As this is a final extension, I have asked our teams (MOT, LTA and SMRT) to work immediately with their Malaysian counterparts to wrap up the discussions speedily.
Fortunately, technology is available for us to discuss and negotiate, though nothing quite replaces face-to-face dialogue. But it can’t be helped, this is an unusual time! I look forward to co-witnessing with Minister Wee Ka Siong the signing of the 3 agreements which will enable the RTS Link Project to re-start.”
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