“Singapore and Malaysia aiming for High-Speed Rail by end-2026”, a Commentary by Francis E. Hutchinson

2016/83 14 December 2016

Yesterday, the Prime Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia witnessed the signing of a legally-binding bilateral agreement to build a high-speed rail (HSR) between their two economic capitals. The agreement signed yesterday is thus the latest step towards the construction of the transport link.

In 2013 at the Malaysia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat, both countries committed to building the rail link. In 2014, Malaysia declared that the terminus would be in Bandar Malaysia, near the Kuala Lumpur business district. In 2015, Singapore stated that its terminus would be in Jurong East. In a Memorandum of Understanding signed in July of this year, the two countries agreed that each would supervise the civil infrastructure within their respective borders, and that a third party would provide the rolling stock and rail assets.

In addition, the July MoU clarified that the HSR would actually consist of three separate services. The first is a direct or ‘express’ link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The second is a commuter service exclusively on the Malaysian side, linking Kuala Lumpur with five smaller cities and then ending in Iskandar Putri in Johor. The third is a shuttle linking Iskandar Puteri with Singapore. Only the first and third services will have co-located customs and immigration services. This model allowed Malaysia’s desire to link a number of second-tier cities, and Singapore’s need to ensure screening of passengers seeking to come into the city-state to be reconciled.

Yesterday’s bilateral agreement provides clarity on an additional number of issues. The first is a clear target date for the HSR ‘express’ service to begin, namely December 31st, 2026. The second is that the train will cross the Johor Strait via an elevated bridge, near the Second Link, as opposed to a more expensive tunnel between the two countries. The third is that, in early 2017, the two countries will award a tender to a third party, named a Joint Development Partner. This entity will provide high-level technical expertise on the planning and organization of the bidding process, which is expected to begin in the 4th quarter of next year.

So far, international interest in the HSR has been intense. In October last year, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority and Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission released a request for expressions of interest. More than 200 firms registered their interest, and of these 98 were shortlisted. Of these, 14 were invited to attend interviews conducted by the two authorities.
European firms such as Germany’s Siemen’s AG, France’s Alstom, and Spain’s Talgo SA and CAF have expressed interest, as has Canada’s Bombardier. Large consortiums of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese firms have also been profiling themselves and have also received support from their respective governments.

While next year’s Leaders’ Retreat will undoubtedly clarify additional issues, the appointment of the Joint Development Partner could provide some indications of how the bidding process will be approached.

Francis E. Hutchinson is Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Economic and Malaysia Studies Programmes at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

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