Further delays likely for rapid transit system link to JB: Vivian

Both cross-border rail projects with Malaysia remain in limbo, according to updates from Acting Transport Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Dr Balakrishnan told Parliament yesterday that “further delays” are likely for the rapid transit system (RTS) link – which will connect Woodlands North station on Singapore’s Thomson-East Coast MRT line (TEL) to Johor Baru.

He told MPs that on Feb 28, Malaysia asked for another extension of the deadline to confirm its partner for the RTS link, to March 31. “We hope they will reach a decision soon,” Dr Balakrishnan added.

Given these delays, the RTS link service is no longer on track to commence by Dec 31, 2024, he said.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is Foreign Minister, is standing in for Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is on medical leave after undergoing surgery following a fall.

On the RTS, Dr Balakrishnan said both sides are at the stage where their governments are obliged to jointly call an open tender to appoint the RTS Link Operating Company, or OpCo.

“In the spirit of bilateral cooperation, Singapore has been willing to engage Malaysia on its proposals for Malaysia’s joint venture (JV) partner for the RTS Link OpCo,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Malaysia has repeatedly delayed confirming its JV partner.”

The link was originally supposed to have been built by last year. This was soon revised to this year to be in line with the new dead-line for the TEL, and eventually to end-2024.

Under an agreement both countries inked in January last year, a JV company comprising Singapore’s SMRT and Malaysia’s Prasarana should have been formed by June 30 last year. It should then have been appointed the RTS link operator through a concession agreement with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Malaysian government by September last year.

However, Malaysia had indicated it was considering replacing its JV partner, and has delayed confirming this partner thrice before – first until September last year, then December. On Dec 28, it asked to be given until Feb 28 this year to do so.

Observers said uncertainty over the RTS link will have cost implications for Singapore. In 2013, the LTA awarded a $34.2 million contract to infrastructural specialist Aecom to conduct an architectural and engineering study for the link. A sizeable plot of land has also been set aside at the TEL Woodlands North station for a terminus.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore continues to believe the RTS link is “mutually beneficial”, and remains fully committed to implementing it.

Separately, the stalled Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project remains on hold.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore has “yet to receive any proposals from Malaysia” on how to proceed with the HSR project since its suspension last year.

At the request of Malaysia, both sides agreed to a two-year suspension up to May 31 next year. With the delay, trains will start running only on Jan 1, 2031, instead of Dec 31, 2026, as planned originally.

As part of the deferment agreement, Malaysia remitted $15 million to Singapore on Jan 31 for “abortive costs incurred by Singapore due to the suspension”.

The sum is a fraction of the $250 million Singapore had already spent to get the project under way up to May last year.

“Malaysia has requested that during the suspension period, both sides discuss the way forward for the HSR project, with the aim of reducing costs,” the minister noted. “We have yet to receive any proposals from Malaysia on this.”

“But we will certainly study any such proposals carefully when we receive them,” he added. “We look forward to working with Malaysia when the project resumes.”

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