This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on January 4, 2016.
KUALA LUMPUR: Both the Malaysian and Singaporean governments have come to a consensus on the alignment of the 330km high-speed rail (HSR) linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, and have decided on two services, one being a direct service linking Kuala Lumpur to the island republic, and another with transit stops in between.
“We are envisioning to start with two services — one that will go directly to Singapore, and another that will stop with transit services in Bandar Malaysia, Seremban, Melaka, Muar, Batu Pahat and Nusajaya, and then [across the causeway to] Singapore ... even with the stops in between, we will have express services that do not stop,” MyHSR Corp Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Mohd Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal told The Edge Financial Daily in an exclusive interview.
MyHSR Corp, which is wholly owned by the finance ministry, was given the mandate to develop and promote the HSR project, and is the project delivery vehicle accountable for the definition of the technical and commercial aspects of the project.
While the dedicated direct train is slated to take 90 minutes linking the two cities, the other with six transit stops in Malaysia should take about two hours, depending on the customs and immigration processes.
“As of now, the transit services will have to stop in Nusajaya, but for the direct service, you clear both customs and immigration checks [only once] in either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore ... like the Eurostar between London and Paris,” Mohd Nur Ismal said.
On other key areas which have yet to be decided, such as the cost of the infrastructure project, which is said to be testing the RM70 billion mark now, Muhd Nur Ismal was non-committal and dispelled all the figures being bandied about as mere “speculation”.
“We are still in the midst of discussion with Singapore. We are trying to decide on the common grounds, the approach to tendering ... this will determine if it is a government design-and-build contract or if certain parts are being done in other manners. So, it’s still not decided,” he said.
On whether there is a time frame or time limit as to when to finalise the key issues of the HSR, he said: “We have to come up with the best decisions for both countries ... that are of high priority. However long it takes to get to the right decision, we will do it.”
Talks between officials of the two governments have been ongoing for some time now, but little information has been divulged. About three months ago, the Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) and Singapore’s Land Transport Authority jointly launched a request for information (RFI) exercise to test industry opinion and gauge market interest in aspects of the HSR project.
This RFI exercise was mainly to gauge the perception of the general populace, in the event certain specifics are opted for.
Due to the high contract values, there has also been much lobbying by the Japanese and Chinese HSR players, both angling for the potentially large lucrative job. In the background, the South Koreans are also jostling for the large-scale job, while a clutch of European companies are understood to be setting up a consortium, also eyeing the job.
In a presentation by China Railway in December last year, the price tag of the Kuala Lumpur to Singapore HSR was pegged at RM70 billion, up from RM65 billion a few months ago, and up from a price tag of RM40 billion in May.
Questions over the supposedly high price tag have been raised lately, as about nine years ago, in 2007, conglomerate YTL and its technical partner, Germany’s Siemens AG, put in a proposal to build the HSR or bullet train linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore at a cost of only RM8 billion. How the price of the HSR has escalated to the current level of RM70 billion is not clear.