SINGAPORE: Japanese rail operators stand a “very high” chance of winning the bid to develop and run the upcoming High-Speed Rail (HSR) between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, said Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keichi Ishii.
Mr Ishii attributed the Shinkansen's (Japanese bullet train) safety track record, reliability and comparatively low costs to giving Japanese rail operators an edge over the rest.
Speaking on the sidelines of the second High-Speed Rail Symposium in Singapore on Friday (Jul 22), Mr Ishii reaffirmed Japan’s strong interest in the project, which aims to cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes.
Singapore and Malaysia signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) earlier this week, laying out the regulatory and financing framework for the project. Rail services are expected to begin in 2026, and tenders for the operators are expected to be called by 2023.
Mr Ishii did not give a cost estimate, as he said this would be based on future project specifications. But he added that Japan’s private and public sector will support the project “in terms of finance, human development, and development of facilities surrounding the terminal stations.”
The event, organised by several Japanese government and transport associations, featured several presentations on the Shinkansen train model. One speaker, East Japan Railway Company’s executive vice president Yuji Fukasawa, laid out the operator’s plan to develop the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR within seven years. This includes conducting study tours to Japan, test runs and on-site training.
“We would like to transfer the Shinkansen technology to the countries, and also provide help in human resources development,” Mr Fukasawa told Channel NewsAsia following his presentation. But he also acknowledged that there were several challenges in developing the project.
“If we talk about HSR in general, we need many passengers to ride on the trains - so in terms of competition with the airlines, how much market share can we grab from the airlines?”
Another challenge is the cross-border nature of the project, a sentiment echoed by a Ministry of Land, Infastructure, Transport and Tourism Railway Bureau director, Tomohiro Kobayashi.
“I think what makes this project very challenging, is that it is dealt between two countries,” he said. “So you have to deal with this border security management ... this is something that we do not see when we run the Shinkansen just within Japan,” said Mr Kobayashi.
As part of the MoU signing, both Singapore and Malaysia agreed to common customs, immigration, and quarantine facilities in Kuala Lumpur, Iskandar Puteri and Singapore, so commuters can avoid multiple checks.
About 300 leaders and members of the Japanese, Singapore and regional transport community attended the symposium, including companies and government officials. Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Transport Josephine Teo was in attendance.