PUTRAJAYA: A high-speed rail project connecting Kuala Lumpur to Singapore is not necessary at the moment for Malaysia, who should focus its efforts instead on improving the quality of its existing railway services, said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday (Apr 16).
Last September, Singapore and Malaysia formally agreed to postpone the construction of the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project until end-May 2020. Malaysia has since paid Singapore S$15 million for costs incurred in suspending the project.
Speaking at a rail technology conference, Dr Mahathir said: "We will not build the high-speed train yet, but we want to improve the quality of services given by our railway system. That has been done to some extent, by double-tracking and electrification."
He added that the HSR project would not provide significant benefits, as it would shave only about 30 minutes of the current travel time and people still needed to spend time to travel to the train station.
"If the line is long enough and (people) save about two to six hours, then I think high-speed train would be the answer," he added.
When asked if Putrajaya was in talks with Singapore for the HSR project to be built later, Dr Mahathir stated: “For the time being, we are not going to build (it).
“We asked for two years before we talk again about the HSR. At the moment, we have not given out any contract but we have to compensate Singapore later," he added without elaborating.
However, the prime minister said Malaysia might need to build a HSR link between Johor Bahru and Penang, or even to the border with Thailand, in future.
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This is not the first time Dr Mahathir has spoken out against the necessity of the HSR.
Shortly after winning the May 2018 election, he announced that the RM50 billion (S$16.8 billion) project would be scrapped entirely, saying that it would not benefit Malaysia.
“It's not beneficial. It's going to cost us a huge sum of money … (The HSR) is only a short track. It is only going to save people one hour by taking the HSR," he said at that time.
However, Dr Mahathir later said in July that the project would be deferred instead.
Singapore said that it could have turned down Malaysia’s request to defer the project and enforced its legal rights on termination.
However, it decided to work out an “alternative resolution” to the problem “in the spirit of bilateral cooperation”, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan in October.
The HSR service is now expected to start by Jan 1, 2031, instead of the original commencement date of Dec 31, 2026.
Last week, Malaysia and China announced that the East Coast Rail Link project, which was suspended last July, was back on track after both sides agreed to cut the cost of the project by a third to RM44 billion.