SINGAPORE: Singapore and Malaysia held a ceremony at the Causeway on Thursday (Jul 30) to mark the official resumption of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link project.
The ceremony was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his counterpart Mr Muhyiddin Yassin, said a joint statement issued by Singapore and Malaysia. This was the first time the two leaders met in person since Mr Muhyiddin was appointed in March.
At the ceremony, Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung and his Malaysian counterpart Wee Ka Siong marked the resumption of the project.
Three key agreements necessary to resume the RTS Link project have been successfully concluded, said the statement. This includes an agreement to amend the RTS Link Bilateral Agreement between the governments of Singapore and Malaysia.
Additionally, a joint venture agreement between Singapore’s SMRT RTS Pte Ltd and Malaysia’s Prasarana RTS Operations Sdn Bhd to constitute RTS Operations Pte Ltd, as well as an agreement to appoint it as the operating company for the first 30-year concession period, were also concluded.
The Singapore-incorporated RTS Operations will design, build, and finance the RTS Link operating assets including trains, tracks and systems.
The company will also operate and maintain the rail line between Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru and Woodlands North in Singapore.
"The RTS Link will continue to feature co-location of customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) facilities so that passengers undergo CIQ clearance only once at their point of departure," the joint statement said.
Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring that the RTS Link stations will be "well integrated" with the local transport networks in each country, it added.
Fares will be set by RTS Operations and will be determined closer to the date when passenger services start.
READ: Singapore 'optimistic' RTS Link project discussions can be concluded by Jul 31 deadline, says MOT
PASSENGER SERVICES TO START END-2026
The statement also said that both sides have discussed and agreed on key changes to the project.
Passenger service is targeted to start from end-2026 instead of the original end-2024 schedule.
The RTS Link will now be a standalone Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, instead of leveraging the Thomson-East Coast Line MRT system, the statement said.
Additionally, the depot for the project will be switched from the existing Thomson-East Coast Line Mandai depot to a new depot in Wadi Hana, Johor Bahru.
Earlier this month, Dr Wee said construction for the RTS Link is expected to begin immediately after the necessary approvals are acquired in January 2021.
He added that the construction will happen in two phases. The development and civil phase will take place from 2021 to end of 2024, while the commissioning and testing phase will take place from 2025 until the end of 2026.
The RTS Link aims to connect Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru to Woodlands in Singapore, serving about 10,000 passengers per hour each way to help ease traffic congestion on the Causeway.
It was meant to be completed in 2024, but work on the project was suspended.
The suspension was extended three times at Malaysia's request, with the latest extension until Jul 31 due to Singapore's COVID-19 "circuit breaker" measures and Malaysia's movement control order.
However, both sides have been in intensive discussions on the project over the last six months to conclude negotiations by the Jul 31 deadline.
RTS LINK A "CONSTRUCTIVE, VALUABLE PROJECT": PM LEE
Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Mr Lee said he was happy to witness the completion of the agreements for the RTS Link project and is looking forward to the start of the service by end-2026.
"It's been delayed for some time, partly because of the political changes and transitions in Malaysia, partly because of projects, partly because of COVID-19. But whatever it is, we've now settled the details, signed the agreements and work can now start," said Mr Lee.
He added that the RTS Link was a "constructive, valuable project".
"It will make commuting easier. Workers can come to Singapore to work, Singaporeans going to Johor or going to other parts of Malaysia can take the RTS Link instead of using the Causeway. It should ease the congestion and make it more convenient for people to go back and back and forth," said Mr Lee.
Mr Ong, who also spoke to reporters after the ceremony, was asked whether the political instability in Malaysia could impact or cause further delays to the RTS Link project.
He replied: "We work with whatever government is in charge. And we also as a country, deeply respect and abide by the agreements ... I'm sure our partner countries are the same."
Mr Lee also commented on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail project. In May, both countries said they have reached an agreement to defer the project until the end of the year.
"Both sides are now discussing the matter. The Malaysian side has given us certain proposals on the changes, which we are studying carefully and we will discuss further with them," he said.
"I hope we'll be able to work something out because the basic thought behind it - that Singapore and Malaysia are two major economies and Singapore and Kuala Lumpur particularly are two cities where there's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and the more we can make it convenient, I think the more business we can do and the closer the two territories will be."
Mr Lee also said that he was happy to catch up with Mr Muhyiddin during the ceremony. He added that both sides will "find some way" to hold the Singapore-Malaysia leaders' retreat this year.
"We are supposed to have a retreat every year and this year we have not held it yet. We will find some way to do that and to continue the conversation. We are two close neighbours and there's a lot that we need to talk together about, not least how we can get a safe flow of people between the two territories."
Meanwhile, Mr Muhyiddin said in a Facebook post on Thursday that he was grateful and proud that the effort and teamwork by both parties have resulted in the agreement being reached, and the ceremony being held despite challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Well done and congratulations to all who were involved," he said.
The prime minister added that the agreement to resume the project is proof of close bilateral ties between Malaysia and Singapore, and continuous efforts to strengthen cooperation.
"God willing I hope this RTS project will be implemented with transparency and effectiveness because ultimately, it will benefit Malaysia and Singapore citizens economically and socially," he added.