PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: The High-Speed Rail (HSR) line linking Singapore and Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur (KL) is expected to start operations around 2026. This was announced at a joint press conference on Tuesday (July 19) after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the neighbouring countries.
The signing ceremony, witnessed by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak, comes ahead of a legally binding bilateral agreement that will be inked by the end of this year.
Construction of the HSR is scheduled to take place from 2018 to 2025, followed by testing, commissioning and finally kick-off for the revenue service a year later.
The HSR line will run for 350km, with 335km in Malaysia and 15km in Singapore, and on two tracks going in opposite directions. It will comprise eight stops in total: Singapore, Iskandar Puteri, Batu Pahat, Muar, Ayer Keroh, Seremban, Putrajaya and KL.
Existing train services take up to 11 hours to journey between Singapore and KL. However, with the line able to reach top speeds of 300km/h, travel time between KL and Singapore is expected to drop to around 90 minutes - excluding clearance at customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ). There are, however, plans to co-locate CIQ checkpoints at Singapore, KL and Iskandar Puteri to facilitate “seamless travel”.
This means, for instance, that at the Jurong East terminus, one would be able to clear Singaporean immigration and a few steps later, Malaysian immigration before boarding the train, reaching KL and stepping out into the city centre itself.
Travel time for the HSR between Singapore and Iskandar Puteri in Johor Bahru is expected to take around 10 to 15 minutes.
Both governments agreed that each will take responsibility for developing, constructing and maintaining civil infrastructure and stations within their own countries - MyHSR Corporation for Malaysia and the Land Transport Authority for Singapore.
It was also announced that two train operating companies will be appointed to run the HSR service. An international operator will handle the express service between the Singapore terminus at Jurong East and the KL end at the upcoming Bandar Malaysia development. The same operator will also oversee a cross-border shuttle service between Singapore and Iskandar Puteri.
Another operator will run the domestic service within Malaysia. The express service will have scheduling and operational priority over a domestic line servicing the six stops in Malaysia between Singapore and KL.
The HSR trains are expected to be 10 cars long, with the capacity for up to 100 passengers per car.
Fare will be set commercially by the operators and “competitive with airfares”, said Singapore authorities.
A separate private entity will design, build, finance and maintain the trains as well as rail assets, like trackwork, communications, signalling and power. It will also allocate and control track access. Depots and maintenance facilities will be located in Malaysia.
The Singapore and Malaysian governments will build and fund infrastructure work such as viaducts, tunnels and stations within their territories. Both governments also agreed to form a bilateral committee comprising representatives from both sides to manage and regulate aspects of the project which might impact the cross-border services.
TENDER PROCESS WILL BE "FAIR AND TRANSPARENT"
Speaking at the signing of the MoU, PM Lee noted that the tender process is one issue that has to be discussed by Singapore and Malaysia. He said: "This is one of the items which has to be settled and has to be discussed between the two sides, to how the project is going to be structured, to how the tenders will be called, what's the sequence in which they're going to be called, what does each package consist of, and then how will the tenders be evaluated."
Mr Najib said: "Because this project has attracted so much international interest, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that the process will be a very fair, transparent, objective process. But we are both committed to ensuring that this will happen because the image and integrity of both countries will be at stake. So you can be rest assured that the process will be carried out in the fairest possible way."
Malaysia’s Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan said: “We are committed to making sure that this project comes to its conclusion. As far as I’m concerned, and as both Prime Ministers mentioned ... it will be an open, transparent and fair tender process.”
He mentioned that he had personally seen several companies that had shown some interest, including companies from China, Japan and European countries.
Mr Abdul Rahman added that the pricing for trips on the HSR would be affected by the bids for the project even though it would likely be benchmarked against airfares. "I believe it will be market-driven."
When asked about the cost-sharing arrangement between Singapore and Malaysia, Mr Abdul Rahman pointed out that much of the track will be in Malaysia, with more than 300km in Malaysia and about 15km in Singapore.
“But we’re not looking at the length, we’re looking at the cost. Of course, building 15km underground in Singapore would probably cost as much. So it will be an equitable, fair percentage for both countries,” he said. However, he added that he was not at at liberty to disclose the exact percentages until the bilateral agreement is concluded.