ISKANDAR: A cross-border MRT system which will connect Singapore and Johor Baru in Malaysia will begin passenger service by the end of December 2024, ministers from the two countries announced on Monday (Jul 31).
A bilateral agreement on the Singapore-Johor Baru Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link will be signed by December this year, the ministers said in a joint statement after the 13th meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia.
The meeting was co-chaired by Singapore's Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan.
The RTS Link was first announced in 2010. Singapore has confirmed that its RTS terminus will be located at Woodlands North station, along the Thomson-East Coast MRT line, while Malaysia has chosen Bukit Chagar as its main terminal for the RTS.
The link will be connected via a high bridge.
The RTS Link will be able to carry up to 10,000 passengers in each direction every hour, said the statement. Once it begins passenger service, the existing KTMB Tebrau shuttle will cease operations.
At the meeting, both governments also agreed on the key commercial agreements for the RTS Link. Each will appoint an infrastructure company to fund, build, own, maintain and upgrade the civil infrastructure and stations within their own countries.
SMRT, PRASARANA EXPLORING JOINT VENTURE TO OPERATE RTS
Both governments will also jointly appoint an operating company to design, build, finance, operate, maintain and renew the RTS Link operating assets like trains, tracks and systems, said the statement.
The operating company will be directly appointed for the first concession period, and joint ventures between Singapore and Malaysian entities are preferred to encourage bilateral cooperation, it added.
Metro operators Prasarana and SMRT are currently exploring the formation of a joint venture company to be the RTS Link operating company.
Mr Khaw told reporters that Singapore's preference had been to call an international tender to operate the RTS Link and award it to the best bid, but Malaysia had different views on the matter.
“After discussing with our Malaysian counterparts, they felt the project is a little too small, and may not attract competitive bids,” he said. “So the decision was, maybe we will forget about tendering this particular tender, and work towards negotiating a contract – at least for the first concession – with an experienced operator.”
Mr Khaw added that both operators will need to settle the commercial terms in the joint venture early, especially if the bilateral agreement between both countries is to be signed by the end of the year.
“So they can agree – yes, we’re going to get married and form the joint venture – and we can interact with them to negotiate,” he said. “That in itself should take several months.”
“So we are anxious and eager to make sure they settle this joint venture understanding as early as possible.”
EASING THE CAUSEWAY JAM
In the meantime, both governments noted that more can be done to manage congestion at the Causeway, the statement said. To that end, the KTMB Tebrau shuttle has increased its initial 14 daily trips in 2016 to 26 daily trips as of June to cope with the demand.
“We know residents are concerned about the Causeway jam,” said Mr Khaw. “In a way, that reflects the very strong activities of trade, of people between the two countries.”
“So both sides are working very hard to try to relieve the problem.”
Within the next few years, the shuttle frequency should be raised to 36, “if we press on with some solutions,” he added.
But Mr Khaw stressed that once the RTS Link begins operations, the shuttle will cease within six months in order to “give greater certainty to the commercial players” who are thinking about operating the RTS Link.
“Potentially, one can cannibalise the other,” he said.
“Once the KTM service ends, then we can look into a much more comprehensive development of the (Woodlands) checkpoint,” he added. “The land of course will be returned to Singapore, and then we can start planning how we can achieve a more decisive redevelopment of the checkpoint.”
“Then hopefully this problem of the Causeway jam can be significantly mitigated or even eliminated.”
Mr Khaw added that fares for the RTS Link will not be regulated, and will be “purely market-driven”.
“We will leave it to the operators ... but they have to compete with so many people ... buses, motorists and motorbikes,” he said. “So even though the KTM shuttle will stop, it’s not as if we’re giving them a monopoly, because it will never be a monopoly.”
“They will have to be realistic," he added.
"EXCITING PLANS" FOR WOODLANDS AND JURONG: LAWRENCE WONG
Also present at the meeting was Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who said his ministry is preparing “detailed masterplans” in both Woodlands and Jurong, where the Singapore-KL High-Speed Rail terminus will be located.
He said there are “exciting plans ahead” that will create good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans.
“Both these two centres will become commercial centres for business, because they have good connectivity,” he said. “So I think they will be ideal for businesses with Asia, ASEAN and Malaysian linkages.”
He said the site around the High-Speed Rail terminus in Jurong will be a “mixed-use precinct” with offices, housing, hotels, and other commercial and recreational uses. It will also be integrated with the nearby Jurong Lake Gardens.
“We want this to be a car-lite precinct that is sustainable, pushing the boundaries of energy and water efficiency,” he said. “And we will try to push all the district utilities and infrastructure underground so we can free up surface land for more valuable use.”
He added that a detailed masterplan will be showcased at an exhibition later this year.
As for Woodlands, Mr Wong said it could be the “next regional centre” after Tampines and Jurong, pointing out that the redeveloped checkpoint and RTS Link will give Singapore “very good connectivity with Malaysia”.
“Domestically we are also enhancing connectivity with the new Thomson-East Coast Line as well as the North-South corridor, and just a few months ago we also announced the upgrading plan for Woodlands, which includes new amenities, a new town plaza, and upgrading of the parks and gardens,” he said.
“So with all these put together I think we will also see a transformed Woodlands in the next five to 10 years.”