PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Singapore-Malaysia High-Speed Rail (HSR) project was signed by the neighbouring countries on Tuesday (Jul 19).
Singapore Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak witnessed the ceremony, which was held at the latter’s official residence at Sri Perdana.
Putting pen to paper were Singapore Transport Minister and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan along with Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan.
PM Lee was also accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, while PM Najib had Minister of Transport Liow Tiong Lai and Minister of Foreign Affairs Anifah Aman in attendance as well.
The 350km line is expected to reduce travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to around 90 minutes.
At the signing, PM Lee pointed to the economic benefits that would come from being "next door to one another, one and a half hours away".
He said: "That means opportunities for our business people, opportunities for our tourists, opportunities for people from other countries … you can get both destinations for the price of one."
Mr Najib concurred, saying: "I share PM (Lee) Hsien Loong's optimism about impact on this project to the economies of both Malaysia and Singapore.
"You can do an initial study in terms of the multiplier effect that this project will bring to both countries in terms of increase in GNI (gross national income), in terms of jobs. For example, we expect the creation of almost 30,000 jobs through the implementation of the HSR.
"And beyond the numbers, if you look in terms of the big picture, this project will bring about a tremendous change in terms of not only Klang Valley, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, but the towns in between: Seremban, Melaka, Muar, Batu Pahat, Johor - all these towns along the way will see a new impetus in terms of their economic development.
"So when you ask the question of how it’s going to impact our economies, the short answer is that is will be a game-changer."
Said Mr Lee: "It’s a major undertaking; it will cost quite a lot on both sides. And we have to get it right, but if we do, it will be a lasting and a strategic contribution."
The Singapore prime minister added: "I think we will work very closely together; it’s a very tight timeline, and there are many potential bumps - the global economy may or may not be one because that’s an external factor.
"As long as the countries have been able to put aside their resources which are available, the project will proceed. But the project itself has got many complexities, and they all have to be put together like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle, and we must make sure that we can all … those things right, in order to get the project done, in the most expeditious time."
Mr Lee said that the tender process is one issue that the two sides have to settle. He noted: "The structure has to be right, the execution has to be well, properly done, and when we evaluate the tenders, the evaluation has to be objective, fair, transparent so that when we make a decision, we are quite sure we get best value and the best choice for the project. And it’s something both sides will be working closely together on.
"At the end of it, we will have to make a joint decision, because this is a joint project, and we will both have to carry the consequences of our choice."
A TIME TO 'PAUSE AND CELEBRATE': KHAW
The signing ceremony took place as part of a Singapore-Malaysia leaders’ retreat, which saw the prime ministers come together earlier in the day for a “four-eye” meeting and private lunch session.
First unveiled in February 2013 by PMs Lee and Najib at a leaders’ retreat, the proposed 350km-long HSR line aims to reduce travel time between Singapore and Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to around 90 minutes by train.
The MoU captures key points of agreement on the project, including technical parameters, commercial model, customs, immigration and quarantine clearance, safety and security matters, regulatory framework as well as project management, a joint release by Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) and Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA) said.
Said Mr Khaw after the signing ceremony: "I felt a deep sense of satisfaction, having been involved in this project since day one.
"The MOU means we are one step closer to our dream of bringing KL within 90 minutes of Singapore. Think of the many economic activities that can emerge with this dramatically improved connectivity. Travelling will become such a breeze, and our countries will be drawn even closer together. Properly structured and well-executed, HSR can bring so much benefit to both peoples. Much hard work lies ahead, but for the moment, we can pause and celebrate!”
The Singapore Prime Minister's Office said that when completed, the HSR will boost connectivity, strengthen economic ties and forge closer people-to-people linkages. "The signing of the MoU is a significant milestone and testament to our close bilateral cooperation," it said on Monday.
Malaysia’s Minister of Transport Liow Tiong Lai echoed Mr Najib's comment that the agreement was a “game-changer” for Malaysia’s economy and one that would strengthen bilateral relations.
“It will push the country’s economy to grow and flourish … We work closely between the two countries and will benefit the people in both countries,” he said.
"MAJOR PIECES ARE NOW IN PLACE": WONG
Singapore Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong hailed the signing of the MoU and the projected completion of the HSR by 2026. In a post on his Facebook page, he wrote: "The major pieces of the project are now in place. We'll have to work hard together over the next 10 years to implement the plans."
Mr Wong also noted that by the time the HSR is projected to be completed in 2026, "we should also see the site of the Singapore HSR terminus - the Jurong Lake District (JLD) - shaping up nicely as our second CBD."
Wrote Mr Wong: "The HSR and JLD are important game-changers that will keep our economy strong and vibrant, create more good jobs and improve the quality of life for Singaporeans."
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who was at the signing, posted photos of the ceremony on his Facebook page. He wrote: "The MOU signed today is a major step and reflects the flourishing Singapore - Malaysia ties.
"I can still recall taking the old KTM train with my parents for the overnight journey from Singapore to KL." Dr Balakrishnan added: "Looking forward to making the 90-minute journey to KL once the High-Speed Rail is completed."