High-Speed Rail May Proceed Without Singapore’s Involvement, MOT Says Agreement Is Legally Binding

Singaporeans who travelled regularly to Malaysia before the Covid-19 pandemic may have been looking forward to the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail (HSR).

Trains were supposed to run every 30 minutes from a terminus in Jurong to Kuala Lumpur, cutting the travel time between the 2 cities to just 90 minutes.

However, the project has been suspended twice on Malaysia’s request, and about 5 weeks before the current deadline on 31 Dec, a new development seems to have emerged.

There’s been a proposal to end the line in Johor Bahru instead of Singapore, which effectively means the line shouldn’t be called the Singapore-KL HSR.

Produktionsstart für russischen Hochgeschwindigkeitszug/ Start oSource

Singapore’s Ministry of Transport (MOT), on its part, has confirmed that Malaysia has asked for changes to the project, but it didn’t elaborate on what they were.

However, the ministry did say that Malaysia will have to compensate Singapore if it doesn’t go ahead with the project.

HSR project to go on without Singapore?

Plans are afoot for the HSR project to go on without Singapore’s involvement, according to a report by Malaysian independent news site Free Malaysia Today (FMT).

The website quoted 2 anonymous sources as saying that the new plan by Malaysia’s government included the line ending in JB instead of Singapore.

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The Malaysian government has already told Singapore’s Government about the proposed change, they added.

Sources concerned about relations with Singapore

However, FMT’s sources were concerned that the latest changes would cause bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia to be thorny.

One pointed out that Singapore has already spent money on the project.

When the previous Pakatan Harapan government led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad considered scrapping the project, Singapore had said it would seek compensation if that happened.

Thus, the source was worried that Malaysian taxpayers would bear the brunt of this cost.

Malaysia to bear cost of scrapping project: MOT

Singapore’s MOT also raised the issue of compensation on Wednesday (25 Nov).

In a statement to The Straits Times (ST), the ministry said “Malaysia will bear the agreed costs incurred by Singapore” if Malaysia doesn’t go ahead with the project.

This is according to the HSR Bilateral Agreement signed by both countries in 2016, which Singapore is still “fully committed” to fulfilling.

The signing of the HSR agreement in Dec 2016.
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That agreement is a legally binding international pact, the MOT statement said. It is also still binding as of today.

MOT confirms that Malaysia suggested changes

The MOT also confirmed to ST that Malaysia had suggested changes to the HSR.

However, it didn’t say what exactly the changes were, only that Singapore is in the process of discussing them with Malaysia.

The MOT aims to finish the discussions by 31 Dec — which is the date that the final extension ends.

Project already suspended twice

Though the agreement was inked in 2016, it has been suspended twice on Malaysia’s request.

The first extension was requested in Sep 2018, shortly after Dr Mahathir came to power in Malaysia’s 2018 General Election.

That was despite the then PM testing out a HSR simulation in Japan.

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The project was deferred to May 2020, by which time a new government had been formed in Malaysia, led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

However, in May Malaysia asked for a 2nd extension to 31 Dec. It would be the “final extension”, said Singapore’s then Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

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Singapore-JB RTS link has resumed

At least the Rapid Transport System (RTS) link from Singapore to JB has resumed work, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Mr Muhyiddin in July to witness the signing of a deal.

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At the time, PM Lee said that he’s hopeful that discussions over the HSR project up to 31 Dec will be fruitful, ST reported.

He also referred to “proposals on the changes” that Malaysia has given us, which are being discussed by both countries.

Now, it’s about 5 weeks to 31 Dec, and if Malaysia doesn’t proceed with the project by then.

A pity if HSR doesn’t reach Singapore

If the so-called Singapore-KL HSR ends in JB, it’ll be truly a pity.

Especially since we’ve already planned a beautiful terminus in Jurong East for it, which will obviously not become reality if that happens.

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That, and our dreams of a fast and convenient route to KL will be dashed.

Only fair that Singapore is compensated

That said, if the HSR doesn’t end in Singapore there’s no reason for our involvement in the project.

As we have already incurred costs, though, it’s only fair that we’re compensated for it, whether or not the agreement says so.

Since the agreement explicitly says that Singapore will be compensated, looks like for Malaysia it’s a choice between forking out the cash and going ahead with it, or scrapping it and forking out cash anyway.

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Featured image adapted from Facebook.