S’pore-KL High-Speed Rail Project Terminated, MOT Says M’sia Has To Compensate Us For Costs Incurred

Though the writing was on the wall, those who’ve been working hard to make the project a reality may have hoped it’ll pull through.

The much-publicised Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail (HSR) project has come to an end, wasting years of work by officials in both countries.

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Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung shared 2 announcements on the matter by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Ministry of Transport (MOT) on Facebook on Friday (1 Jan).

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He mentioned that work on this project started before 2013, meaning years were invested in it.

Malaysian government proposed several changes

According to the PMO statement released on 1 Jan, Malaysia’s government had proposed several changes to the project.

While it didn’t elaborate on what exactly the changes were, the Malaysian media reported on Nov that plans were afoot for the project to go on without Singapore’s involvement.

Their sources said the new plan included the line ending in Johor Bahru instead of Singapore.

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That effectively means means the line shouldn’t be called the Singapore-KL HSR.

Both sides unable to reach an agreement

The MOT statement, also released on 1 Jan, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin met over videoconferencing on 2 Dec.

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Their aim was to review the project’s status, including the unspecified changes that Malaysia proposed.

Unfortunately, despite “several discussions” by both sides over these changes, we were unable to reach an agreement.

Thus, the HSR Agreement lapsed on 31 Dec.

Project was suspended twice

Unfortunately, the sad ending wasn’t entirely surprising, given that the project had already been suspended twice on Malaysia’s request.

The HSR Agreement was inked to much fanfare in 2016, when then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was still in power.

The signing of the HSR agreement in Dec 2016.
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The first extension was requested in Sep 2018, shortly after Dr Mahathir Mohamad came to power in Malaysia’s 2018 General Election.

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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As 31 Dec crept closer and closer, no positive sign on the project’s resumption was evident.

Malaysia has to compensate Singapore, says MOT

Following the termination, the PMO statement only said that both countries will follow their “respective obligations”.

“Necessary actions” will thus be taken.

The MOT was clear on what one of these actions would be, saying,

Malaysia… has to compensate Singapore for costs already incurred by Singapore in fulfilling its obligations.

In other words, we’ve already put in time and money into this project, and since Malaysia has “allowed the HSR Bilateral Agreement to the terminated”, they should compensate us for it.

The agreement is a legally binding international pact, the MOT had previously said.

Singapore has spent more than $250 million on HSR

While time is said to be money, Singaporeans may wonder how much cold, hard cash we’ve invested in this cancelled project.

Back in Jul 2018, Mr Khaw revealed the staggering sum in Parliament: More than $250 million.

Undoubtedly, part of that sum went towards designing and planning for what would have been a beautiful terminus in Jurong East.

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Thus, if we’re not compensated for it, that’s a lot of our money gone down the drain.

However, the Edge Malaysia reported as recently as 24 Dec that Malaysia was going to pay compensation of about S$100 million (RM300 million) for terminating the HSR.

In Feb 2019, Malaysia paid Singapore S$15 million for the HSR’s suspension, consisting of the costs incurred when breaking contracts with contractors and filling back excavated sites.

Ong Ye Kung thanks staff

In his Facebook post, Mr Ong thanked staff who worked on the announcement.

Apparently, some had worked throughout New Year’s Eve, and even New Year’s Day.

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However, for the scores of people who worked on the HSR project in Singapore and Malaysia, their time and energy has sadly come to nothing.

Hope we can cooperate in future

If Malaysia’s going on their own to build a HSR that ends in JB, it’ll be truly a pity that Singapore’s not part of it, as it could have done wonders for our connectivity.

That said, since we’re now not involved but already incurred costs, it’s only fair that we’re compensated for it.

More importantly, the PMO statement said that both countries are still “committed” to keeping up good relations, so hopefully we can cooperate in future to boost connectivity in other ways like the Rapid Transport System (RTS) link from Singapore to JB.

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Featured image adapted from LTA.