Recently, there has been a host of rumours that the Kuala Lumpur – Singapore High Speed Rail project might be revived, a mere two years after it was cancelled by the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore respectively.
But what is it about the KL-SG HSR project anyway? Why has it been so hard for the project to finally get going? Well, there’s a number of factors at play here. In this article, let’s have a look at the KL-SG HSR project, and why has it been so hard to launch it off the ground.
Background of the KL-SG HSR
Before we delve into the background of the KL-SG HSR project, let’s have a look at what it is actually. As the name suggests the KL-SG HSR is a direct railway project that will ferry passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.
The idea of a direct railway system from KL to SG has been explored even since the late 1990s, but the proposal never gained any traction due to the high costs that it will incur.
However, after more than a decade of research and refinement of the proposal, the government finally decided to proceed with the KL-SG HSR, highlighting it as a high impact project in the Economic Transformation Programme Roadmap introduced in 2010.
In 2013, Malaysia’s then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the HSR project had been formally agreed upon by the two countries, and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two countries on the project in 2016.
In 2016, a bilateral agreement was signed between Singapore and Malaysia. The project was going full steam ahead with an international joint tender exercise for designing, building and maintaining the HSR.
Unfortunately, after the change in Malaysia’s government in 2018, the project was suspended for two years with the succeeding Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad citing ‘financial burden’ on the country as a main reason.
After the two years suspension, the project was deferred for another 7 months, before it was ultimately cancelled due to the two countries failing to come to an agreement on changes to the project.
Past issues with the KL-SG HSR
So why has it been so hard for the project to get off the ground? That’s down to numerous factors, which we will discuss here.
One of the main issues is the status of AssetsCo, the asset management company that was agreed upon to be jointly managed and supervised by both Malaysia and Singapore.
This is due to the fact that due to the arrangement, Singapore would have had a strategic role in Malaysia’s railway planning, despite the fact that 96% of the railway line would be in Malaysia’s territory.
The project also brings with it a host of sovereignty issues with it as well, as Singapore was not willing to accept that a railway that spans 30 kilometres in their country will be effectively owned and operated by another country.
Another huge issue that has been a stumbling block for the KL-SG HSR project is again, the huge price tag attached with it.
Although an official price tag has never been disclosed by both the Singapore and Malaysian governments, it is widely cited that the HSR will cost around RM70 billion to RM110 billion.
Can the KL-SG HSR be revived?
Fortunately, it looks like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, as the current Malaysian government has been looking into new ways to finance the project, therefore lessening the financial burden it will have on Malaysian taxpayers.
According to reports, MyHSR Corp has received positive feedback from it’s input gathering exercise back in March, and are now looking forward to start a formal Request For Information (RFI) exercise to get the private sector to officially submit concept proposals to develop and operate the HSR project via a “public-private partnership model”.
The vibes are good from the other side of the causeway as well, as Singapore’s Transport Ministry has said that Singapore was willing to discuss any new proposal from Malaysia “in good faith, starting from a clean slate”.
If executed correctly, the KL-SG HSR project holds the potential to be a spark for both Malaysia and Singapore’s economic growth, as it will bring about money from all industries and sectors.
For now however, everything’s still up in the air, although MyHSR Corp Sdn Bhd chairman Datuk Seri Fauzi Abdul Rahman had informed the press earlier this month that the project has been revived.
KL-SG HSR getting a royal boost
In the latest update in the HSR saga, the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar has said that he wants to revisit the KL-SG HSR project during his term as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
The Sultan said this in an exclusive interview with Singaporean daily The Straits Times. During the interview, Sultan Ibrahim stated that he had several ideas on how to get the project back on track.
“I will try to revive the project. The project It can be financed via a private funded initiative, where in which the government pays the contractor to manage the project for 30 years under a leasing agreement. This would enable the contractor to recoup the investment before the government takes back ownership of the HSR.”
Sultan Ibrahim also added that he will also try to get the project to run through the troubled property development in Johor, the Forest City development.
Earlier, Transport Minister Anthony Loke had also said that the government has no objection on supporting the development of public transport infrastructure in Johor state. He spoke to reporters during the Johor DAP Convention recently. However, it would be implemented in stages.
He was replying to a point raised by Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Onn Hafiz Ghazi, when tabling the Johor Budget 2024. The Johor MB had highlighted that the HSR and LRT projects implementation will complete the state’s transport ecosystem.