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S'pore to KL in 90 minutes by rail

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong holding a press conference at Shangri-La Hotel during their Leaders' Retreat yesterday. The agreement on the high-speed rail link is set to be the biggest infrastructure project by the two countries. (ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN)

Publication Date : 20-02-2013


Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to have a high-speed rail link that will slash travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to just 90 minutes by 2020, a project leaders of both countries called a "game changer".

The journey between the two cities today takes on average eight hours by train, five hours by bus, four hours by car or 40 minutes by air.

The agreement for what is set to be the biggest infrastructure project by the two countries was unveiled yesterday morning at a press conference after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak sat down for talks at the start of a Leaders' Retreat.

Said Lee: "It will transform the way people interact, the intensity of our cooperation and the degree to which we become interdependent on one another and therefore have stakes in each other's success."

Datuk Seri Najib said "this is huge, this is big, this is a real game changer".

Few details are available as the project is very much in its infancy. For instance, it is not known where the two end-point stations may be sited, though Tuas is touted as an option here.

Najib declined to give an estimate on how much the project would cost, but said an initial study had given "encouraging numbers" for it as a business model. The project will be built by private contractors with government infrastructural support, he said.

Lee described his busy day with Najib in comments he posted on Facebook last night. "Held a successful retreat with PM Najib Razak today. Singapore-Malaysia ties are excellent, and we both agreed to strengthen our partnership and cooperation further," he said.

Noting the three stops they made yesterday at major joint developments in Singapore and Johor, he said: "These projects reflect the trust and goodwill between our countries."

Observers said yesterday's announcement showed how bilateral relations have strengthened since 2010, when the two countries resolved a 20-year dispute over Malayan Railway land.

The two prime ministers' first stop was at Marina Bay, where they unveiled the design for the S$7 billion (US$5.65 million) Marina One development comprising homes, shops and office space in four towers, designed with environmentally friendly features.

Marina One and the S$4 billion Duo, a mixed-use development in the Ophir-Rochor area, are the result of the 2010 land swop agreement.

From Marina Bay, the two leaders headed across the border to Medini, a region in Johor's Iskandar development region. There, they broke ground on another joint venture, a 2ha urban wellness project, Afiniti.

The final stop of the day was Danga Bay, also part of the Iskandar region, where they witnessed the signing of a deal between CapitaLand, Temasek Holdings and Iskandar Waterfront Holdings to build a S$3.2 billion township on a man-made island in Johor. Iskandar Waterfront is a developer set up by the Johor government.

Mega-projects aside, the two leaders also agreed to intensify existing cooperation in a host of other areas. They welcomed an initiative to study ways to address traffic and congestion issues on the Causeway, and the feasibility of a third road link between the two countries in the longer term.

There was also a discussion on the proposed Rapid Transit System linking Johor Baru with Singapore, although no decision has been made over whether it will be built above ground or underground.

Yesterday's news came as Malaysia is gearing up for a general election that must take place by the middle of the year. Asked how the upcoming polls might affect joint projects, Najib said these were "long-term plans" that require "continuity and stability". "It's quite obvious what I mean," he said with a smile.

Lee added with a laugh: "We would like continuity and stability too."


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