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Mergawati

Published: Thursday May 7, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday May 7, 2015 MYT 8:03:48 AM

A new deadline, but the vibes are good

Although the target date for the High-Speed Rail project is being reassessed, the mood is optimistic about this and other Malaysia-Singapore projects.

SINGAPORE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been visualising this scenario, once the high-speed train between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is up and running.

“You can go up to KL in a day, have lunch and return to Singapore, or you can come down to Singapore in a day and do business because our hawker food is not so good and go back to KL again,” he laughed at a joint press conference with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

Well, at least for Lee, his idea of a quick lunch in Kuala Lumpur may just have to wait a tad longer.

The High-Speed Rail Project 2020 target deadline has now been reassessed.

Lee, who met Najib for their annual consultation on Tuesday, noted that the target year may need to be reassessed given the scale and complexity of the project.

When the HSR was first announced in 2013, the project was to boost connectivity, facilitate travel between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, enhance business linkages and improve people-to-people ties.

When the leaders met again, they were careful not to describe the project as being delayed, save to say the original timeline was not realistic.

In fact, both leaders for the first time explained at length the complexities and massive scale of negotiations that needed to be done to put everything in place.

“We have to take more time to do it well but to do it without delay.

“So we will be asking our officials to relook at the timetable while we work out the agreement between Malaysia and Singapore on how to structure the project.

“When the agreement is settled, we will be able to announce the updated timeline as to when the train will start running,” Lee said.

When the two leaders were asked to explain the scale and complexities, it took them a good 20 minutes to do so.

Both described the HSR as a game-changer which has garnered a lot of global interest and, of course, the potential massive contracts to be given out.

But before the contracts are awarded, design decided, construction to be implemented and funding, the two governments would have to settle many bilateral issues in relation to the project, which is estimated to cost RM40bil.

For sure the two leaders want the train to run as soon as possible and are confident by year-end, they can decide on the new deadline.

“We are hoping that it will come true, and we are confident it will come true.

“It is just a matter of a couple years earlier or later, what is the feasible ambitious target we should set for ourselves.

“We are getting there, we just need a little bit more time,” said Lee.

The announcement of Jurong East as the Singapore terminus is already causing exciting ripples among owners of commercial and industrial assets in the area which has been identified as the second Central Business District.

The Straits Times reported yesterday retailers are rubbing their hands with glee, noting that the Jurong area will become attractive to a “larger catchment of shoppers and office workers with new developments including the high-speed rail terminal”.

While the media is mostly focused on the HSR, other forms of connectivity were also discussed during this retreat.

The two leaders discussed how to reduce congestion on the Causeway and the Rapid Transit System in Johor Baru that would be linked to Singapore’s MRT network.

Singapore already announced the linking station would be in Woodlands North on the Thomson-East Coast line but Malaysia has yet to announce its station.

The Friendship Bridge that was proposed by Malaysia last year to replace the Causeway was also raised.

Lee said they talked about it but remained non-committal about whether Singapore would agree to it.

“We talked about the Friendship Bridge for the long term as our existing links are maxed out and capacity needs to be expanded. I think it is something we will study.

“Singapore is happy to enhance connectivity with Malaysia because the more convenient it is for people to move back and forth, the more benefits there will be for both sides.”

It would be the third bridge crossing between Malaysia and Singapore after the Causeway and the Second Link at Tuas.

Overall the bilateral relations between the two nations would best be described as the best in both countries’ histories.

This is made possible with the warm relations between Lee and Najib, and it is obvious that they are comfortable in each other’s company.

For example, at their joint press conference on Tuesday, Najib was speaking about how the two governments must decide on who should be building the rail track and that “hopefully the two lines will meet at some point”.

Lee immediately interjected and replied “At the same point!” to which Najib burst into laughter.

One can see that the two leaders are at ease with each other and hopefully this good feel between them will send good vibes to their ministers and government officials in their dealings.

Tags / Keywords: Mergawati Zulfakar

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