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Friday July 3, 2009

Fast track the S’pore bullet train project

IT is reported that the YTL Corp still believes, as it has done since the late 1990s, that the high-speed bullet train linking Kuala Lumpur with Singapore is still a viable project.

Covering a distance of about 300km and costing about RM8bil, it will cut travel time from the present seven hours to about 90 minutes.

YTL considers its implementation important to further build and strengthen the country’s economy as it can also help attract foreign investors to the country.

Many developed countries such as China, Japan, the UK and those in Europe have successfully implemented the high-speed train system and Malaysia should have it due to its viability.

In another report, Datuk Ahmad Zaid of Johor has proposed the double-tracking KTM railway system to include the 197km stretch between Johor Baru and Gemas. It will cost RM7.5bil, which will include the building of overhead bridges.

This extension of the current Gemas-Seremban is being consi­dered by the relevant authorities.

The YTL proposal is a privately funded project where the company is willing to take full financial risks due to its confidence in the viability of the project. The JB-Gemas project is to be financed by taxpayers and it could substantially reduce the travel problems of the Johor people.

However, in the absence of details, it is impossible to ascertain whether the JB-Gemas length of 197km costing RM7.5bil (RM37mil per km) is fair and reasonable compared with the KL-Singapore journey of 300km that is estimated to cost RM8bil (RM27mil per km).

What is certain is that both projects are viable and will complement each other as one is an express service while the other will mainly be a commuter service for those living along the route.

Both can be a stimulus for developing those undeveloped areas and generate commercial/industrial/housing opportunities. Employment opportunities will be created that will benefit the locals and state and federal revenues.

It may be noted that the first double-tracking project (Rawang-Seremban and Sentul-Port Kelang) was constructed in the mid-1980s covering 181km. The cost was less than RM3mil per km without any overhead bridges and functional station buildings.

The 180km Ipoh-Rawang link was estimated to cost RM40mil per km. The 1990 YTL proposals of the KL-Singapore link was estimated to cost RM5bil or RM17mil per km. Thus, delay has only raised the cost and hampered the development of surrounding areas and economic progress.

Now is the right time as the projects will definitely stimulate the economy and further the efforts of the Government. Delay can prove to be financially not beneficial.

However, the government-funded project should be based on competitive tenders and not negotiation. This will promote transparency and accountability while minimising opportunities for corruption and fraud.

GURSHARAN SINGH,

Kuala Lumpur.

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