PETALING JAYA: Economists are of the view that a high-speed rail (HSR) is still viable for Malaysia if the country decides to go alone in implementing the project.
This could potentially be an immediate impetus towards growth coming out of an economic crisis.
Prof Tan Sri Dr Noor Azlan Ghazali, who is executive director of the Economic Action Council, said there is still room for Malaysia to make a decision on the project.
“It will definitely pass through Negri Sembilan, Melaka and Johor and this should be considered as a corridor of growth for Malaysia.
“So if Malaysia would like to continue having some form of connectivity for this region, it’s still viable, ” he said, adding that to proceed without the last point in Singapore would not damage the entire project.
Noor Azlan said Malaysia would have a lot more interest for locational development as compared to Singapore, with the potential of connectivity between Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Pagoh and Batu Pahat, among others.
He stressed that any infrastructure to improve connectivity is a plus, noting that many cities and regions across the globe grew by having connectivity.
He cited examples such as the connectivity between Manhattan and New Jersey in the United States and that of Kowloon and the Hong Kong island.
“If we are able to have a Malaysian-only HSR all the way to Iskandar Puteri, I still consider that as a second best option.
“For Singapore, it’s pure geography. If they would like to connect via land, the only way is through Malaysia, to get to Thailand, Vietnam and so on.
“If in any case Singapore would like to have connectivity on track, then it’s just the last point of connection that they need to do later on in the future, ” he said.
The bilateral agreement between Malaysia and Singapore for the HSR lapsed on Dec 31,2020, after both countries failed to reach an understanding on the way forward following Malaysia’s latest proposals.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed previously said that the government would embark on a new study to assess the viability of various options for a HSR.
The study will be facilitated by MyHSR, which will be looking at projected ridership, funding options and economic benefits derived from the project.
Noor Azlan believed that Malaysia viewed the HSR as more than just building a track.
He said taking into account the current economic and fiscal conditions of Malaysia and how the HSR would have implications on financial obligations and how the project could create growth spillovers, Malaysia probably started to see things differently as compared to 2016 when the agreement was signed.
“Having Singapore on the project is definitely a plus, but dropping Singapore from the project does not necessarily make the entire thing bad because we are only dropping the last point.
“Let’s say, this is a bit tricky, if we truly want to improve the connectivity between Malaysia and Singapore, I will say that the connectivity between Johor Baru and Singapore, among others, will be something that we need to speed up.
“The most immediate benefit to growth will be Johor Baru, ” Noor Azlan said.
He also suggested for more lanes to be opened up to improve connectivity between Johor Baru and Singapore, such as the practice by many cities around the world to prioritise the nearest points rather than the longer points.
Assoc Prof Dr Ahmed Razman Abdul Latiff of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Putra Business School shared a similar view that a domestic HSR could happen because Malaysia does not need to depend on Singapore to create such a connectivity.
“Initially, the intention was to create a connection from Singapore to Thailand so the possibility of having that connection still exists, from Iskandar Puteri right up to Thailand, ” he said.
The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport international president Datuk Abd Radzak Abd Malek hoped that the Malaysian government would start negotiating with Thailand for a HSR connectivity if it were to launch a domestic HSR.
“My dream is for a HSR from Johor Baru to go all the way to Bangkok. If that is happening, then Singapore will also join in, in the future.
“The termination is not the end of the case. In fact, we can start on our own, there’s nothing wrong for us to start on our own and when we do that, we can always design it the way we think will suit us.
“With the HSR, we are welcoming advanced technology to our country. This is the real investment that we’re doing for the next generation. We shouldn’t be lagging behind, ” he said.