SINGAPORE: The leaders of Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to build a high—speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur that will significantly cut travel time for commuters to just 90 minutes!
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak made the announcement after a retreat in Singapore on Tuesday.
Both described the upcoming project as a "game changer" that will give both countries greater stakes in each other’s prosperity and success.
The Leaders’ Retreat is an annual meeting for both prime ministers to take stock of bilateral ties and discuss areas of further cooperation.
Since the resolution of the Points of Agreements in 2010, relations have progressed steadily.
Mr Lee said it was Mr Najib who first mooted the idea of a high—speed rail link, some months back.
Mr Lee said: "It’s a strategic project for the two countries. It will change the way we see each other. It’s the way people in London and Paris are able to — think of it like twin cities where you can commute, go up there, do business, meet friends have a meal and come back, all within maybe two—thirds of a day.
"And I think it’s going to be a game—changer. It will transform the way people interact, the intensity of our cooperation and the degree in which we become inter—dependent on one another and therefore have stakes in each other’s success."
Mr Najib agreed. He said: "It will change the way we do business, the way we look at each other, the way we interact. And it will be seamless in every sense of the word. Within a mere 90 minutes from door to door, people can travel from KL to Singapore and vice versa.
"So, I’m excited about the project. We will certainly do our level best to meet the 2020 deadline. It may go slightly beyond that but those are details in implementation."
The distance between Singapore and the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur is about 315km.
Currently, it can take up to 8 hours by train between the two cities; by bus or car, up to 5 hours; and flight, about 45 minutes.
Mr Lee said: "90 minutes, travel time, that should be faster than even taking a plane if you add in the waiting time at both ends. I think it will become like, as Prime Minister Najib said, like between the European cities where you consider the two cities as one virtual urban community; I can live in one city, I can work on the other side, I can come back the same day.
"It’s happened in Europe, it’s happened in Taiwan between Taipei and Kaohsiung with their high speed train. I think it will happen in China, because they’ve built a high speed train network, and if you look at Southeast Asia, and you talk about connectivity between ASEAN countries then a high speed train between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is the link that makes the most sense.
"The population is there, the economic vitality is there, the spending power is there. The rationale is good."
Mr Najib said the project will be a partnership between the private and public sectors.
He also said: "We will draw on each other’s experience. Of course, Singapore has got many years of experience running the MRT. We can look at modalities in other countries...UK, France...Madrid, Barcelona, and you’ve got the cities in China as well, connected by high speed rail.
"Those are example of projects we can use as a basis for us to work out very doable, practical model for this rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The important thing is this is huge, this is big, this is a real game—changer."
The leaders have tasked the joint ministerial committee to look into details and modalities of the high—speed rail link.
The high—speed rail link will also complement another rail project — the Rapid Transit System Link that will link Johor Bahru in southern Malaysia to Singapore’s local trains along the upcoming Thomson Line that is expected to be ready by 2019.
In the longer term, both sides will also look into the possibility of a third road link between the two countries.
Also launched on Tuesday by the two prime ministers were two wellness projects in Medini at Iskandar Malaysia and a mixed development project at Danga Bay.
The leaders also noted the progress of the joint developments by Malaysia’s Khazanah Nasional and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings in Singapore (by M+S Pte Ltd) and in Iskandar Malaysia (by Pulau Indah Ventures Sdn Bhd).
Both sides have also agreed on the final composition and terms of reference of the Industrial Cooperation Workgroup.
This group will be spearheaded by Singapore’s Economic Development Board and Malaysia’s Investment Development Authority.
It will explore mutually beneficial economic activities and facilitate the hiring of skilled workers, among other things.
Tuesday’s retreat is the fourth between Mr Najib and Mr Lee.
With the Malaysian General Election looming, Mr Najib said he would like to see continuity in these long—term projects.
The next leader’s retreat is scheduled for 2014, in Malaysia.
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