SINGAPORE: It is the end of the line for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project after the Prime Ministers of both countries announced on Friday (Jan 1) that the agreement for the venture had lapsed.
The Singapore Government has since called for Malaysia to compensate it for costs already incurred by Singapore in fulfilling its obligations under the HSR Bilateral Agreement.
The announcement comes as a blow to many who were eagerly anticipating the proposed 350km-long HSR line, which aimed to reduce travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to around 90 minutes by train.
Apart from slashing travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, it was expected that the rail link would contribute RM21 billion (S$6.7 billion) in gross domestic product to Malaysia and Singapore, as well as create 111,000 jobs by 2060.
Here’s a timeline for the project and its developments across three different Malaysian government administrations:
2013-2018: BREAKTHROUGH AGREEMENT SIGNED WITH NAJIB RAZAK’S ADMINISTRATION
The project was first made public in February 2013 at the Singapore-Malaysia Leaders’ Retreat by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.
The two countries later signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in July 2016, witnessed by both premiers. This was followed by a legally binding bilateral agreement on the project in end-2016, paving the way for its implementation.
Under the agreement, the express service of the HSR was expected to start by Dec 31, 2026.
The agreement also stipulated that both governments each took responsibility for developing, constructing and maintaining the civil infrastructure and stations within their own countries.
In 2017, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced the formation of a wholly owned subsidiary – SG HSR – to implement the project and build, own, fund and maintain the civil infrastructure in Singapore.
It would then work with its Malaysian counterpart, MyHSR, to jointly appoint an assets company and an international operator for the project through an open international tender.
It was also determined that the project would run across 350km across eight stops: Singapore, Iskandar Puteri, Batu Pahat, Muar, Melaka, Seremban, Sepang-Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. Terminus stations were planned for Kuala Lumpur’s Bandar Malaysia and Singapore’s Jurong East.
The line was slated to host an express service from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, a domestic service from Kuala Lumpur to Iskandar Puteri and a shuttle service from Iskandar Puteri to Jurong East.
The Singapore Government then acquired both Raffles Country Club and Jurong Country Club for the project, with the latter meant to house the HSR terminus.
READ: KL-Singapore HSR: What you need to know
2018-2020: MAHATHIR’S PAKATAN HARAPAN GOVERNMENT REQUESTS TO DEFER HSR PROJECT
In May 2018, Malaysia’s historic 14th General Election saw a change in government. The Pakatan Harapan coalition, led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, clinched a dramatic victory over Mr Najib’s Barisan Nasional alliance.
Dr Mahathir, who was appointed prime minister, then told reporters that the HSR project was “not beneficial” to Malaysia, saying that the country would “make no money at all” from the arrangement.
In an interview with the Financial Times, he said the HSR project would cost Malaysia RM110 billion but would not earn the country “a single cent”.
In July, he then said his government would look to negotiate with Singapore the deferment of the project.
“When we looked at the financial situation of the country we thought that we couldn’t go ahead (with the HSR),” he told reporters.
“But having studied it and the implication of unilaterally discarding the contract, we decided we may have to do it at a later date, we may have to reduce the price. But reduction of the price is very difficult as far as we can make out. So it has to be deferred.”
In September 2018, Singapore and Malaysia then signed a new agreement to formally agree to postpone the construction of the HSR until end-May 2020.
Under the new agreement, the express service of the HSR was expected to start by Jan 1, 2031 instead of Dec 31, 2026.
Malaysia would also have to pay abortive costs amounting to about S$15 million before the end of January 2019 for suspending the project.
Additionally, if Malaysia did not proceed with the project by May 31, 2020, it would also bear the agreed costs incurred by Singapore in fulfilling the HSR Bilateral Agreement, according to a joint statement by both countries on the matter.
During the suspension period, both countries would “continue to discuss on the best way forward for the HSR Project with the aim of reducing costs”, the statement said.
2020: MUHYIDDIN’S GOVERNMENT GIVEN FINAL EXTENSION TO SUSPENSION PERIOD, AGREEMENT LAPSES ON DEC 31
In late-February 2020, the Pakatan Harapan coalition’s tenure in Malaysia’s government ended abruptly after a flurry of political activity.
Dr Mahathir resigned as prime minister, and Mr Muhyiddin Yassin was appointed to helm a new government led by the Perikatan Nasional coalition.
In May 2020, both countries reached another agreement to defer the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR project again until the end of the year.
It was made after Malaysia requested to extend the suspension period for the project, to allow both sides to discuss and assess Malaysia’s proposed changes to the project.
Singapore’s then transport minister Khaw Boon Wan said that Singapore agreed to the suspension in the spirit of bilateral cooperation, but he stressed that it would be the “final extension” to the suspension period.
During the tabling of the Malaysia national budget in November 2020, Malaysian finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz said that the Malaysian government intended to proceed with the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR project as it was able to “generate a positive multiplier effect on the national economy”.
However, he maintained that this was also dependent on continuing discussions with the Singapore government.
On Dec 2, 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin spoke on the project via video conference.
The pair “took stock of the progress of discussions”, and had “gained a good understanding of Malaysia’s and Singapore’s respective positions”.
They added that further details on the project would be made “in due course”.
Following that, Malaysian media reported that Putrajaya might continue the project without Singapore’s involvement. Hence, the line – which starts in Kuala Lumpur – could end in Johor in Malaysia instead of Jurong East in Singapore.
On Jan 1, 2021, Mr Lee and Mr Muhyiddin announced that the project would be discontinued after the HSR agreement lapsed on Dec 31, 2020.