HSR train

The KL-Singapore HSR project has been fraught with tension and uncertainty from the start. Will this much-anticipated transport milestone ever be reached?

By Romesh Navaratnarajah and Cheryl Marie Tay

Aside from being neighbouring countries, both Singapore and Malaysia’s histories are closely intertwined, with the city-state formerly a part of the Federation of Malaysia from 1963 to 1965.

While Singapore has grown by leaps and bounds since those early days, the future lies on the other side of the causeway in Johor, specifically the Iskandar Malaysia special economic zone which is considered the Republic’s hinterland.


Good times ahead?

“The future is in Johor because Singaporeans, not just Chinese, will be buying homes in Johor. Homes are already beyond the reach of ordinary Singaporeans over there. It is a political issue when the middle-class find themselves squeezed,” Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar was quoted as saying.

While Singaporeans were initially sceptical when Iskandar Malaysia was first mooted by Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in 2006, the cautious sentiment turned positive, following an agreement between both countries to swap land parcels in 2010, noted property expert Khalil Adis of Khalil Adis Consultancy.

The deal includes the joint development of two iconic projects in Medini, Iskandar by Malaysia’s Khazanah Nasional and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.

“These factors gave Iskandar Malaysia the much needed confidence booster among Singaporeans to snap up properties just across the Causeway,” said Adis.


Travel partners

During that same year, the Johor-Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) link was confirmed at the annual Singapore-Malaysia leaders’ retreat.

In December 2010, the Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) for Iskandar Malaysia agreed to carry out a joint engineering study to determine the technical parameters for the RTS link in order to achieve a convenient and cost effective system that is well-integrated, with transport services on both sides.

Thereafter, a tender was called for Architectural and Engineering Consultancy services to develop possible alignments and proposals for the RTS link. AECOM Technology was awarded the US$42 million contract to provide an engineering study for the rail network in May 2012.

Set to be completed within the 2018 to 2019 period, the RTS link is expected to greatly enhance the Johor Bahru city centre. It will also allow Singaporeans to take advantage of the lower cost of living and, to an extent, enjoy lifestyle perks such as larger apartments with condo facilities at the price of a HDB flat, stated Adis.


He said, Lui said

In March 2014, Singapore’s Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew revealed in Parliament that the preliminary engineering study for the RTS link with Malaysia had been completed.

He said Singapore was working with Malaysia to finalise the alignment as well as the location of the station in Johor Bahru before it could commence the second part of the study, which is focused on the system’s detailed design.

However, a year later, the Ministry of Transport refuted Malaysian news reports that Singapore was holding up the progress of the rail project.

“The suggestion that Singapore has been delaying progress on the RTS link is incorrect,” said a spokesman from the ministry.

“Singapore informed Malaysia in June 2011 that the RTS terminus in Singapore would be located at Woodlands North near Republic Polytechnic. However, to date, Singapore has not received official confirmation of the location of Malaysia’s RTS terminus in Johor Bahru. Only upon confirmation of the location of the terminus can both countries proceed to finalise the alignment of the crossing between Johor Bahru and Singapore.”

The spokesman added that Singapore is looking forward to “official confirmation from the Malaysian government on the location of the RTS terminus in Johor Bahru. Singapore remains committed to working closely with Malaysia on the RTS link, which will provide a boost to cross-border connectivity”.


Rail relationship

The city-state’s commitment to boosting connectivity with its northern neighbour is evident after it confirmed the development of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail (HSR) in 2013.

Set to reduce travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, the HSR link will have a total of eight stops, seven of which are in Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Muar, Batu Pahat and Nusajaya (refer to map).


Map showing stations on the HSR line.

This means the HSR line will be within proximity to various amenities such as schools, shopping centres, tourist attractions and medical facilities.

According to Adis, the line will be near EduCity, MDIS Iskandar, Marlborough College Malaysia, the Newcastle University of Medicine, the University of Southampton, Raffles University Iskandar and the University of Reading Malaysia.

Located relatively close to Medini Mall and Little Red Cube, the line will also be close to Gleneagles Hospital Medini, Afiat Healthpark and Columbia Asia Hospital. Tourist attractions in the area include Legoland Theme Park and Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park, he revealed.

Singapore, on the other hand, considered three locations – Tuas, the city centre and Jurong East – for the location of the HSR terminus in Singapore.

On 5 May 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced at a press conference that the Singapore terminus for the HSR project would be located in Jurong East. This is in line with the government’s vision to develop Jurong into a second Central Business District.

The announcement saw property owners in the Jurong Lake District rejoice, as the new terminus is expected to push up property prices and stimulate business and commercial activity within the area.

Subsequently, the Singapore government announced it would acquire the current site of the Jurong Country Club (JCC) in Jurong East to develop the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR terminus.

The actual terminus will take up about 20 percent of the JCC site. The rest of the site will feature new mixed-use developments and community facilities to serve Jurong residents, HSR commuters and visitors.

The JCC site is considered ideal because of its high connectivity, proximity to two existing MRT lines (East-West and North-South Lines) at Jurong East MRT station, upcoming MRT lines within the area (the Jurong Region Line and Cross Island Line), as well as the future integrated transport hub in Jurong East.

The terminus will also be near Jurong Gateway, which is evolving into a vibrant mixed-use precinct.


It’s complicated

However, at the same press conference where Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was also present, Mr Lee underscored that the initial target date of completion had to be reassessed due to the complexity and scale of the project.

“Our original deadline, as we mentioned, was 2020. But realistically speaking, this project is a very complex project. There are many dimensions to it. It has to be studied very carefully but expeditiously,” noted Najib.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) said in June that its CEO was misquoted by a Malaysian business paper as saying that he would rather the HSR terminus end at the existing CIQ (customs, immigration and quarantine) complex in Johor Bahru, reported Channel NewsAsia.

When asked to elaborate on how the final station in Singapore was “an issue”, SPAD’s CEO Mohd Nur Ismal Mohd Kamal was quoted by The Edge Malaysia as stating: “We would prefer to terminate the line at the existing CIQ. However, Singapore wants it to terminate in Jurong East and understandably so.”

“From our perspective, by terminating it at the CIQ, the entire project will be within our borders and we will have more control of it. This will be closer to Orchard Road than Jurong East,” he was quoted as saying.

SPAD, however, said he had been “regrettably misquoted”.

To clarify the issue, SPAD stated that its CEO’s actual words were: “We would have preferred to terminate the line in the CBD area, closer to Orchard Road than Jurong East. However, this is a joint project for the benefit of both countries and hence, there has to be give and take. For example, if we had wanted to terminate (the line) at the CIQ, the entire project would be within our borders and we would have more control. But this would not have been optimal and neither country would have benefited as much.”


Summary of important timelines



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