Singapore, Malaysia Reassessing 2020 High-Speed Rail Target

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Singapore and Malaysia are reassessing a 2020 target for the completion of a high-speed rail project linking the two countries because of the scale and complexity of the venture.

A new timeline will be available by the end of the year, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a joint press conference with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak in the city state Tuesday. The initial target needs to be studied as it will take at least two years to design and put out tenders for the project and another five for construction, Najib said.

The proposed rail line linking Singapore and Kuala Lumpur will reduce the 300-kilometer (180-mile) journey over land to 90 minutes from about five hours. Leaders of the two countries announced in 2013 the rail link may be completed by the end of this decade, with Najib calling it a “huge game changer” that will transform the way the neighbors do business.

“We’re getting there but we just need a bit more time to work everything,” Lee told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t see them as unsolvable problems.”

The link would have a similar distance as New York to Washington D.C. Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission Chairman Syed Hamid Albar said last year that the high-speed rail link may miss a 2020 deadline even after using government land as much as possible to avoid property-acquisition disputes.

Operational Details

Singapore and Malaysia need to decide on operational issues such as who will own and run the trains, as well as iron out details including engineering and financing, Lee said.

“If Singapore plays its part on its side, and Malaysia plays its part on its side, hopefully we will meet in the middle,” Najib said in a speech late Tuesday in Singapore.

Relations between the two countries have improved in recent years. After half a century of fighting over everything from a pile of rocks in the ocean, to water supplies and ownership of a railway station, the two premiers are increasing cooperation as they face rising competition from other Southeast Asian economies.

“I am delighted that relations between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and I, and therefore between our two governments, are now so warm,” Najib said. “Indeed, I think it would be no exaggeration to say they have never been better in our countries’ histories.”

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