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Malaysia proposes changes to KL-Singapore High Speed Rail, Singapore remains committed to project

[SINGAPORE] Malaysia has proposed some changes to the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) Project, and Singapore has been discussing them in good faith with Malaysia, a Ministry of Transport (MOT) spokesman said on Wednesday.

"Singapore continues to believe that the HSR Project is beneficial for both countries, and remains fully committed to fulfilling our obligations under the HSR Bilateral Agreement. We will make our best efforts to conclude discussions with Malaysia by Dec 31, 2020," said the spokesman, in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The spokesman added that if, by Dec 31, Malaysia does not proceed with the project, "under our agreements with Malaysia, Malaysia will bear the agreed costs incurred by Singapore in fulfilling the HSR Bilateral Agreement".

The ministry's statement comes after Malaysian news website Free Malaysia Today (FMT) reported that Malaysia is considering changing the KL-Singapore HSR project so that the line would end in Johor Baru, rather than in Singapore.

This would mean the project, first announced in 2010, would resume without Singapore's participation.

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The project has been suspended twice at Malaysia's request.

The first extension in September 2018 was to end in May 2020, but this was extended for a second and final time, till Dec 31 this year.

FMT reported that its two sources were critical of the latest change, with one saying it would call into question the sustainability of the project.

The source noted that the project was touted as a gamechanger on one of the world's busiest air routes. He said ending the line in Johor Baru would create a redundancy, given there are future plans to connect the KL Sentral train station to JB Sentral station with trains travelling up to 160km per hour under Malaysian rail operator KTM's electric train service project.

Singapore's MOT spokesman reiterated that the HSR Bilateral Agreement, signed in December 2016, is a legally binding international pact which remains in force today.

The agreement signing was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then-Malaysian PM Najib Razak in Putrajaya.

But after a change of government following the 2018 Malaysian general election, then-PM Mahathir Mohamad initially wanted to scrap the HSR as part of a review of his country's mega projects.

The Pakatan Harapan administration later clarified that it wanted to delay the start of construction, as a cancellation would have entailed a high amount of compensation under the HSR agreement.

In July, PM Lee said the basic thinking behind the HSR - that Singapore and KL are two cities with significant links, and improved connectivity will lead to more business and closer ties - remained true.

The proposed 350km rail line would cut travelling time between KL and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared to over four hours by car.

It would also halve the current end-to-end travel time of about five hours by air.

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