Report: Scrapping of KL-Singapore HSR to adversely impact Singapore

Several experts say scrapping the high speed rail project could set back physical development plans in one area and affect planning targets while some say the effect will be minimal.

KUALA LUMPUR: Experts agree the cancellation of the proposed Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed rail (HSR) project will adversely affect Singapore. However, they don’t agree on the extent of the impact.

Several experts told the Straits Times that it could set back physical development plans in one area and affect planning targets while some said the effect would be minimal.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said on May 28 that Malaysia would pull out of the agreement with Singapore to build the HSR as it was an “unnecessary project” that would cost RM110 billion.

Malaysia is liable to pay Singapore a compensation for not fulfilling the agreement signed in 2016 by the government under Najib Razak.

The ST report said planning work had already began on Singapore’s end, giving as example the calling of tenders by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority for the design and construction of tunnels and associated facilities for Singapore’s end of the HSR last month. Construction was scheduled to start next year.

The report said Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority unveiled plans last year to turn the Jurong Lake District – where the terminus for the HSR was to have been sited – into Singapore’s second Central Business District.

“There are other development plans for the area, but the HSR Terminus would have been the jewel in the crown of the area,” the ST quoted National University of Singapore transport lecturer Lee Der Horng as saying.

International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong told ST the loss of the terminus could easily set back the development of the Jurong Lake District by several years.

Ku said the absence of the rail connection would make the district less attractive to businesses as well as Malaysians who could have used the HSR to commute into Singapore to work.

Azman Jaafar, deputy managing partner of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing and chairman of Asean Plus Group, told ST it might be a bit premature to understand what the proposed cancellation would cost Singapore.

“I’m quite sure that Malaysia will try to see if they can mitigate the loss on their compensation to Singapore, by finding other ways to collaborate with the Republic,” Azman added.

However, Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor Park Byung Joon felt the actual impact of the loss of the HSR might be minimal, noting Singapore and Malaysia were already well connected by land and air.

He added that high speed railways were generally unsuitable for carrying freight, which would mitigate the economic impact.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, told ST that while the impending scrapping of the HSR project might be “unfortunate”, it was to be expected as the Pakatan Harapan government was making good on its campaign promise to manage the country’s finances and cut federal spending.

“While this signals an inauspicious start to new Malaysia-Singapore relations, it does not automatically mean that there is a reversal in tide towards adversarial diplomacy.

“The Pakatan Harapan government has made this decision for domestic reasons and not because it harbours any hostility towards Singapore,” he added.