Thursday, 21 February 2013

Singapore to Kuala Lumpur in 90 minutes by rail: Leaders’ Retreat 2013

PM Lee and Najib reach 'game-changing' deal for high-speed rail link by 2020
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE and Malaysia have agreed to have a high-speed rail link that will slash travel time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to just 90 minutes by 2020, a project leaders of both countries called a "game changer".

The journey between the two cities today takes on average eight hours by train, five hours by bus, four hours by car or 40 minutes by air.

The agreement for what is set to be the biggest infrastructure project by the two countries was unveiled yesterday morning at a press conference after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak sat down for talks at the start of a Leaders' Retreat.

Said Mr Lee: "It will transform the way people interact, the intensity of our cooperation and the degree to which we become interdependent on one another and therefore have stakes in each other's success."

Datuk Seri Najib said "this is huge, this is big, this is a real game changer".

Few details are available as the project is very much in its infancy. For instance, it is not known where the two end-point stations may be sited, though Tuas is touted as an option here.

Mr Najib declined to give an estimate on how much the project would cost, but said an initial study had given "encouraging numbers" for it as a business model. The project will be built by private contractors with government infrastructural support, he said.

Mr Lee described his busy day with Mr Najib in comments he posted on Facebook last night. "Held a successful retreat with PM Najib Razak today. Singapore-Malaysia ties are excellent, and we both agreed to strengthen our partnership and cooperation further," he said.

Noting the three stops they made yesterday at major joint developments in Singapore and Johor, he said: "These projects reflect the trust and goodwill between our countries."

Observers said yesterday's announcement showed how bilateral relations have strengthened since 2010, when the two countries resolved a 20-year dispute over Malayan Railway land.

The two prime ministers' first stop was at Marina Bay, where they unveiled the design for the $7 billion Marina One development comprising homes, shops and office space in four towers, designed with environmentally friendly features.

Marina One and the $4 billion Duo, a mixed-use development in the Ophir-Rochor area, are the result of the 2010 land swop agreement.

From Marina Bay, the two leaders headed across the border to Medini, a region in Johor's Iskandar development region. There, they broke ground on another joint venture, a 2ha urban wellness project, Afiniti.

The final stop of the day was Danga Bay, also part of the Iskandar region, where they witnessed the signing of a deal between CapitaLand, Temasek Holdings and Iskandar Waterfront Holdings to build a $3.2 billion township on a man-made island in Johor. Iskandar Waterfront is a developer set up by the Johor government.

Mega-projects aside, the two leaders also agreed to intensify existing cooperation in a host of other areas. They welcomed an initiative to study ways to address traffic and congestion issues on the Causeway, and the feasibility of a third road link between the two countries in the longer term.

There was also a discussion on the proposed Rapid Transit System linking Johor Baru with Singapore, although no decision has been made over whether it will be built above ground or underground.

Yesterday's news came as Malaysia is gearing up for a general election that must take place by the middle of the year. Asked how the upcoming polls might affect joint projects, Mr Najib said these were "long-term plans" that require "continuity and stability". "It's quite obvious what I mean," he said with a smile.

Mr Lee added with a laugh: "We would like continuity and stability too."

Rail link to make Singapore, KL 'one virtual urban community'
Analysts see it as icing on the cake after the POA breakthrough in 2010
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2013

THE proposed high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will transform two cities into "one virtual urban community", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Evoking the way London and Paris have been made "twin cities" via the Eurostar train, he said a high-speed link allows people to live in one and work in the other.

Parisians and Londoners "can go up there, do business, meet friends, have a meal - and come back all the way at the end of the day," he said at a joint press conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday.

Examples closer to home are the high-speed train networks that connect Taipei and Kaohsiung in Taiwan, and the major cities of China, he said.

Among Asean countries, the Singapore-KL link made the most sense, he said, adding: "The population is there, the economic vitality is there, the spending power is there. The rationale is good."

Mr Najib first suggested the idea to him at an international summit a few months ago. Mr Lee said he felt it was a good idea in principle and should be explored.

"We don't have the details yet because we're still waiting for Malaysia to share with us what they have been working on," he said. "But at this retreat, we decided that we should make a statement that 'Yes we want this, we are working towards this', and I think we can make it work."

Analysts yesterday saw the Singapore-KL rail link as "the icing on the cake" after the historic resolution of the stalled Points of Agreement (POA). In 2010, the two prime ministers came to agreement on Malayan Railway land in Singapore.

Such a link had been proposed before, noted S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) senior fellow Yang Razali Kassim. But previous efforts were put on the backburner owing to the unresolved issue of Malayan Railway land here. Finalising an agreement on the link just two years after the POA breakthrough was "fast and bold", he said, and a "display of political will" on the part of both prime ministers.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharuddin said it will be more complex operationally than the Causeway or the Rail Transit that will link Johor Baru and Woodlands. "To go ahead with this is to recognise that beyond such challenges, in the long term, we are economically interdependent," said Mr Zulkifli, a businessman.

Observers noted the announcement of the link was timed "fortuitously" - just ahead of the Malaysian general election. It could have the effect of boosting Mr Najib's credentials as an economic reformer, said Mr Yang Razali.

Although the rail link was Mr Najib's idea, RSIS research fellow Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman argued that it was not likely to be affected by the outcome of the upcoming Malaysian elections.

"As almost all the political parties in Malaysia want to maintain close relations with Singapore, it is not likely that this project will be affected by whatever happens in the Malaysian polls," he said.

Across the Causeway, Malaysian cyberspace lit up with discussion of the news.

Some netizens welcomed the project as overdue while others dismissed it as an electoral carrot for Malaysia's ruling coalition, and one that would benefit Singaporeans more than Malaysians.

Singapore-KL rail link goes beyond economics, says K Shanmugam
By Tan Qiuyi, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Feb 2013

Foreign Minister K Shanmugam has said the high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur goes beyond economics.

He said bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia have been on an upswing in recent years.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking to Channel NewsAsia in a "live" studio interview on Friday evening.

He said Singapore-Malaysia relations has seen a breakthrough since 2010.

"The substantive relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, if you look at the trade ties, people-to-people ties, Malaysia is Singapore's number one trading partner. Both ways, both benefit. And the political relationship has generally been good. In the last few years you can say it's been on an upswing," he said.

On Tuesday, Singapore and Malaysian Prime Ministers had announced plans to build a high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

It is expected to cut travel time dramatically between the two cities - to a mere 90 minutes.

Mr Shanmugam was asked if the project could help Singapore tap on the Malaysian labour pool.

"Malaysia has been a large source for our, in fact the largest source for our permanent residents, our newer citizens, and also in our labour force. But the fact is Malaysia itself is facing a labour shortage. If you look at it today, Malaysia has had to import foreign labour into Malaysia, and we are finding it difficult to get people from Malaysia to Singapore. That's the reality," he said.

"The primary factor in this is it's going to increase people-to-people connectivity, in moving, travelling, working and playing, in each other's territory," he added.

The project will add to ASEAN connectivity, Mr Shanmugam said. "The ASEAN Economic Community, the vision of 2015 is one of bringing people of ASEAN together, across the social, economic and political pillars. And also, ASEAN connectivity, which means road, rail, airlinks, sealinks, all to be much more integrated. Ultimately, of course, hopefully the rail link all the way from Singapore down to southern China!"

Studies for the rail link have to be completed before the project can start.

But Mr Shanmugam said he sees "no reason why it shouldn't work".

He also gave an indication of how the cost could be split.

Mr Shanmugam said: "You can see from the map, KL to Singapore, where most of the rail will be.

As most of the rail will be on the Malaysian side, he said there is a logic to how cost could be split - depending on where it is.

As for the total cost and the location of the Singapore stop in the rail link, Mr Shanmugam said it's too early to tell.

Observers welcome link but voice concerns over cost
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2013

NEWS of the proposed high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur was greeted yesterday with cheer and a tinge of caution.

Observers said the obvious economic and social benefit is that it promises the fastest door-to-door commute between the two cities when it is operational in 2020.

But they said such a project will be costly to build and operate, while others pointed to possible adverse environmental impact from noise and land consumption.

They added that such a line is likely to diminish demand for air travel.

Mr John Davies, director of infrastructure at engineering group Arup, said: "It's good news, and a long time coming. It brings the two cities much closer together.

"The key issue is how it is going to be financed. There has to be transparency in the way works are awarded."

He added that such a huge project may also stretch resources as "the construction industry on both sides of the Causeway are pretty busy right now" - a reference to Singapore's aim to double its metro network to 360km by 2030 and Kuala Lumpur building its own mass rapid transit project.

Mr Davies also warned that the private sector could overstate the economic and commercial returns of such a project, and understate the actual cost of construction and operation.

Often, he said, governments could end up bailing out such big-ticket projects.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday that the business model of the project is "doable", and that the project is likely to be built as a public-private partnership (PPP), where the private sector runs the project but the public sector provides "infrastructure support".

Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport Singapore chairman Karmjit Singh, a PPP expert, said there is no prescribed financing model for such a project. He said each model had to be judged according to its own merits and relevance to the project at hand - and the best one should offer the highest value for money.

The current total number of travellers between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur is not known. Estimates put the volume of air passengers between the two at 5.2 million a year. There are no consolidated figures for those who travel by road and rail.

As a yardstick, Taiwan's 345km high-speed rail link between Taipei and Kaohsiung - about the length of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur link - has an annual ridership of 44.5 million.

Meanwhile, infrastructure companies are already looking forward to bidding for the project.

Malaysian conglomerate YTL has been lobbying for such a project for years, but it was not available for comment yesterday. Japanese and European rail providers are also expected to be eyeing the project.

Mr Timothy Toh, managing director of TUV Rheinland Singapore, a technological services provider, described the proposed link as "a truly exciting project which will use the latest high-speed train technology for the first time in South-east Asia".

The Straits Times understands that the high-speed rail link - with trains travelling in excess of 300kmh - is likely to terminate in Tuas because there is space and an MRT connection there. Also, Singapore would have to reserve a huge tract of land if the line were to go farther inland.

Mr Davies of Arup pointed out, however, that in the case of Hong Kong, Seoul, Paris and London, the terminals "are all in the centre of town".

The environmental impact can be mitigated, he said, by the use of noise barriers or by going underground as the line approaches the city.

Next step: Drawing up maritime boundaries
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE and Malaysia will draw up maritime boundaries around the disputed areas of Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge, as the next step in their move to close the book on their territorial dispute.

This development follows the completion of a hydrographic survey last year by their joint technical committee, which was set up to implement a 2008 International Court of Justice decision on the disputed territory.

Its completion was welcomed yesterday by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The next step would be for the committee to move into the delimitation of maritime boundaries, they said in a joint statement after their fourth leaders' retreat.

Progress was also made on several other bilateral fronts, noted the statement.

The first phase of an engineering study into a rapid transit link between Johor Baru and the Republic Polytechnic MRT station of the forthcoming Thomson Line in Singapore has been completed, it said.

At a joint press conference yesterday, PM Lee said details - such as if the rapid transit link will be underground or overhead - will be revealed soon, hopefully before the next leaders' retreat next year.

The Joint Ministerial Committee on Iskandar Malaysia is also studying how to ease traffic congestion on the Causeway, and the feasibility of a "third road link" between the two countries in the longer term.

The statement touched on Singapore's water supply from Malaysia too, noting that both prime ministers "encouraged the Singapore and Johor water authorities to continue their excellent working relationship".

In addition, they endorsed both countries' resolve to expand the frequencies for Long Term Evolution (LTE), or 4G, mobile services.

These frequencies will be freed up as they move their TV services from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Close cooperation between the civil service of both countries and the importance of adopting best practices to address areas of environment concern were also noted in the statement.

It concluded by underscoring both prime ministers' support of Asean and its "central role in the region's evolving architecture".

They expressed confidence in its progress towards the goal of creating an Asean Community through economic integration and people-to-people links by 2015.

High-speed rail link may help ease labour crunch in Singapore
By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Feb 2013

The high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur could help ease the expected labour crunch in Singapore.

Companies have welcomed the infrastructure project that could potentially reduce travelling time between the two cities to only 90 minutes.

The Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) believes the project can help attract more workers from Malaysia to work in Singapore.

Companies see the advantages of hiring workers from Malaysia, which is considered a "traditional" source of foreign workers.

The advantages include not having to post a S$5,000 security bond to employ them in Singapore. There are also minimal cultural and language problems.

Companies said Malaysians living beyond Johor may want to work in Singapore if commuting is enhanced.

Chan Chong Beng, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said: "We should be able to attract a lot of these PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) from Malaysia to come to Singapore to work, and also the workers who want to tap on the higher salaries in Singapore.

"If they can cut off the cost of accommodation in Singapore, it will be very attractive for them to come to Singapore to work, because they can either go back daily or they can go back weekly and continue to be with their families."

ASME also believes the rail project could spur more Singapore companies to venture further into Malaysia.

However, industry players said there are challenges which authorities need to address.

Mark Hall, vice-president of Kelly Services, said: "Can we ease the border crossing between Malaysia and Singapore? I read the argument in Europe. In Europe, there is the high-speed rail link that connects London and Paris, London and Germany, London and Spain.

"The difference there is that the border crossing there is easier. Passports in UK...there is no problem crossing over. Singapore and Malaysia in the next seven years have to figure out what they can do with the border control passing."

The high-speed train between Singapore and Malaysia will change how Singaporeans commute to Kuala Lumpur. However, whether or not it will entice more Singaporeans to find a job in Kuala Lumpur will depend on several factors.

One Singaporean said: "(The) price of the train fare...must be good value because it is a day-to-day basis travelling to and from work, so it must be a good price."

Another noted: "If Kuala Lumpur can bring more (and) better opportunities, let's say higher salaries, of course who (wouldn't) want to do that; as long as there is money available, maybe people will try..."

In addition, workers have pointed out that for daily commuting to happen, the rail system needs to be reliable.

Travel agencies welcome new high-speed rail link to KL
By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Feb 2013

Travel agencies have welcomed the new high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur as a major boost to tourism.

To cash in on the new rail, some agencies have already started exploring ways to tweak their current promotions.

Malaysia was one of Singapore's top five tourism receipt-generating markets for the second quarter of last year, raking in S$253 million.

And travel agents such as CTC Travel expect travel between Singapore and Malaysia to grow further with the new rail link.

Ms Alicia Seah, Vice President of Marketing at CTC Travel, said: "With Malaysia as a backdrop, we will see our in-bound tourism prosper. I think what we will see is a greater offering for tourists especially from the Western side - be it Australia, Europe or Japan."

And travel agencies are already exploring options to cash in on the new rail.

Ms Michelle Yin, Marketing Communications Manager for Chan Brothers Travel elaborates.

"What we can do is to model after what we are doing for Europe currently. Because for Europe, we have holiday packages whereby we include rail passes, transfers and even one-day city tours for the free and easy customers," she said.

Ms Seah has more on CTC's plans.

"We foresee that customers can now opt to have a three-night stay in Singapore and then stay in Malaysia for four nights. And because of the high-speed train into KL, it will have a spillover effect into other hotspots such as Ipoh, Malacca and the eastern side like Kuantan," she said.

Travel agents also hope that visa applications for visitors from China and India into Malaysia could be expedited.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the new high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur will transform the two cities into one virtual urban community.

Travellers welcome the change as it gives them an additional option to choose from, when making travel plans within the region.

Mr Alan Liew, a Singaporean, said: "Depending (on the timing), they can leave on the morning train and then come back on the last train back to Singapore. So it saves one night hotel accommodation."

Mr Anos Enrado, a tourist from Philippines, said: "This is nice because it makes Asian countries more connected and it's much faster travelling to other countries."

Many are looking forward to shopping, dining and having a short vacation across the Causeway - made easier soon, with the rail link.

Fare structure of high-speed rail will determine impact on buses, airlines
By Hetty Musfirah, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Feb 2013

Travellers have welcomed the move to build a high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Industry players, however, said the impact on buses and airlines will depend on the future rail link's fare structure.

Presently, those travelling by bus between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur pay as little as $25 per trip for the five-hour ride.

This is in contrast to just 90 minutes on the high-speed rail link to be built by 2020.

Some say they do not mind paying more - for speed and predictability on the rail link.

"It is more secure and more safety. And the timing will be more fixed."

"I'm expecting about S$80 to S$90 per trip, per one-way trip."

The Express Bus Agencies Association says the rail option may have a "tremendous impact" on the industry, and called on operators to be "prepared to re-strategise".

This includes complementing the rail service, by offering services to smaller towns from the stations along the rail line.

Still, it feels bus operators will retain some market share.

Mr Sebastian Yap, who is from the Association's Terminal Services sub-committee elaborates.

"We have to look at the fare structure, to me the high speed train cannot be cheaper than bus, there's no way about it. So in terms of the pricing, I think we still have a bit of a competitive edge," he said.

Flights between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur can take up about 40 minutes to an hour, with budget carriers offering cheap fares.

But industry watchers say budget carriers are less likely to see an impact, compared to full-service ones. 

Mr Siva Govindasamy, Managing Editor from Flight global Asia, said: "The bigger impact could actually be on the full-service carriers, because passengers - the premium passengers, are the ones who would want to get from point A to point B comfortably.

"So if this high-speed rail system offers a premium proposition for these business people who need to get from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore comfortably and very fast, then I think it's the full-service carriers who could have a bigger impact, because the leisure passengers are still price-sensitive.

"The budget airlines cater to these leisure passengers, so they might not have an impact, as trends worldwide point that while the high-speed rail system - while efficient, are more expensive and that's the case here, then it might affect the full service carriers more than the budget carriers."

Mr Logan Velaitham, CEO of AirAsia Singapore, said: "This high-speed rail introduction to be implemented in 2020 is not going to be a big challenge to us because being a low-cost carrier, the biggest competitor for us is cost itself and if we keep our costs low as much as possible.

"Therefore we can compete against any form of alternative travel mode that is coming in. No doubt there will be some market shifting over to this mode of travel given the fact, the convenience they want to have or a stopover along the way which is hard beyond our reach."

When contacted, Tiger Airways said it will "re-strategise accordingly should business conditions change or new opportunities arise."

Singapore's Transport Ministry said that the Iskandar- Malaysia Joint Ministerial Committee will study details of the system including its alignment.

Separately, Malaysia's Transport Minister Kong Cho Ha said that based on initial study, the line may have five new stations stopping by Negeri Sembilan, Malacca and Iskandar Johor, before heading to Singapore.

The stops are Seremban (Negeri Sembilan), Ayer Keroh (Melaka), Muar, Batu Pahat and Iskandar Johor (Johor).

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