Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Singapore lists 3 sites for High Speed KL Rail link: Malaysia-Singapore Leaders' Retreat 2014

KL's terminal will be in Sungai Besi; single border checkpoint idea raised
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2014

SINGAPORE has named three possible locations on the island for the terminal of the planned high speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

They are Tuas West, Jurong East and the city centre, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, and a decision will be made "within the next year or so".

For Malaysia, the terminal will be located in Bandar Malaysia, at the current site of its air force base in Sungai Besi, said Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The site, about 15km from the Petronas Twin Towers, has been earmarked for redevelopment.

They announced the progress made on the rail link, targeted to be ready by 2020, at a joint media conference that wrapped up a two-day leaders' retreat here.

Transport links and the development of the Iskandar region in Johor seem to have been the focus of the latest meeting, part of bilateral talks held regularly by leaders of both countries since 2007.

They also said a new initiative is being explored: a single border checkpoint, with both the Singapore and Malaysia Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complexes sited at one location.

They emphasised the need to cooperate to develop the Iskandar Malaysia project, which will benefit both economies. Pinpointing manufacturing, Mr Lee said it will create better jobs for both sides.

The rail link was proposed at the retreat in Singapore in February last year. Yesterday, Mr Lee said Tuas West is being considered due to its closeness to the border while Jurong East is set to become a "major transportation, economic and financial zone for Singapore". The city centre would be "ideal", but is the most challenging due to the cost and size of the land required, he added.

Mr Lee noted that many areas of the rail project need to be settled: from design, finance and governance, to security and immigration requirements. "These are things we must work at, and the officials must work at, in a very focused way to get all of the pieces to fall into place in good time in order to get the project done."

When asked if there was a need to push back the 2020 target date, Datuk Seri Najib said it was too early to revise it. The target was intentionally set at the start "to be ambitious" so as to get both sides to focus on it, he added.

As for the proposed single border checkpoint, Mr Najib said it can be seen working between France and Britain, and between Germany and Poland. "It will be the first in this part of the world."

Mr Lee said the checkpoint can be done for the high-speed rail link and the proposed Rapid Transit System (RTS) between Singapore and Johor Baru, as it can be built from scratch. But it would be more difficult at existing road links - at the Causeway and Tuas - as separate CIQ buildings already exist, he added.

A "friendship bridge" as an additional road link is also a possibility, but that would be far into the future, both leaders stressed.

Mr Lee said Singapore's focus is on improving the efficiency at the two checkpoints, where the queue is "very long".

As for the RTS between Singapore and Johor Baru, 27 options are being considered, Mr Najib said, adding that a decision on where to locate the stations would be made "in the coming months".

Both leaders also said they look forward to the state visit of Malaysia's King and Queen to Singapore from April 29 to May 2.

Singapore ready to help in next phase of search
By Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2014

SINGAPORE stands with Malaysia and is ready to help in the next phase of the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking after a two-day visit to Kuala Lumpur to discuss bilateral issues with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak, he said: "I would like to thank (PM Najib) for hosting (the Malaysia-Singapore leaders' retreat), particularly at this difficult time for Malaysia handling the aftermath of the MH370 incident.

"I expressed my sympathies to the Prime Minister, to the families of the crew and passengers on board the MH370 aircraft.

"Singapore stands with Malaysia in this tragedy. We participated in the search and rescue in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. And I told the Prime Minister we stand ready to help Malaysia also in the next phase of its investigations."

Responding, Datuk Seri Najib thanked Singapore for its prompt assistance, adding that it was heartening to note that Singapore was among the first nations to help.

Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a press briefing later that Malaysia had received an offer of assistance based on Singapore's experience with the crash of a SilkAir plane in 1997, which killed all 104 people on board.

He also said that countries involved in the search for MH370 had no hesitation in offering help, and "definitely didn't talk about dollars and cents".

'Iskandar strategic to Singapore and Malaysia'
But Johor project needs to develop manufacturing sector, says PM Lee
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2014

THE giant Iskandar Malaysia project in Johor state is a "strategic play" that can lift Malaysia above its global competitors and help Singapore maintain its competitive edge, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

But to do so, investments in the fast-growing Iskandar region need to be channelled into manufacturing as well, not just residential properties and services.

Developing the manufacturing sector will help create jobs and attract investments, to build "an organic, comprehensive, dynamic centre for economic vitality in Johor", Mr Lee added.

He was speaking at a joint media conference with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the end of the retreat for leaders of the two countries. Both noted at the conference the importance of the Iskandar region for its "complementarities" with Singapore, and for deepening their integration.

Mr Lee also said Singapore will help Malaysia upgrade its vocational training, as the need for more skilled manpower will rise in tandem with Iskandar's growth.

This will allow Malaysians to take advantage of new jobs and higher pay, he added.

The Iskandar region has become an investment destination in recent years for people and companies keen to tap its potential as a residential area or a less costly business location near Singapore.

Joint projects led by Singapore's Temasek Holdings and Malaysia's Khazanah Nasional share the limelight with developments by companies like builder CapitaLand, and investors such as billionaire Peter Lim.

Howco Group, a British-based supplier of equipment to the oil and gas industry, is investing US$20 million (S$25.2 million) in a heat treatment facility that will complement its Singapore factory.

The new 210ha Nusajaya Tech Park, a joint venture between Ascendas and UEM Sunrise, is expected to create high-tech jobs, by catering to large and small companies in sectors like electronics.

Singapore stands to gain from these investments because of Iskandar's close proximity to the Republic. Mr Lee sees these companies tapping Singapore's financial services, infrastructure and industrial base.

He noted that land constraints prevent Singapore from accommodating many new projects or companies that want to expand. By working together, such projects could be suggested to Iskandar if they fit in with Malaysia's plans.

"It will give you a new flow of projects, which you can choose from, and it will benefit the residents of Johor, the workers from Johor, because there will be more jobs, more opportunities and, I think, better pay."

Datuk Seri Najib agreed: "It's going to be good for Iskandar's development and Malaysia as a whole. So it's what you will call a classic win-win situation."

In a joint statement, both leaders also supported collaborations between Singapore's Malay Heritage Centre and Malaysian agencies and universities to deepen cultural bonds.

One such project is to showcase traditional Malaysian dance and theatre art at the Singapore Malay Culture Festival in September.

Experts tip Tuas West or Jurong East for end-point
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2014

A CITY terminal would give travellers convenient access to the business district, but cost and construction problems make that the least likely of three options for the end-point of a high-speed rail link with Malaysia.

That leaves Tuas West and Jurong East as fairly evenly matched areas to house the terminal, experts say. The former is close to the border with Malaysia and a cheaper alternative to connecting with the Central Business District. However, some feel Jurong East is shaping up to be a major regional centre that is not as costly and disruptive an option as the city centre, or as far-flung as industrial Tuas West.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had named the three locations as possible stops for the planned high-speed rail link with Kuala Lumpur.

Professor Lee Der Horng, a transport researcher from the National University of Singapore, said a terminal in Tuas West is an "intuitive" choice, as the planned line is likely to have a station in nearby Iskandar. There is also vacant land around Tuas Bus Terminal and it is more financially feasible because the line could run overground instead of under it.

Mr Khoo Hean Siang, former executive vice-president for trains at SMRT, also favours Tuas West for its lower cost and land availability. He said a viaduct could be built for the line to cross the Johor Strait.

Transport consultant Tham Chen Munn suggested Jurong East offers a happy medium. "It's developed well as a regional centre, with amenities already there," he said. "You don't look at Jurong as one end of Singapore, and there are enough modal choices to travel to other parts of Singapore."

He noted that people would flock to a shopping centre built above the station in Jurong East, but "if you put the same thing in Tuas, who's going to go there?"

However, Prof Lee said Jurong East is already quite built-up. An above-ground line would "separate" the western part of the island, while going underground will take longer and cost more to build. As for the long commute from Tuas West, he said the terminal could be linked via the upcoming Tuas West extension to the future Cross Island Line, which might have an express train option to save travel time.

However, Suntec Real Estate Consultants director Colin Tan still argued in favour of the city centre, saying it would be ideal for businessmen. He noted that travel time from Tuas West to the city will be significant - possibly close to an hour by train.

"If the station is in Jurong East or Tuas West, businessmen will have to spend additional time commuting to the city," he said. "Time is money for them."

Despite the convenience a city terminal would bring, engineering experts caution that it will be challenging to construct.

"It's always hard to go through the city centre," said Mr Lim Peng Hong, former president of the Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore. "There are too many obstructions along the way and I don't see any space where you can do a viaduct."

Mr Khoo said the line would have to go deep underground, to avoid utility tunnels and MRT tunnels, which would raise costs.

One suggestion is to use the vacated rail corridor, but Mr Tham noted that the additional land needed may be an issue: "The corridor is narrow and quite dense, and many people are looking forward to a green corridor."

Tender for study on high-speed rail sites
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2014

THE LAND Transport Authority (LTA) called a tender yesterday for a detailed feasibility study on the proposed sites for a high-speed rail terminal here.

It came just days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak reiterated their intention to build a high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore - the first of its kind in South-east Asia.

Mr Lee has mentioned Tuas West, Jurong East and the city centre as possible sites for a terminal.

The study will assess the transport connectivity of all three and explore feasible corridors for the Singapore leg of the line, which could carry trains reaching speeds of 300kmh.

The LTA said the appointed consultant will be required to study the impact of the project on existing land transport facilities.

According to the tender document, the consultant will also compare different high-speed rail systems, list their pros and cons and recommend a "suitable" one.

It will be required to look at the concept of the terminal station as well as the design of supporting infrastructure such as a Customs, immigration and quarantine facility and an integrated transport hub. It will also examine the amount of land required for the project here and determine the need for acquisition.

The study will "evaluate each of the proposed schemes based on technical, operational, maintenance, environmental, security, safety, cost and any other aspects", the LTA said.

It noted that the line may consist of a mix of ground-level, elevated and underground sections.

The study is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year.

Meanwhile, the authority will study potential passenger numbers and the soil profile of the three sites.

The two prime ministers are aiming to have the project completed by 2020 - a deadline which industry players believe is ambitious.

High-speed railway perils and promise
High-speed railways worldwide are fraught with challenges, so Singapore and Malaysia must have the political will to turn plans into reality.
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2014

EXCITEMENT is high over the proposed Malaysia-Singapore high- speed railway (HSR).

But first, significant hurdles need to be overcome.

The two countries must decide on pressing fundamentals. These include the ownership, financing and operating models, as well as the project structure.

Then come decisions such as route alignment, number and location of stations along the way, form and location of checkpoint, and finally, location of depot and terminal stations.

Terminal stations should ideally be in the two city centres, as it would provide the best accessibility to travellers. But this may not be technically feasible or cost-effective, as both city centres are highly built up.

Already, Malaysia has identified Sungai Besi, a location 15km from the Petronas Twin Towers, as a site. That would be about the same distance that Jurong East (a location that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seems to favour) is from Singapore's Central Business District.

If the two terminals are in Sungai Besi and Jurong East, a door-to-door commute by HSR is projected to be 190 minutes - still considerably faster than 255 minutes by air.

But these are details to be ironed out further down the line.

First and foremost, the two governments must be convinced that an HSR will be equally beneficial to both Singaporeans and Malaysians for generations to come. And they must have the political will to see the project through.

Indeed, besides financial capability, it is political will that is powering China's HSR programme. For cross-border projects, it was the political will of the Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterrand administrations that paved the way for the London-Paris HSR.

If Thatcher and Mitterrand could get the English and French to work together, despite the two countries' legacy of bitter rivalry, there is hope yet for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR. It is a project the two sides have been mulling for 20 years now.

If it gets off the ground, it could potentially form the first leg of a South-east Asian network that links all the way up to China.

A look at the history of HSRs across the globe shows that worldwide, they do not seem to have a strong or clear proposition for many countries. Ever since the first line started running in Japan 50 years ago, only 15 other countries have followed suit with their own systems. In comparison, 126 metro systems were built in 50 countries over the same period.

But once overcome, the benefits are many.

Initial obstacles

ONE of the main impediments to HSR projects is cost. And because of the protracted nature of such projects, and their long gestation, cost overruns are also common.

For instance, the London-Paris line was projected to cost £1 billion when the two countries agreed to build it in 1986. By the time it was fully opened in 2007, the bill had escalated to £11 billion, according to a report by The Telegraph.

Land acquisition and environmental concerns (mainly noise pollution) are two other hurdles to HSR projects. Often, the latter cannot be overcome by going underground because of prohibitive cost.

But even if a line does go underground - as in the case of the proposed Tokyo-Nagoya maglev project, through a mountain range - it will still raise the ire of environmentalists.

The fringe benefits of an HSR project are not as apparent as those of a metro line, either. Property prices along the line seldom appreciate. In fact, they are liable to do the opposite. Reports by British realtors indicate that home prices near a new line from London to Manchester have already fallen by 40 per cent - even though the first trains are not expected to run till 2026.

Yet, whenever a HSR line is finally built, it proves its worth fairly quickly.

Faster, green commute

HSR provides a fast, smooth, safe and clean commute.

In a study of fatalities per billion passenger-km operated, the National Society of French Railways found HSR to be significantly safer than travel by air, road and conventional rail.

It is also the greenest. The study found that HSRs in Europe emit only 12g of CO2 per passenger, versus 30g for buses, 115g for cars and 153g for airlines. (France's HSR system supposedly emits only 2.2g of carbon per passenger - because electricity there is largely nuclear.)

Train tickets are also generally cheaper than airfares, and often, trains are faster door-to-door than planes.

The Chinese example

AND there is no better place to witness the rising popularity of HSR than in China, which has the largest HSR network at 10,000km - nearly half of the world's combined network.

And it is an impressive network, too.

When I took an HSR from Guangzhou to Wuhan in mid-2011, I was surprised by how luxurious it was. The seats and legroom were comparable to Business Class on a premium carrier. And even at 330kmh (this was just before the speed curbs following a fatal accident later in the year), it was as quiet and vibration-free as an A-380 plane.

In fact, I found it to be slightly more comfortable than Japan's Shinkansen, and far better than France's TGV.

I had commented to China Railway Corp officials how expansive the Guangzhou South train station was (bigger than some international airport terminals), and how sparsely occupied the trains were. But I was assured that both would be filled soon.

Indeed, HSR is hot in China today. So much so that airlines are feeling the heat.

According to a World Bank report in 2012, within three years of operation, China's HSR had adversely affected domestic airlines.

"Some short-distance air services have been completely withdrawn... routes from Zhengzhou to Xian and from Wuhan to Nanjing both survived only a few months after the opening of HSR," it read.

Air travel demand between Changsha and Guangzhou, a distance of about 600km, has fallen from about 90,000 passengers a month to 30,000.

Airline profits have also plunged, even in cases when actual passenger volume has increased. China Air for instance, posted a 32 per cent drop in earnings last year to 3.26 billion yuan (S$656 million) - despite a 0.4-point improvement in load factor to 80.8 per cent.

HSR ridership is still growing, with the state adding more trains and building new lines.

According to a forecast reported in The New York Times, China's HSR network will carry more passengers per annum than the 54 million carried by US domestic airliners by this year.

The only question mark hanging over China's HSR success story is profitability, and how long it will take to recoup the hundreds of billions in sunk cost.

In fact, this was one reason why the World Bank said it was "cautiously optimistic" about the future of HSR in China.

But the Chinese do not seem overly concerned. To the government, it is too early to talk about financial payback.

Instead, it is pushing ahead with expansion plans, both in terms of increasing the capacity of its current system to cater to growing demand, and expanding the network.

Changsha station for instance, will soon have 32 platforms - double today's 16. And it is all of four years old.

It is also said to be aiming to build another 15,000km of lines by 2020 - some to join up with lines in neighbouring countries such as Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.

China to Singapore by rail?

LAST October , Chinese Premier Li Keqiang opened an exhibition in Bangkok with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra promoting a high-speed railway that would link China, Thailand and Singapore.

The proposed line would be able to carry passengers from Kunming in China to Singapore in less than 12 hours, reported China Central Television.

If this comes about, the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR that PM Lee and his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, aim to build by 2020 may become the first leg of a South-east Asian network.

The story does not stop there. Professor Wang Mengshu, a rail expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, was quoted in 2010 as saying that China was exploring HSR links all the way to Europe.

If so, a traveller here could reach London by rail in under two days. That is, going by today's HSR capabilities.

China is working on much higher speeds. It is home to the world's only commercial magnetic-levitation (maglev) system. The 30km line takes passengers from downtown Shanghai to Pudong International Airport (30km) in seven minutes, reaching a top speed of 431kmh.

(I took a ride on it in 2005, and it was like flying at ground level.)

Japan has conducted test runs of its new maglev trains, reaching close to 500kmh. And China is said to be testing a "Vactrain" - a maglev in an enclosed vacuum tunnel - capable of 1,000kmh.

If these come about, one could commute from Singapore to London by train in 15-16 hours (including stops) - faster than a door-to-door commute by air (17-18 hours) today.

That is unlikely to happen in the near future. But 400-500kmh trains are conceivable, even without maglev technology.

It is therefore wise for builders of new lines to take this into consideration - to ensure that the tracks, power lines and signalling systems are capable of handling such speeds, or can be scaled up to do so.

But even before Singapore and Malaysia get to discuss such technical issues, they have to overcome the initial hump: Get over the barriers of high cost and environmental concerns, manage public expectations, and demonstrate clear political will to turn the Malaysia-Singapore HSR from rhetoric into reality.

* Proposed stops for KL-Singapore high-speed rail
KL-Singapore will take 21/2 hours, taking into account waiting time and transfers
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2014

THE prospect of dinner in Kuala Lumpur's Jalan Alor, supper in Malacca's Jonker Street and a return to Singapore before clubbing hours is looking more likely, going by published details of the planned high-speed rail (HSR) link between KL and Singapore.

According to Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission, its equivalent to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) here, the rail service is proposed to have stops in Seremban, Ayer Keroh (Malacca), Muar, Batu Pahat and Nusajaya in Johor, not far from a motorsports hub being built by Singapore tycoon Peter Lim. Passengers will take 21/2 hours to go from KL to Singapore, said the commission. This includes time for waiting, transfers and immigration clearance, and is shorter than the five hours by car and four by plane.

Actual travel time between the two cities is estimated at 90 minutes.

Besides an express service, the line will also have transit trains that stop at the cities in between.

With stops, travel time could be one to two hours longer.

The commission estimated that the HSR will carry up to 49,000 passengers daily by its 10th year of operation, giving rise to an annual ridership of 17.9 million.

It predicts that annual ridership will hit 251 million by 2060. In comparison, the HSR link between Taipei and Kaohsiung - about the length of the Singapore-KL link - has an annual ridership of 44.5 million.

In 2011, the southern corridor, which the proposed KL-Singapore HSR will ply, accounted for 7.45 billion trips by car, bus and plane, according to the commission.

A spokesman for the commission said it may be able to share more details in September.

The Straits Times understands that the Singapore and Malaysian governments have been meeting once a month on the project.

In Singapore, the LTA called a tender in April for a feasibility study on possible locations of the HSR's terminus in the Republic.

Three possible sites have been raised: Tuas West, Jurong East and the city centre.

The authority said the tender has not yet been awarded, but it has received inquiries from several countries which are keen to take part in the project. These include Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Like many on both sides of the Causeway, Mr Barry Kan is excited about the line.

The chief executive of FASTrack Autosports, a Singapore-led company that is building a race track in Nusajaya, said: "We heard there will be a station near our circuit, but there's been no official confirmation.

"If there is one, it will be more convenient for Singaporeans for sure. But even if there wasn't a station, I think enthusiasts will still come to the track."

In an interview with The Star last month, Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission chief executive Mohamad Nur Ismal Kamal said train fares will be comparable to budget airline fares. They range from $72 to $112 for flights in mid-July.

Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail to have seven stops in Malaysia
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

The high-speed rail (HSR) project connecting Singapore and Kuala Lumpur will have seven stops in Malaysia, namely Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Muar, Batu Pahat, and Nusajaya.

While several of the proposed stations had been announced earlier, the location of the stations were confirmed on Wednesday by Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission chairman, Syed Hamid Albar.

Mr Syed Hamid said that Malaysia has completed its feasibility study for the link, which is targeted for completion in 2020, and has shared the report with Singapore.

Singapore's own feasibility study for its section of the proposed 320km to 340km rail started in August and is currently ongoing.

Giving an update to reporters on the sidelines of a HSR conference in Tokyo, Dr Syed Hamid said details such as the exact locations of the terminus in Singapore and KL have to be decided, before the project can proceed.

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