Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Singapore to Johor Baru MRT service to start by end-2024

Rapid transit link will join Thomson-East Coast Line and is set to reduce congestion
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor In Iskandar Puteri, Johor, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2017

Passengers will be able to hop on an MRT train in Woodlands to cross the border to Johor Baru by Dec 31, 2024.

The Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link can carry up to 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction between Johor's Bukit Chagar terminus station and the Singapore terminus in Woodlands North, where it will join the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL).

It is slated to improve connectivity and reduce congestion at border crossings between Singapore and Malaysia when completed.

The new starting date for the line was announced in a joint statement yesterday after the 13th meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia, co-chaired by Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan, who is also Transport Minister.

Also present were Johor Menteri Besar Khaled Nordin, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and senior officials from both countries.

Officials have agreed to jointly appoint an operating company to run and maintain the RTS Link's operating systems, which include its trains, tracks and signalling system.

Singapore has invited SMRT Corp to be part of the joint venture, while Malaysia has asked Prasarana Malaysia, whose subsidiary runs an MRT line through the Klang Valley in Kuala Lumpur. Both operators are negotiating terms for the joint venture, which will have a first concession period of 30 years.

Each government will also appoint an infrastructure company to fund, build, own, maintain and upgrade the civil infrastructure and stations in their own countries.

When asked, Mr Khaw reiterated that fares will not be regulated but driven by market forces.

Similar to the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail line, the RTS Link will have a joint Customs, immigration and quarantine facility at both terminus stations. This means international-bound travellers will need to clear Customs and immigration only once, when departing from the respective countries.

The daily shuttle train service from Woodlands to Johor Baru will stop operating within six months after the RTS Link opens. It has been running 26 daily trips since June 1 to cope with higher demand, and Mr Khaw said the frequency will go up to 36 trips in the next few years.

He noted that the Woodlands Checkpoint can be redeveloped after the shuttle service ends and land is freed up. "Then, hopefully, this problem of the Causeway jam can be significantly mitigated or even eliminated," he added.

During the meeting, officials also discussed the high-speed rail line, immigration, industrial cooperation and the environment.

The RTS Link was announced in May 2010, with the target completion date set for 2018.

In 2015, Malaysia chose Bukit Chagar as the main terminal station for the 4km line, which will use the same rail systems and rolling stock as the 31-station TEL. The TEL will open in phases from 2019 to 2024.

Trains will ply between both terminus stations via a 25m-high bridge across the Strait of Johor.

Commuters like Mr Lee Chee Hua are looking forward to RTS Link.

The 66-year-old retiree visits Johor Baru at least once a month to eat and shop. "It will be more convenient and seamless than going via the Woodlands train checkpoint."

Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link's first step: Terms for joint venture firm
This will allow bilateral deal for link to be signed by the year end, says Khaw
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor In Iskandar Puteri (Johor) and Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2017

The terms for a joint venture company to operate the cross-border MRT system between Woodlands and Johor must be agreed on "within the next few months", Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

This is so that a bilateral agreement to finalise details for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link can be signed by the end of this year, when the two countries' leaders meet for their annual retreat.

The agreement will include the amount of concession fees the operating company has to pay the authorities, which can be finalised only after rail operators SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia agree on terms to form the joint venture.

Speaking to reporters after a joint ministerial meeting on Iskandar Malaysia, Mr Khaw said both Singapore and Malaysia had agreed to negotiate with an experienced operator to run the line.

Singapore's preference has always been to call an international tender and award the contract to the best bid, he noted.

"But after discussing with our Malaysian counterparts, they felt the project is a little bit too small and may not have competitive bids," he said. Both sides thus agreed to jointly appoint an operating company for the first 30 years.

Both governments welcome the negotiations between SMRT and Prasarana, said Mr Khaw.

"Hopefully, they can reach an agreement on how to structure the joint venture, and we can then begin negotiating the first concession terms with them," he said.

Asked why SMRT was invited to form the joint venture, he noted that Singapore has only two rail operators - SMRT and SBS Transit.

" So we leave it to them to discuss with the Malaysian partner who is most keen on this project," he said, adding that based on preliminary discussions, SMRT and Prasarana seem to "have a good fit".

SMRT spokesman Patrick Nathan said: "If successfully appointed, SMRT looks forward to serving the growing transportation needs between Johor Baru and Singapore."

Yesterday, officials also discussed the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) line which will be ready in 2026, and noted an industry briefing earlier this year on an upcoming tender for an assets company received strong interest. The tender will be called by the end of this year.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said agencies have been doing detailed masterplans for Jurong and Woodlands - the respective sites for the HSR and RTS stations here. "Both these centres will become commercial centres for businesses because they have good connectivity. They will be ideal for businesses with Asia, Asean and Malaysian linkages."

Singapore Institute of Technology Assistant Professor (engineering cluster) Andrew Ng said the target completion date of 2024 for the RTS link may be achievable, barring any coordination and cooperation issues between both countries.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin of the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute said it is imperative for the RTS link to take off as it "illustrates that the close bilateral cooperation between Malaysia and Singapore has not been taken hostage by domestic political exigencies".

Officials noted the progress on the rollout of automated immigration clearance systems at the land checkpoints. They also welcomed the upcoming signing of a memorandum of understanding to establish Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Pulau Kukup Ramsar as "sister wetlands".

A joint programme will be launched this year to attract more visitors to both nature sites.

* Johor Sultan questions curved design and height of RTS Link
The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2017

MERSING • The Sultan of Johor has expressed serious reservations about the proposed curved design of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Malaysia and Singapore, and the plans to build an elevated bridge for it.

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said he welcomed the project, but the curved design of the rail link between Woodlands in Singapore and Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru was impractical, unsustainable and potentially costly.

"Why do we have to have a curved design when we can have a more practical design that is straighter and closer to the Causeway?" he said in an exclusive interview with Malaysia's New Straits Times (NST)."I am proposing that the design be aligned as such for practicality and it will cost less," he said.

He also questioned the need for an elevated bridge.

"Why do they need an elevated bridge with up to 30m air draft (clearance height from water to a vessel's height) unless there are plans to remove the Causeway?" he said. "It disrupts the city skyline, and we are talking about a permanent fixture here. Go back to the drawing board and review the overall plan."

The Sultan proposed that the bridge be at the same height as the Causeway, or just slightly elevated.

"The parties also have to consult me. Whatever (new plan) is presented to me, it will have to be logical, economical and sustainable for the benefit of not only Johoreans but all Malaysians and Singaporeans," he was quoted as saying.

According to The Star news site, the Johor state government yesterday voiced its support for the Sultan. Mentri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin said: "We have taken note of Tuanku's views and we support it and will forward the suggestions to Kuala Lumpur."

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Rahman Dahlan, in a statement yesterday, explained that the RTS project and alignment are based on a series of extensive discussions and studies over several years, which has been agreed with the Singapore Government. "We acknowledge the issues and concerns raised by His Royal Highness ... and will seek an immediate audience with His Royal Highness as soon as the palace has confirmed the date," he said.

Sultan Ibrahim said he would raise his concerns over the RTS Link's design at a meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong next month, and would convey key points of that discussion to the Malaysian government and the media.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Transport said yesterday: "Singapore is committed to the RTS Link project, and we have been discussing its various aspects with the Malaysian government since 2010, through the Joint Ministerial Committee on Iskandar Malaysia." The RTS Link is intended to improve connectivity and reduce congestion at border crossings between Singapore and Malaysia.

Both countries have agreed to jointly appoint an operating company to run and maintain the cross-border line's operating systems, with Singapore's SMRT Corp and Malaysia's Prasarana being invited to be part of the venture.

In the interview, Sultan Ibrahim said the Johor government should undertake a joint venture with Singapore. "The project is entirely in Johor; so why should Prasarana be involved? Let the Johor government and Singapore have a joint venture and I can raise funds if need be," he said.

** Johor Sultan agrees to straight bridge for JB-Woodlands rail link
The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2017

JOHOR BARU • The ruler of Johor has agreed to the construction of a straight elevated bridge for a new rail line linking Johor Baru and Woodlands, Malaysia's land transport authority said yesterday.

The earlier plan was for a curved bridge for the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link across the Strait of Johor.

Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar agreed on the revised route as proposed by the Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) after a meeting on Wednesday.

The ruler said in August that the curved bridge idea was impractical, unsustainable and potentially costly.

"His Majesty agreed to the option of a 25m-high bridge which will cross the Strait of Johor in a straight line while still complying with Marine Department technical guidelines for a minimum 25m air draught clearance," Spad said in a statement.

"His Majesty also stressed the importance of ensuring adequate traffic dispersal at the RTS Bukit Chagar station area, and Spad will act on it."

Asked for its reaction, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Transport said: "Singapore has been in discussions with the Malaysian government on various aspects of the Johor Baru-Singapore RTS Link project, including its alignment."

The RTS link will connect Bukit Chagar in Johor Baru and the planned Woodlands North MRT station, which is part of the upcoming Thomson-East Coast (TEL) Line.

The TEL MRT line is expected to open in phases from 2019 to 2024. Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to jointly appoint an operating company to run and maintain the cross-border line's operating systems, with Singapore's SMRT Corp and Malaysia's Prasarana being invited to be part of the venture.

In August, Sultan Ibrahim told the New Straits Times in an interview that while he welcomed the RTS, he disagreed with the overall curved design of the bridge as well as building it 30m above water in the middle of the Strait of Johor. He said such a design would disrupt the Johor Baru city skyline.

The RTS, which was announced seven years ago, is expected to accommodate up to 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction between the two terminus stations.

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