SINGAPORE — Singapore and Malaysia have signed an agreement to suspend the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link (RTS) project for six months.
In a joint statement by the two countries on Tuesday (21 May), Singapore said that it had agreed to Malaysia’s request, which was made on 27 March, to suspend the project “in the spirit of bilateral cooperation”.
The suspension period will be up to 30 September 2019, with Malaysia bearing the abortive costs of suspending the project, which amounts to some $600,000.
It will also have the opportunity to propose changes to the project scope. “Malaysia and Singapore will also continue to discuss other affordable and sustainable solutions to address traffic congestion at the border,” said the two countries.
If Putrajaya does not proceed with the project by the deadline, it will also bear the agreed costs incurred by Singapore in fulfilling Tuesday’s agreement. This will amount to $66 million, which is the amount that has been spent on the project since it began.
Malaysia had made the request to suspend the project due to concerns about the cost.
Cost is a ‘major consideration’ for Malaysia
Set to connect Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru to Woodlands, the RTS Link was supposed to be completed by 2024 but fell behind schedule due to Malaysia’s repeated delays in confirming its joint venture partner.
Addressing the media at Singapore’s Ministry of Transport on Tuesday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan and his Malaysian counterpart Anthony Loke recognised the “urgent need” to alleviate traffic congestion at the Johor Bahru-Singapore Causeway, which facilitates about 300,000 crossings daily.
Khaw said, “An RTS Link with a capacity of 10,000 passengers per direction per hour can make a material difference to commuters’ experience. Many Singaporeans and Malaysians stand to benefit from such a project. Singapore remains committed to it.”
The 66-year-old expressed hopes that the project would resume at the end of the suspension period. He noted that the decision to suspend the contract would affect the Land Transport Authority’s contractors and bidders involved in the project, as well as SMRT, which is Singapore’s joint venture partner for the RTS Link operator.
“They have been concerned about the future of the project. Today’s announcement will clarify the situation.”
Asked if terminating the project would ultimately be the most cost-effective option for Malaysia, Loke said that he did not want to “jump the gun” at this point as Putrajaya was still considering its options on the matter.
“We are committed to find a solution to this issue. We do not want to discount any possibility at this point of time...we really hope that this project can proceed, but in other forms and other approaches...key to that is the cost of the project, that is the major consideration on the Malaysian part.”
But Loke conceded that commuters on both sides of the Causeway wanted to see the project come to fruition. “I think by and large, what the public wants to see is that the project can proceed, the project can help to alleviate congestion at the Causeway.”
Singapore and Malaysia have been embroiled in a series of bilateral disagreements since October 2018, centred on maritime and aviation disputes.
Noting that it was the one-year anniversary of his being sworn in as Transport Minister, Loke remarked to reporters that he and Khaw have met six times in the past year.
The Republic had initially taken a strong stance on the various disputes. Last December, Khaw said that Putrajaya was using its objections to the Instrument Landing System (LS) procedures for Seletar Airport as a “technical excuse” to trigger an “unfriendly act” towards Singapore.
Singapore’s Foreign Ministry had also said the presence of Malaysian vessels ion Singapore territorial waters off Tuas risked causing an “unintended and dangerous” incident.
But the disputes have died down in recent months, with the two countries agreeing to suspend the High Speed Rail project for two years, with Malaysia paying $15 million to Singapore for abortive costs.
Singapore has also agreed to withdraw the Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures at Seletar Airport, while both countries have mutually suspended the implementation of their overlapping port limits.