KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 22 — The planned KL-Singapore high-speed rail link could become a model to spur greater connectivity among all ASEAN neighbours should the multibillion ringgit project achieve its 2020 deadline without major hiccups, politically-motivated or otherwise, Singapore’s The Straits Times (ST) said today.
In an editorial, the English daily noted concerns that the project may face momentary delays due to political interferences, but reminded that the endeavour could only improve bilateral ties and generate greater potential for citizens in both nations.
“If the project is managed well, the spin-off benefits of a completed rail link would be felt in many areas besides trade, investment, services, tourism and leisure,” the paper wrote.
“Indeed, a smooth journey in meeting the completion deadline of 2020 might help establish this project as a prototype for greater connectivity in ASEAN as a whole.”
Mass usage of the rail link, the paper added, could well be a “game-changer” for both Malaysia and Singapore, on top of improved government-to-government co-operation.
With an estimated 90-minute time travel between the two countries, a significant difference from the present eight-hour average by train or five hours by bus, the two regional neighbours could emerge as a “single urban eco-system” with commuters riding the rail daily for work or leisure.
“It’s the way people in London and Paris are able to think of it, really as twin cities where you can commute, go up there, do business, meet friends, have a meal and come back all within maybe two- thirds of the day,” Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was reported as saying when the rail link was announced on Wednesday.
“And I think it is going to be a game changer. It will transform the way people interact, the intensity of our co-operation and the degree to which we become interdependent on each other and therefore have stakes on each other’s success,” he added.
ST said, however, that the momentum must be sustained by sticking to the timetable, formulating a reasonable budget and establishing a sound business model for the mega-project.
“... the journey towards full realisation of the project might be tested by differences and obstacles,” the paper pointed out.
“There is already some concern that nativist political voices in Malaysia could try to hold the project hostage to their political agenda,” it warned.
Malaysia and Singapore agreed on Wednesday to build a high-speed rail link to connect Kuala Lumpur with the neighbouring city state and set 2020 as the estimated deadline for completion, bolstering already improved economic ties between the two nations.
When announcing the link with his Singaporean counterpart Lee, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had reportedly revealed that the project would be built via public-private partnership “with strong government participation”.
Malaysia, he added, will provide the infrastructure support for the rail link.
“We will certainly do our level best to meet the 2020 deadline. It may go slightly beyond that, but those are details in implementation,” Najib was reported as saying at the announcement in Singapore.
ST said the nature of this public-private partnership, as well as how the project could attract potential investments, and issues of safety, reliability and ecological soundness must be outlined properly to ensure a smooth journey towards meeting the 2020 deadline.
Since Najib took office in 2009, the first-term prime minister has been actively collaborating with Lee’s Singapore administration to iron out protracted disputes between both nations in hopes of shelving bitter rivalries and bolster economic co-operation.
ST noted that the high-speed rail link adds another feather to this cap, providing yet another basis for further win-win initiatives.