Delayed, Scrapped And Now Revived: 350 Km, $28 Billion High-Speed Rail Project Connecting Kuala Lumpur And Singapore Gets A New Lease Of Life

A Station in the proposed HSR line

MyHSR Corp, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Malaysian government responsible for the development and implementation of high-speed rail network connecting the capital Kuala Lumpur with neighbouring Singapore, has invited proposals from local and international firms for the ambitious project.

MyHSR has floated Request For Information (RFI) inviting local and international firms to submit fully-fledged proposals for a rail line to cut the current 4-hour-plus drive time between the cities. Firms are expected to submit proposal to develop and operate the HSR project via a “public-private partnership model”.

MyHSR Corp said the exercise would allow the Malaysian government to assess the industry’s interest and ability to fully fund the project while evaluating their capabilities in developing the project by looking into areas such as technical specifications, project costing, commercial and business models, as well as consortium and governance framework.

The proposed HSR line is 350 km long. It would start from Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur and connect to other cities such as Malacca and Seremban along the west coast of West Malaysia en route to Jurong East in Singapore.

The project was initially estimated to cost $17.4 billion and later revised to $27.6 billion

The project envisages construction of a brand-new line with dedicated tracks, which would allow trains to travel at least 270 km/h.

The HSR project – which aimed to reduce travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to about 90 minutes – was abandoned after multiple postponements at Malaysia’s request. About 95 per cent of the network will be inside Malaysia.

Troubled past

The HSR project in its present form was first mooted by then Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2010. Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong formally agreed to the joint project in 2013, with the HSR originally expected to be completed by 2026.

The Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore gave their go ahead for the HSR project in February 2013. A joint announcement was made that the high-speed rail proposal would be finalised by end of 2014 with a targeted completion date of 2020.

Singapore and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding in July 2016 in the presence of PM Lee Hsien Loong and PM Najib Razak.

The project progressed in a good pace after the MoU was signed. Land acquisition was initiated by both the governments and multiple contracts for design and construction were awarded to various firms.

In 2019, PM Mahathir Mohammed ordered that project be scrapped, citing its high construction costs and questioning benefits. Mahathir had campaigned against the project in the run up to the election.

The project was finally shelved in 2020 when an agreement between the governments of Malaysia and Singapore to discuss the joint project lapsed. Malaysian paid Singapore $76.25 million in compensation in lieu of the failed agreement.

Project Revived?

In May 2023, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke said that his government was keen to revive the project although the model of implementation must be based on a private sector-led initiative.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has previously termed the HSR cancellation a mistake “both from a current economic standpoint and in terms of future benefits”.

In August 2022 Singapore said it was open to “good faith” discussions on reviving the project.