Malaysia and Singapore have yet to iron out major elements that will shape the multibillion-dollar high- speed rail project that will link the island state with Kuala Lumpur.
In recent weeks, Japanese and Chinese government officials, together with their private-sector executives from the rail industry, have been lobbying the Malaysian government and key agencies overseeing the transport sector to push their respective agendas for the construction of the 350km link.
During a recent high-speed rail symposium in the Malaysian capital, Japanese Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii said, “In the past 52 years, there has never been a fatal accident involving the shinkansen bullet train system” which proves its high quality and stability.
“The operating and infrastructure costs of the shinkansen are relatively low, helping to achieve the goal of (minimal) manufacturing and recycling costs and even profitability,” he added.
The 350-kilometre high-speed rail project should link Kuala Lumpur with Singapore in just 90 minutes under an agreement signed by the two Southeast Asian countries in July 2016. Both countries are aiming to begin operations in 2026.
“The high-speed rail is not only linking Malaysia and Singapore, but also the hub of ASEAN countries,” Ishii said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations of which the two countries are members. He noted that the rail project will also serve as the key to promoting the surrounding economies.
China has used more muscle. According to Malaysian government officials, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wrote a personal letter to Prime Minister Najib Razak last month reiterating Beijing's commitment to their investments in Malaysia, which include property and infrastructure developments. He also stressed China's deep interest in securing the high-speed rail project.
"The project is a game-changer and the visits and engagements (by the Chinese and the Japanese) have become very frequent and all discussions inevitably centre on the HSR (high-speed rail)," said a transport industry executive involved in the planning of the project that will cut travel time to 90 minutes between the two cities from more than six hours by ordinary train.