ASIA: Recently elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed on May 28 to cancel the Kuala Lumpur – Singapore high speed rail project, with the Chinese-backed East Coast Rail Link also set to be dropped.

Mahathir told local media that a number of major projects would come under immediate review as part of efforts to control Malaysia’s substantial national debt. Despite the air corridor between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore being one of the world’s busiest, Mahathir said the high speed line was ‘unnecessary’ and too expensive. Although Singapore’s Land Transport Authority has yet to receive any formal notice of withdrawal from the bilateral agreement governing the scheme, Mahathir added that his government would look to reduce the financial penalties that would be payable to the Singapore government in the event of the project being cancelled.

The high speed line would have offered an express service between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore taking 90 min, while six intermediate stations served by fast regional trains were also envisaged.

With 85% of the planned 350 km alignment in Malaysia, project promoter MyHSR Corp had already started to let contracts for work in that country, including those for the project delivery partner. LTA had been responsible for developing the Singaporean section. Opening had been envisaged in 2026.

Contracts had also been let for China Communications Construction Corp to build the 530 km ECRL intended to link Port Klang on the west coast with Kuantan on the east and the Thai border. Like the high speed line, this was to have been built to 1 435 mm gauge and was one of the most tangible projects to progress under China’s Belt & Road initiative.

Malaysia’s conventional network is built to 1 000 mm gauge. A long-running route modernisation programme includes double-tracking and electrification of the main north-south route between Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, the closest city to the border with Singapore.

National operator KTMB is targeting a 3 h 30 min journey time between the two following completion of the upgrading work, although there is no through route to central Singapore following the closure of the railway south of Woodlands in 2011. The two countries are planning a Rapid Transit System Link to connect Johor Bahru with Woodlands North, where connections would be available with Singapore’s Thomson East Coast line.