GAME CHANGER

Malaysia 2017 | TRANSPORT & INFRASTRUCTURE | FOCUS: HIGH-SPEED RAIL

A high-speed rail would cut commuter times and increase the connectivity of Malaysia to its neighbor Singapore. It will also be a major boost to domestic travel.

90 minutes: That will be the net commute between KL and Singapore once the High-Speed Rail (HSR) is up and running. Currently, flights take less than an hour, but traveling to KLIA—70 km outside of KL—and checking in and out easily increases the commute to four hours. Covering the 375km distance by car takes well over five hours. The future foresees customers arriving 30 minutes prior to departure at KL Sentral, traveling at an average speed of 300 km/h and arriving at Jurong East, the terminal in Singapore, one-and-a-half hours later.

The HSR project was announced for the first time in 2010 as one of the high-impact Entry Point Projects (EPPs) of Malaysia's Economic Transformation Program (ETP). A MoU with the intention to build the line was signed in February 2013 between Najib Razak and Lee Hsien Loong, the prime ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, respectively. The agency responsible for the coordination and execution of the project on the Malaysian side is the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), working together with its Singaporean counterpart, the Land Transport Authority (LTA). SPAD was founded in 2010 and swiftly started a feasibility study for the HSR and ironed out issues of land use, immigration, and shared operation. Construction will commence in 2017 and is projected to be completed and fully operational by 2022.

Total construction costs are estimated at MYR43 billion, as a brand-new line with dedicated tracks to be built. The track follows a coastal route on the west of the peninsular, and connects five Malaysian cities before reaching the border with Singapore. The plan projects to construct stations in Seremban, Ayer Keroh, Muar, Batu Pahat, and Iskandar Puteri, and will thus serve as an enhancer for domestic travel and a catalyst for socioeconomic development along the southern corridor. The track will be fully integrated with other means of public transport, the LRT and MRT in KL, and bus transport in other cities.

MyHSR Corporation was established as the project delivery vehicle for the definition of the technical and commercial aspects of the HSR, and is wholly owned by the Ministry of Finance.

The economic and social benefits of connecting the two major metropolises are tremendous, and the HSR is set to be a game changer. Both capitals have a strong concentration of industry and talent, and connecting them will unlock new opportunities and business exchange. The HSR is expected to increase travel for the MICE industry, as both cities promote themselves as the Southeast Asian hub for this segment. The HSR will also spark competition between KLIA and Changi International Airport, as travellers will have more choice, especially for long-haul flights. Airlines, in particular low-cost carriers, will have to consider the profitability of the Singapore-KL route. Currently, about 12% of MAHB's passenger throughput involves traffic from Singapore. Figures from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, meanwhile, show that on average, 6,000 travellers left Singapore for KL by air daily in 2015.

The study by SPAD shows that, once completed, the HSR will add MYR6.2 billion to the nation's GDP and stimulate GDP by 0.5% during the construction period by sparking development along the track, particularly in the five cities that will have stations.

The plans fit with the global agenda for sustainable growth, as rail transport offers great environmental benefits, especially compared to the alternatives of road and air travel. Expected to run every 15 minutes with 12 carriages—each with a maximum capacity of 80 people—the HSR aims to ferry 100,000 commuters both ways daily. To compare, border crossings both ways via the Causeway and the Second Link, are estimated to be 400,000 daily, and the HSR could potentially cut down on a significant amount of highway congestion and carbon emissions.