What will the future hold for the Johor-Singapore rail link?

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The Sultan of Johor approved a design for the Johor-Singapore rail link. Its success depends on two companies with chequered pasts.

By Oliver Ward

The Sultan of Johor has approved a design for the long-awaited Johor Baru-Woodlands Rapid Transit System (RTS) bridge. The bridge will be straight, elevated 25 metres off the water. The height was reduced to avoid disrupting the Johor skyline.

Singapore and Malaysian authorities announced the proposed RTS bridge in 2010. They hope to complete the project by the end of 2024. The bridge will connect Singapore’s Woodland North station with Malaysia’s Bukit Chagar.

Who stands to benefit?

The 100,000 people who commute across the Malaysia-Singapore Causeway daily will benefit the most. The RTS link will carry 10,000 passengers an hour in each direction when fully operational. Passengers will also save time at customs and immigration. Authorities will only clear passengers at the outbound station.

The arrival of the bridge could cause the area around Woodlands to become a commercial hub. The area will attract businesses with strong links to Malaysia.

US company, GE will provide the signalling system and platform doors. Singapore Technologies Electronics will supply the line’s communication systems. The Singaporean and Malaysian governments have not appointed construction companies to work on the bridge and rail link.

Several Singaporean and Malaysian companies could benefit from the construction

Gamuda Berhad and MMC Corporation Bhd are Malaysian construction companies. They both have experience working on past Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) projects. YTL Corporation Bhd is a Malaysian cement company. It already operates in both Singapore and Malaysia.

In Singapore, United Engineers and Singapore Technologies are both prominent suppliers of construction materials and equipment.

There may be speed bumps on the horizon

The project may not be smooth sailing. In September, Malaysian MRT company Prasarana Malaysia and Singapore’s SMRT signed a memorandum of understanding to finance and operate the link. Prasarana has a chequered past. It has a history of delays on large projects. The company has also racked up RM18.4 billion (US$4.5 billion) in debt from years of heavy operating losses. The Malaysian government has had to issue a guarantee to allow the company to go to market to raise funds for the HSR projects.

Sources: Malaysiakini, The Borneo Post

The SMRT is the leading public transport operator in Singapore. The SMRT has its own questionable record on worker safety. A train accident in 2016 killed two workers. The two men were part of a team sent to fix a fault between Pasir Ris and Tampines Stations. It emerged that the team did not follow safety protocol.

The two companies will design, build, finance, and operate the rail link as part of a joint venture. The completion of the project will hinge on the cooperation of SMRT and Prasarana Malaysia. Transport analyst, Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences said that given the level of cooperation required, the 2024 deadline was “ambitious”.

The creation of the bridge and RTS could be what Singapore needs to boost innovation. Putting Malaysian firms within easy reach of Singapore will increase competition. This could spur innovation across the island. But it will depend on the successful cooperation of two companies with questionable records of implementing big projects and guaranteeing worker safety.