JB-Singapore Rapid Transit System a ‘game changer’ in election year, says Malaysian minister

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SINGAPORE: The bilateral agreement signed between Singapore and Malaysia to build a cross-border MRT line by 2024 will be a “game changer” going into elections that must be held by August, said Malaysia’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday (Jan 16), the Malaysian minister overseeing the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link (RTS Link) agreement said that the project will matter to thousands of Malaysians who cross the Causeway every day.

“The PM is working hard to ensure they don’t have to face the four-hour jam on the Causeway and I think they’ll appreciate this,” he said.

“I think business people and people who have some employment on both sides (will care) and also (there’s) the feel-good feeling. 

“This announcement done by the PM is going to be a game changer for the election, for at least the people of Johor.”

Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan speaking to Channel NewsAsia after the signing of the bilateral agreement on the JB-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link.

Mr Rahman Dahlan said the agreement was made possible due to Mr Najib’s leadership, a departure from the approach previously taken by Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who is now leading the opposition. 

“We all know that under PM Najib we’ve moved so much faster and forward in terms of exploring possibilities with the government of Singapore,” the minister told Channel NewsAsia.

“Under the previous administration especially Tun Mahathir, we could not move an inch. Even though Singapore is the closest neighbour and most integrated economically, Tun Mahathir took the position of being non-cooperative and that is a shame … it’s regrettable because there’s so much to gain just by being friends with neighbours.”

DESIGN OF CONNECTING BRIDGE

The road to the signing of the bilateral agreement was, however, not without some bumps, with the Johor Sultan expressing concerns last year over the design of a connecting bridge.

Mr Rahman Dahlan had sought an audience with Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar after to seek his feedback, now incorporated into the finalised 25m-high bridge that will cross the Strait of Johor in a straight line.

“We have agreed to the proposal from the Sultan of Johor and the design has come out very well with a total length of 4km,” Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told Channel NewsAsia.

“We’ll (still) be able to complete the project by the year 2024 so I think it’s a good proposal and we think this will actually help further connect the two countries.”

The earlier plan was for a rail track that will curve over water as well as an elevated bridge as high as 30m above water in the middle section. But Malaysian media reported that the Sultan had criticised the curved design, saying it would disrupt the city skyline along the Johor Straits.

Malaysia and Singapore also had to carry out negotiations on which country would have a controlling stake of their joint venture operating company, with Singapore wanting a 50-50 split but Malaysia believing there should be a dominant party to make decision-making easier.

“We impressed upon the Singaporeans that it’s quite difficult to move forward as a company especially when we have to make some major decisions if the equity is 50-50. So we proposed 52-48 on the basis that we have sacrificed the KTM train service (for this project) – we have to dismantle and stop the service of KTM – and also for the purpose of moving forward in terms of making business decisions,” said Mr Rahman Dahlan.

“And I thank the negotiators from Singapore, they’ve agreed that Malaysia should hold 52 per cent and Singapore holds 48 per cent in terms of equity,” he added.

“But also I have assured that we will in no way trample upon the minority interest. Whatever issues that we have we will have to sort it out on the basis of friendship and for the nation.”

When completed by 2024, the RTS Link will be able to carry up to 10,000 passengers in each direction every hour. This translates to an additional capacity of 60,000 users crossing the Causeway during peak hours.

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