Hong Kong, mainland Chinese firms eye Malaysia bullet train plan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 April, 2013, 4:57am

Hong Kong and mainland Chinese companies are interested in a recently announced high-speed railway planned to link Singapore with Kuala Lumpur, according to Mohamad Nur Ismal Kamal, chief executive of Malaysia's Land Public Transport Commission.

The budget for the project, due to be completed in 2020, will be "tens of billions of Singapore dollars," Mohamad Nur Ismal said at the recent Asia-Pacific Rail conference in Hong Kong.

"We have been in talks with Hong Kong companies, some from [the] rail and property [sectors]. We had some informal enquiries from Chinese companies," he said, adding that Japanese, French, Spanish and German companies have also made informal enquiries.

Tendering for the project may begin in a year. Investment will be sought from the private sector, including from foreign investors, and the Malaysian and Singaporean governments will plug funding gaps, Mohamad Nur Ismal said.

A high-speed railway will cut the journey time for the 400 kilometres between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes. It currently takes about four hours by road, or an overnight trip using existing train services.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the plan to build the high-speed railway at a press conference in Singapore on February 19.

At a meeting before the press conference, both prime ministers changed the original wording of their joint statement, drafted by government officials, said Mohamad Nur Ismal.

"We expected a more cautious statement," he said. "[The two prime ministers] wanted something stronger, so they rolled up their sleeves and wrote something stronger: 'We have agreed to do it'.

"The details are sketchy but the intentions are clear. Transportation is not the sole push factor driving this railway … the potential for economic development is an equally tantalising prospect," he said.

"We are hoping the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed railway will spur development. Cities along the corridor stand to benefit immensely. Our intention is to create high-value-added jobs."

The railway is expected to boost industries in the Malaysian cities it passes through, including Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Malacca and Johor Bahru.

The Malaysian government plans to expand financial services in Kuala Lumpur, build up small and medium-sized enterprises in Seremban, promote tourism in Malacca and focus on education in Johor Bahru, Mohamad Nur Ismal said.

"A high-speed railway will help tourism, health care, manufacturing and education."

But he said the railway will affect the cross-border aviation market. In Europe, air travel between Paris and Brussels virtually disappeared after high-speed rail was introduced.