Malaysia and Singapore have signed a legally-binding bilateral agreement to facilitate the KL-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project, Channel News Asia reports. The signing of the bilateral agreement, which took place in Putrajaya yesterday, was witnessed by prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong. The agreement follows on the memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries in July.

Lee said that both countries will focus on ensure the HSR project will be done right and is a success. He added that the project is set to transform the way the two countries interact, for the better. “It gives both sides greater stake in keeping relations strong and positive,” he said.

Construction of the high-speed rail link is set to begin in 2018, with completion in 2025 and operations scheduled to start in 2026. Najib said that both sides were committed to the deadline.

“It’s about 10 years, but as you know, (given) the size of this project, the complexity of this project, 10 years is a relatively short period of time, which means we have to work very closely together. We are looking forward to its implementation according to schedule and we think that we will be able to deliver it according to the timeline we’ve committed to, between the two sides,” he said.

The 350 km-long double-track route (335 km of which is in Malaysia, and 15 km in Singapore) will have eight stops in total – Singapore, Iskandar Puteri, Batu Pahat, Muar, Ayer Keroh, Seremban, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. A bridge over the Straits of Johor – with a height clearance of 25 metres – will link the line between both countries.

Trains on the service are expected to run 10 car-long trains, with the capacity for up to 100 passengers per car. These trains are projected to run at average speeds of 300 km/h and bring down the rail travel time between KL and Singapore to 90 minutes.

The report added that customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) facilities will be co-located in Singapore, Bandar Malaysia and Iskandar Puteri, allowing international passengers the ease of undergoing both countries’ CIQ clearance at the point of departure.

Each country will be responsible for the development, construction and maintainance of the civil infrastructure and stations within their own domain, with MyHSR Corporation handling duties for Malaysia and the Land Transport Authority, for Singapore.

Both countries will call for a joint tender for an international operator to run the KL-Singapore express service and the cross-border shuttle service between Iskandar Puteri. Malaysia will also put up a tender for a domestic operator to run the service within the country. The joint tender for the system will open in Q4 next year, and the two countries are expected to make a decision on who to award the rail system to by the end of 2018.

Asked by reporters about the possibility of awarding the tender to a consortium, Lee said it was too early to make a statement on the matter. “I know there is a lot of interest from many contractors to participate in this project. I expect very competitive bids and we will choose the best one,” he explained.