Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to extend the deferment of the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project for seven months to December 31, 2020, at the former’s request. This was revealed by international trade and industry minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, who added that both governments also agreed to resume discussions on the HSR infrastructure project with proposed changes.

“I have been asked by the Cabinet to lead the Malaysian team in the discussions with the Singapore government on this project. The discussions will encompass some of the proposed changes in the commercial and technical aspects of the project. Both sides mutually agreed to extend the deferment of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project to Dec 31,2020,” said Azmin, as reported by The Star.

Previously, both governments agreed to postpone the development of the HSR project until May 31, 2020 to allow for the identification of cost reduction options, including reviewing and optimising the alignment, station locations and business model.

The prior deferment has resulted in Malaysia remitting SG$15 million (around RM45.1 million at the time) as payment for the abortive costs that Singapore has incurred, which was made at the end of January 2019, The Straits Times reports. Should the HSR project be terminated, Malaysia would have to reimburse the project implementation costs incurred by Singapore up to the point of suspension, an amount that was previously reported to be around RM500 million.

In a Facebook post, Singapore’s transport minister Khaw Boon Wan said, “in the spirit of bilateral cooperation, we have agreed to a final extension of the suspension period to December 31, 2020. This should provide sufficient time for Malaysia to clarify its proposal and for both sides to assess the implications of the proposed changes.”

“(The) Covid-19 pandemic does inconvenience the discussions but teleconferencing can largely overcome the difficulty. The key is joint commitment to the project’s vision and mutual trust. Nevertheless, the HSR is a complex project, and both sides have to be convinced that the changes do not undermine the original intent of the project. I remain optimistic that a HSR linking our two capitals will benefit both our peoples,” he added.

With the new agreement in place, the HSR service is now expected to start by January 1, 2031, instead of December 31, 2026, as prescribed in the previous contract. The 350-km rail line would reduce travelling time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 90 minutes, compared with more than four hours by car.