It’s official. The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project has finally been called off for good. The announcement of the project’s termination was made on January 1 by both Malaysia and Singapore, which could not come to an agreement on proposed changes, The Star reports.

In a joint press statement, prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Malaysian government had proposed several changes to the HSR project in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its economy. However, an accord could not be reached.

“Both governments had conducted several discussions with regard to these changes and had not been able to reach an agreement. Therefore, the HSR agreement had lapsed on December 31, 2020. Both countries will abide by their respective obligations, and will now proceed with the necessary actions, resulting from this termination of the HSR agreement,” the statement read.

In December 2016, the two countries signed a bilateral agreement to facilitate the project, which was supposed to have begun construction in 2018 and completed in 2025, with operations slated to begin in 2026.

In September 2018, at the request of Malaysia, both governments agreed to postpone the project until May 31, 2020 to allow for the identification of cost reduction options, including reviewing and optimising the alignment, station locations and the business model. The deferment resulted in Malaysia paying S$15 million (around RM45.1 million at the time) as compensation for the abortive costs incurred by Singapore. The payment was made at the end of January 2019.

In May 2020, the deferment was again extended to December 31. The decision to cancel the project will incur cost for the country. Previoulsy, it was reported that Malaysia would have to reimburse Singapore for the project implementation costs incurred by the latter up to the point of suspension, with the compensation amount initially said to be around RM500 million. The latest figure is said to be RM300 million.

The HSR was originally planned as a 350 km-long double-track route (335 km of which was supposed to be in Malaysia, and 15 km in Singapore) with 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 – would have linked the line between both countries.

The service was projected to run 10 car-long trains – with the capacity for up to 100 passengers per car – at average speeds of 300 km/h, which would bring the rail travel time between KL and Singapore down to 90 minutes, excluding clearance at customs, immigration and quarantine.

Two years ago, a much cheaper alternative to the HSR was mooted, and this proposed an upgrade to existing rail infrastructure instead of the HSR’s approach of building a new line from scratch. This more affordable alternative – with a slightly longer 130-minute travel time – was then estimated to cost the Malaysian government RM20 billion, a far lower sum than the HSR’s estimated cost of between RM60 billion to RM70 billion.